So one of the things I did in middle school instead of being cool was read this series, over and over and over again. It’s pretty much the reason I love reading science fiction; it was all up in my head and re-wiring my brain during my formative years. Over Christmas, my mom finally succeeded in getting me to brave her garage and pull out boxes of my old books that she’s been storing for years, and what did I find in two of them but this series. They hadn’t been touched for at least thirteen years. I don’t even remember the last time I read this first book.
I’ve sort of been hankering to re-read this series for a while now, but actually having the full series in my hands pushed me to actually do it. Coincidentally, in August it will have been twenty years since this book was published, and I’m going to celebrate by re-reading one book a month (sometimes two, when the specials pop up in the chronology) until I’ve done the whole thing, just like I read it as the series was first published. It’s going to take me about four years. It’s hilarious to me now to think that waiting that month in between books was so agonizing for me back then, when it’s standard now to wait years in between new books for series I read.
For those of you who didn’t spend the precious hours of your youth reading serialized monthly novels about children turning into animals in order to fight parasitic body-stealing aliens, let me give you a quick primer.
One sleepy summer evening, five kids are walking home from the mall through an abandoned construction site when an alien crashes his spaceship in front of them. The alien is dying. He explains to the children that their planet has already been invaded secretly by another race of aliens called the Yeerks, parasites who travel from world to world taking over species. They’ve been on Earth for years slowly gaining traction, human body by human body. On impulse, the alien gifts the children a piece of his alien technology in hopes that they will use it to fight off the secret invasion until his people can arrive and provide reinforcements. He gives them the power to morph: the ability to absorb DNA from another individual, and change your form to match it. Before they can even begin to absorb all the information they’ve been given, the Yeerks and their allies arrive, and murder the kindly alien.
And so begins the Animorphs, which is what they decide to call themselves: Jake, the natural leader, whose brother has been taken over by a Yeerk; Jake’s cousin Rachel, a beautiful and fashion-conscious blonde with a hidden streak of anger and violence; Cassie, the kind and gentle animal lover, who is always the voice of reason and compassion; Marco, who lost his mother two years before, and hides his feelings behind smart-ass remarks and pop culture references; and Tobias, who was raised by his absentee aunt and uncle, and who more than any of them embraces their new powers.
This book is all set-up, and it does a pretty good job. We learn the basic details of the conflict with the Yeerks. We learn the terminology (Yeerk pools, kandrona rays, Andalites, morphing, Bug Fighters, Dracon beams, Taxxons, Hork-Bajir) and the way things work in this universe (the two hour time limit on morphing, Yeerks needing to leave their host bodies to feed, the limitations of thought-speak while morphing). And we learn that despite being a supposed children’s book series, this will be a story that not only has consequences, but will be unafraid to tackle the realities of war on the human psyche. (Of course I didn’t realize all that when I was first reading it, but I can’t help seeing all the seeds, knowing what’s to come.) SPOILER: The biggest clue of that we get here is that Tobias is now stuck in his morph, and he will essentially stay that way for the rest of the series. No re-set button here, folks.
That’s not to say things weren’t wonkier than I remembered. Some of the plot developments, character, and dialogue were a little bit creaky. And while for the most part all the little details I noticed that set up things to be revealed (the crashed Andalite ship, Tobias’ longer encounter with the alien) were consistent with later books, there was also the occasional blip, like here in the first book it appears that even while not in a morph, the kids can direct their thoughts to another person in a morph, where later in the series, it’s well-established that you can only use thought-speak while in a morph. Anyway, I’m hopeful that as we get deeper in, the bumps will even out, and it will be the self-assured series that I remember so fondly.
I was super tempted to just read the next one right away, but I’m going to hold myself back and keep to my schedule. Even though, as of writing this, tomorrow *is* February 1st, so technically I wouldn’t be cheating . . .