Review of The Decision by K.A. Applegate
by K.A. Applegate
I have a real soft spot for The Decision, because it is so awesome.
I remember the “Animorphs get pulled into Z-space” book from my childhood reading of the series—but I didn’t remember it coming so early. I loved the whole concept. Indeed, while not quite as long as the Megamorphs books, I’d argue that the plot of The Decision is just as cinematic and huge as any of those books—and maybe superior to some of them.
We finally get Ax’s second turn at narrating. Applegate spaces out his books more than the others, at least at the front end of the series, probably because for the moment his perspective is the most alien. That makes it harder to write for longer periods, and also harder to read. There’s only so much you can do with the “I’m an alien and boy do I think humans are the weird ones” stand-up schtick … but hey, Applegate nails it.
After an opening with Ax in human morph going all out on cinnamon buns that can only be described as hilarious, he continues to deliver zinger after zinger in his observations about the other Animorphs, or about human society in general. Whereas #8: The Alien is generally an introduction to Ax and Andalite society, The Decision is about the ways in which we prosecute war. Ax was briefly in contact with the Andalite homeworld in his first book, but his role was largely one of passive soldier who received orders and followed them. Here he has a more active role, one in which he has to choose loyalties. Because that’s the kicker in war: sometimes it’s not even clear if the “good guys” are all on the same side.
There are so many reasons to give this book five stars, but the moment that clinched it for me comes when Leeran-Controllers start shooting at the Animorphs, who are in hammerhead morph:
<Hey, great war! You can’t tell who’s on what side!> Marco yelled. <What is this, Vietnam?>
Think about that for a moment. To an adult reading this book, the reference makes perfect sense. But I don’t know about you—as a Canadian growing up in the 1990s, I didn’t know much about the Vietnam War. I knew it was a thing that happened over the 1960s and most of the 1970s. I knew there was a draft, and that Canadian had not only stayed out of the war but welcomed the “draft dodgers.” But the moral complexity and ambiguity surrounding Vietnam escaped me at the time. I have no doubt this allusion went over my head when I read The Decision as a child.
So Applegate’s inclusion of this reference speaks to the subtlety and layers she builds into these books. For those kids who get it, it’s an added bonus. For those who don’t, maybe it makes them wonder what Marco means by this comment. These are not just fluffy adventure books: war is serious; war is hell; and Applegate is not sugar-coating it. A whole ship of Andalites dies in these pages.
Ax’s need to choose between his loyalty to the Andalite command and his loyalty to the Animorphs underlines this idea that war is ambiguous and messed up. We also get a good sense of why the Andalites are losing this war: it’s not that the Yeerks are superior so much as they are less picky. The Andalites’ morality is slipping, as we saw from the revelations about Alloran and the Hork-Bajir in The Andalite Chronicles; even so, their arrogance is getting the better of them. “We are stronger fighting alone” is the most BS thing I have ever heard, and younger!Ben would definitely have picked up on that. (And even if he didn’t, the tactical officer’s change of heart prior to sacrificing the ship would have hammered it home—sometimes you don’t need to be subtle.)
The Decision is nothing short of beautiful. I first gave five stars to #6: The Capture because it is terrifying. And while Applegate continues to show us the horrors and things that go wrong with war in this book, she also underscores the values of cameraderie, loyalty, friendship, and trust. She combines the “alien moved by humanity’s passion” and “war buddies” tropes and makes something wonderful.
Next time, it’s the second Megamorphs instalment, and you know what that means: time travel and dinosaurs. Off the chain!