Saturday, September 10, 2011

Book 4: The Message

The Summary
Cassie and Tobias are having the same strange dreams, where they feel they are being called by something in the Pacific Ocean. At first they're not sure what to do about it, until they discover that a piece of an Andalite spacecraft has washed up on the beach. To investigate, the Animorphs all morph dolphins, which are implied to be at least semi-sentient. During their trial run of the mission, they have difficulty controlling their dolphin bodies, which can't take anything seriously. But then, they encounter a humpback whale being attacked by sharks. This is apparently blasphemy in the ocean world, so they beat the sharks up, nearly killing Marco in the process.

The whale, who is basically Jesus, is able to communicate with Cassie and tell her where the ship they are seeking is located, underwater. But the two-hour limit is almost up so they just go home and decide to try again a few days later, while the Andalite messenger slowly dies.

One ridiculously overcomplicated plan later, they find the sunken dome ship. There, they meet the sole surviving Andalite, a warrior-cadet nicknamed Ax because his full name is just silly. He's basically the same undefined age as the other Animorphs, which is sort of a bummer, but he's also awesome so we forgive him.

Just then, the Yeerks find the ship as well, and launch an attack. The Animorphs, including Ax now, flee the sunken ship with an uncharacteristically quiet Visser Three in pursuit. Visser Three's morph appears to have more stamina, but just as all hope seems lost, the humpback whale from before and some other random whales show up and beat up Visser Three just because. And everyone rides home on the whale's back.

Ax makes himself a human morph by combining the DNA of Cassie, Jake, Marco, and Rachel. After being hilarious for a few pages, he goes home with Cassie to live in the woods near her house.

The Review
Adam: The cover, first off
Ifi: One of the best, I think.
Adam: I agree
Adam: It has a definite sense of movement towards the upper right, and with that and the water it doesn't feel like Cassie is just floating in space, like in most of the other covers
Adam: It feels more grounded
Ifi: And he even managed to work in the leotard
Adam: Even better
Adam: Actually, in retrospect, this makes sense. Cassie is supposes to be the best morpher, and this cover is a lot more natural looking then most of the others
Ifi: That's how you're choosing to justify it?
Adam: ...yes
Ifi: This was actually the first Animorphs book I read, and it was probably in no small part due to the fact it had a dolphin on the cover
Ifi: Eight year old girls fucking love dolphins
Adam: Yeah, I never quite got that whole dolphin fad
Adam: Seals are cuter
Adam: Sharks are less horrible and bloodthirsty
Ifi: And horses.
Adam: The horse cover is later on
Ifi: Little girls love horses because most of them have never met one
Adam: If they did meet them, they would quickly lean that they are smelly beasts that are capable of killing a man in one kick
Adam: I sure am an animal person, huh

Holy shit.

Ifi: Okay so, aside from having the best cover, this is also one of my favorite books of the series. Partially because it was the first I read, but I also thought the writing seemed very good. Cassie's character seemed realistic.
Adam: Also agreed
Adam: She's more sane then Rachel, and less whiny than Tobias
Ifi: And it didn't open with them doing something utterly idiotic.
Ifi: Well, I mean going after a fox in squirrel morph isn't the best plan ever...
Adam: I was just getting to that

Adam: So, I start this book, and Cassie's preparing to morph a squirrel
Adam: So I think, "Wow, one of them is finally practicing a morph beforehand. Finally some intelligence out of these people."
Adam: But no
Adam: She's planning on purposely using herself as bait for an animal that would be five times her size!
Adam: That's so profoundly stupid, I have no words
Ifi: And then, to compound the issue, Tobias flies in
Adam: Flies in to eat one of the animals that Cassie’s dad is taking care of
Ifi: What the hell, bro?
Adam: Seriously
Ifi: And Cassie doesn't really think anything of it
Adam: I would have yelled at him, at the very least

Ifi: Cassie almost gets caught by her dad, but he is totally indifferent to the fact she is standing in the barn at like 3 AM
Adam: And that she is a furry
Ifi: "Do you have a tail?"
Ifi: "Uh. No?"
Ifi: "Okay. Go to bed."
Ifi: -leaves-
Adam: *mutters* "Damn, I need to lay off the expresso…"

Adam: Tobias and Cassie discover that they are having tandem dreams
Ifi: Mystery dreams about the sea!
Adam: Filled with Jamaican crabs and yellow fish claiming to be flounders
Ifi: None of the other Animorphs really know how to react to the dream thing, though Marco makes a really odd Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood reference.

