Another Cassie book, more in the vein of #14: The Unknown than #19: The Departure. Applegate experiments with absurdism here With slightly more sophisticated humour than “hah hah, it’s an Andalite toilet!”—riffs on gender and politics and, of course, bureaucracy—The Suspicion holds a little more appeal on the comedic front. Also, the story is better, even if the ending is a hot mess.
Instead of Area 51 and horses, this time we get Helmacrons. Ax doesn’t know of them, but Visser Three seems to recognize them. Tiny and terrifying only in their minds, the Helmacrons are bent on galactic domination. It’s like those aliens in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who journey to Earth to destroy it after overhearing Arthur Dent’s wormhole-traversing insult. Except instead of being swallowed by a dog, the Helmacrons find the Escafil device (which everyone, even Ax, just calls the blue box). They want to use its power for evil but instead just end up shrinking the Animorphs. Hilarity ensues.
Cassie, as the narrator, ends up making some neat deductions about the physics of their diminutive state. Even Visser Three is impressed, in his own way, when he catches up with her discoveries, including how to seize an advantage over the Helmacrons. Applegate continues to establish Cassie as the Tactician, the one who can size up a situation and see the options available to the Animorphs.
I also found the opening exchange between Cassie and Rachel about clothes and C/ake very endearing. Applegate is not subtle about how the two female Animorphs are worlds apart, yet they remain friends. Cassie tolerates going to the beach because it’s what Rachel wants to do. Meanwhile, Applegate acknowledges that the Aniomrphs have Real Teen Feelings, without letting those feelings and that drama take over the story like in some YA series. (Seriously, the world is ending, and you care about who’s taking whom to the prom?)
More and more, these humourous breaks in the series make Animorphs feel like a network television show. Star Trek: The Next Generation and especially Star Trek: Deep Space Nine used to do this: every so often there would be a light-hearted episode. Usually they end being among the least-liked of the series, but once in a while they offer compelling counterpoints to the heavier stuff happening around them. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to “One Little Ship,” the DS9 episode that also features shrinking humour.
I would have liked this book better if the ending had been more tightly plotted. As it is, the story wraps up abruptly. Applegate handwaves a truce between Visser Three and the Animorphs long enough for everyone to become regular size and walk away safely. I’m not saying that’s unbelievable, but I think it deserved more attention than it gets here. But it’s as if she reached her word limit, didn’t want to revise, and just said, “Fuck it: everyone lives! Happy? Oh, and they all got unshrunk.”
At the time, reading these books as each one came out, The Suspicion would have been a good instalment. It would be a satisfying fix until the next book. However, re-reading a long-running book series sometimes feels like re-watching a TV series—there are episodes you just don’t care to revisit, not necessarily because they are bad, but because they are silly, or you’ve seen them one too many times, and they don’t really add much. You might watch it in the rotation, sure, but it’s not like when you have friends over you’re going to pull it out and say, “Ah, yes, let’s read this one!”