Yo dawg, I heard you like Internet sites.
The plot basically goes like this: Jake is online, back in the days when most of the people online were nine-year-olds and 40-year-olds on the prowl for nine-year-olds. He discovers a Yeerk website and lurks in the chatroom, wondering if these people are for real or if it’s a trap. The Animorphs decide to investigate by raiding the offices of the AOL analogue that holds all the subscriber information for the people using this chat service. But this leads them further down the rabbithole, culminating in Jake becoming a rhino and one of the best action sequences yet.
The amount of nostalgia trips Animorphs induces is dizzying sometimes. The Warning brings us a blast from the Internet past: dial-up modems, dot-com AOL-like subscriber services, and “chatrooms.” I just barely remember dial-up (although, sadly, I know people who are still on it because they can’t get anything else). And I still hang out daily in IRC. Nevertheless, watching the Animorphs talk about the Internet and the web like it’s this strange and boring but occasionally useful technology is so funny to a reader of 2015. If Applegate had only known … well, I guess she would have invested in Google or something. (Actually, this book predates the formation of Google as a company by a few months.)
I sometimes think that it would be harder to describe the web as it is now to someone from the 1980s or 1990s than someone from, say, the nineteenth century. (I’m talking “average Joe” people here, not computer nerds.) Because the latter group has no idea what computers are like, so once you figure out the right metaphors, they’d be cool with it. But computers in the 1980s were, compared to what we have now, terrible and clunky. So your average mullet-loving consumer would stare at you, and then laugh in your face, because no way would those dumb PCs ever be able to do what you describe.
So, anyway, the Animorphs trash the home of a dot-com billionaire, and it’s pretty awesome. As I mentioned above, Jake decides to acquire a rhino morph to bust through the security, gates, etc. Rhinos, however, have such poor vision that Jake needs the other Animorphs—in bird form—to “aim” him. This leads to hilarious exchanges such as:
It felt like getting hit in the face with a sledgehammer! But it was like getting hit and not caring. I felt the impact. But my rhinoceros body was used to impact. It was built for impact.
<What happened to the gate?> I asked, too blind to be sure.
<What gate?> Marco said.
I kept running. This time it was just chain link. I felt something sort of tug at my horn.
<Where’s the fence?> I asked.
<You just went through it,> Cassie said.
And it’s basically just a series of that, for about two or three pages, while Jake acts like a bulldozer through a rich dude’s home.
Man, this book is a terrible influence. I love it.
Turns out the dot-com billionaire is a Controller, but not your typical Controller. He’s a traitor and Visser Three’s twin brother! Yes, it turns out that Visser Three has twins, and Visser Three is the more evil of the two evil twins. His brother was too good with computers, though, and was going to make Visser Three look bad, so he had to go on the run before Visser Three killed him. Oh, and he has a way of surviving without access to Kandrona rays, but it’s icky.
I forget that, even this “early” in the series, Applegate is all about extending the mythology in different ways. Visser One and Visser Three’s enmity was our first glimpse at the internal politics of the Yeerk Empire; now we see that some Yeerks can reach compromises with their hosts, and not all Yeerks are hell-bent on this world domination scheme. (That doesn’t make those Yeerks good, mind you.)
The question of what makes the Animorphs, who take animals’ forms without their permission, and the Yeerks, who take animals’ bodies without their permission, appears again. The Animorphs yet again reject the idea to acquire other humans, morph them, and use it to sneak into a facility. That’s crossing a line, because the humans are thinking beings who haven’t consented to such an invasion of privacy. I love that Applegate brings up these thorny issues and inspires young readers to consider things like consent. Consent is hot.
My final bit of nostalgia-driven reflection: this book is so clearly pre–September 11. No way the Animorphs would be able to get close enough to an airport departures gate to plant a smelly diaper in a trash can. These days they’d have to fly so far in fly morph to get back past security.
The whole flying-on-planes-as-flies part, which comprises the first third of the book, is very innovative, though. When Jake is brutally cut down in the prime of his fly life, his terror at possibly dying as a fly is palpable, thanks to his role as the narrator of the book. It provides Applegate an opportunity for him and Cassie to have a “very special conversation” about his role as the Animorphs’ leader. So much more going on here than meets the eye in a “young adult” series.
Next time, the Animorphs discover the Yeerks’ one weakness … is oatmeal?