"I've had weird dreams about falling from way up high and when I finally land I'm in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood talking to King Friday."

----Book Four, The Message

Ifi: Uh ok Marco
Adam: So now we know what Marco does in his spare time
Adam: He watches PBS shows
Adam: Suddenly I find him easier to identify with

Adam: So they see on the news that some piece of Andalite wreckage had washed up on the beach, so they decide to go investigate
Adam: Looks like a job for Scooby and the gang!
Ifi: This series is convenient as all hell
Adam: Well, they do mention that there are days where nothing happens,
Adam: Would you like a chapter where Jake has difficulty writing an essay on 18th century economics?
Ifi: Don't be ridiculous
Ifi: He's in middle school
Adam: An essay on the civil war then
Ifi: Exactly
Adam: But yes, as good as this book is, it is utterly fueled by Deus ex Machina

Ifi: So they all go to the beach to loiter suspiciously
Ifi: They decide that Cassie and Tobias are having the dreams because they are 'closest' to Andalites--Cassie is a estreen and Tobias is trapped in morph
Adam: =B
Adam: So, to no one’s surprise, someone sees them, and they start getting shot at
Ifi: With a SHOTGUN
Ifi: Who the hell brought a SHOTGUN to the secret alien meeting?
Adam: Less suspicious
Adam: Or possibly more suspicious
Adam: I can't quite tell
Ifi: "We...we have lasers."
Adam: Great way to be taken seriously
Adam: Well hey, aliens or not, a shotgun is effective for blowing big messy holes in people
Adam: …wow that did not come out the way I intended
Ifi: No, tell us more about blowing holes in people.

Ifi: Visser Three is getting the visions too, because of the Andalite body he's living in
Adam: If I were the one sending out the visions, that really would have occurred to me
Ifi: Yeah I dunno whatever
Adam: So they turn into fish, and escape into the ocean
Adam: Freshwater fish
Adam: Ouch
Ifi: At least Applegate did the research for that one
Adam: Fair enough
Ifi: Though I was flinching through the whole scene.
Ifi: In sympathy
Adam: Burning everywhere!
Adam: *winces*

Ifi: Okay so after they get away (it's never exactly shown how), they spend a few days doing nothing and pretending to be normal.
Ifi: Jake and Cassie make googly eyes at each other while shoveling manure
Adam: He apparently has a picture of her on his dresser
Adam: Aren't these kid's 13?
Ifi: Actually yeah, that is odd.
Ifi: If he has a picture of her, it should be hidden because he'd be embarrassed
Ifi: Not in a frame in plain sight
Adam: And it isn't like Cassie is someone he would logistically be spending a lot of time with before the whole alien invasion thing
Adam: She's his cousin's best friend
Ifi: Jake you're a creeper!
Adam: His cousin who he was previously not very close with
Adam: And she's apparently had him over for dinner
Adam: With what I just said, makes absolutely no sense
Ifi: Creepers gonna creep
Adam: I must make an image macro of this
Ifi: Yeah you do that

[image removed for being unfunny]

Ifi: Anyway, they talk strategy for a while, and settle on using dolphins to investigate this odd telepathic message thing.
Ifi: Cassie is worried about morphing a creature that might be sentient
Ifi: Which didn't really make much sense, because even if they were, it's not hurting anyone in any way.
Adam: Let the kids have their inner conflict
Ifi: That's what it was! It was a halfhearted attempt at turmoil.
Ifi: Cassie doesn't angst very well.
Ifi: She's going to have to work on that if she wants to be a proper Animorph
Adam: She can take lessons from Tobias

Ifi: So. Dolphins.
Ifi: The murdering rapists of the seas
Adam: Baby murdering rapists, thank you very much
Ifi: Cassie, like me, is completely enamored of the dolphins of the Gardens
Ifi: Waxing poetic every time they cross her mind
Adam: In the words of the great Terry Pratchett, "Never trust a species that grins all the time. It's up to something."
Ifi: The dolphins are named after the cast of Friends. Rachel morphs Monica.
Ifi: KA Applegate, why do you do these things?
Adam: It was the 90's
Ifi: I'd just like to point out that they had a chance to acquire the dolphins in book one, but decided they'd never need them.
Adam: Shhhh

Ifi: Tobias gets a watch!
Adam: I have mixed feelings about the watch
Ifi: --Pros--
Ifi: 1. It's a good idea
Ifi: 2. It's pretty funny
Ifi: 3. It's symbolic
Ifi: --Cons--
Ifi: 1. WTF
Ifi: 2. How does that even work
Adam: I mean, he has good vision, but that doesn't seem like it would be in his line of sight
Ifi: And how could they get it tight enough to fit on his leg?
Adam: Duct tape
Ifi: Did you just decide that.
Adam: The universe decided that.
Ifi: So, yes, then.

Ifi: Anyway, the kids can barely control the dolphin morphs
Ifi: It takes 45 minutes for Tobias to even get their attention because they are having too much fun
Adam: Again, this is a species that likes to run around and kill things for the fun of it
Ifi: Hush, that's never touched upon
Adam: Well, I just did

Ifi: But then
Adam: Well, it’s attacking that poor whale!
Adam: We have to save the whales!
Adam: Dur
Adam: This whole chapter was just
Adam: So dumb
Adam: I stared at the wall for an hour after reading it
Ifi: The whale was like Jesus and the sharks were like sharks eating Jesus and argh
Ifi: I don't know.
Adam: Whales can speak to us telepathically, if only we were to listen
Adam: Durf
Adam: Durf durf durf
Ifi: Wow you really took offense to this
Adam: Oh, it gets worse with the end in mind

Ifi: Marco is seriously injured, and we touch on one of the most important parts of morphing technology
Ifi: The healing of injuries
Adam: Which again, results in a big honking plothole in the first book
Adam: Namely, why didn't Elfangor morph to heal his injuries?
Ifi: Morphing also cannot copy acquired traits, so if you morph, you'd also lose any scars you have.
Adam: Except haircuts, bellybuttons, and dog genitals
Ifi: Anyway, it saves Marco from bleeding to death. He morphs to human, almost drowns like Mommy supposedly did--
Adam: Jesus Whale saves him
Adam: Pretty soon, you have people going door to door and handing out pamphlets, asking if you'd like them to teach you about cetaceans.

Adam: For the second time this book, everyone gives up and decides to go home
Ifi: That happens every mission.
Adam: Shh
Ifi: So they dick around for a few days, then come up with a plan
Ifi: Cassie believes she can find the Andalite from the information the whale gave her when they, like, mind-melded
Adam: So instead of locking her up in a nice padded cell where she belongs, they decide to follow the whale's advice
Ifi: The plan that they come up with is...
Ifi: Well
Ifi: It's so
Ifi: I just
Ifi: I don't
Ifi: I'm going to just copy and paste it

"We morph into seagulls," I said, picking up the plan we'd worked out. "Then we fly out into the shipping channel. We land on a tanker or a container ship or something that's going the right direction. We morph back to human, rest up, let the ship get us closer, then jump over the side, morph to dolphin and go the rest of the way."

----Book Four, The Message

Adam: ...
Adam: Yeah, I got nothing
Ifi: Anyway, the plan actually works because apparently the ship has no crew.
Adam: Or else it is piloted entirely by deaf mutes who can't feel vibrations either
Adam: They went to go commune with the whales
Ifi: Marco morphs ON THE DECK and the others push him overboard and NOBODY NOTICES
Adam: Okay, that's the next thing
Adam: They have to push him overboard?
Adam: How about one of them jumps down, morphs, and then he jumps in and holds onto them until he morphs?
Ifi: I don't even know.
Ifi: But it only takes them like ten minutes to find what's left of the dome ship
Ifi: It also apparently has no security measures
Adam: Just push the button
Adam: With a fin, mind you
Adam: And boop, they are in
Ifi: Its only line of defense is the cutest alien you ever met, wielding an energy beam

Adam: So here we are now introduced to the best character in the series
Ifi: Though Marco mistakes him for Visser Three, which is just stupid.
Ifi: There have to be at least some cosmetic differences, plus Alloran is far older
Adam: Well, I don't think they’ve seen Visser Three in good lighting before at this point
Ifi: Hm. Maybe. Still. The fact he wasn't talking in all caps should have also been a hint.
Adam: And he didn't have a pet cat
Ifi: I thought it was adorable that he was thrilled that they'd all come just to rescue him.
Adam: See, he's a nice guy
Ifi: And every other member of his species is a either an enigma or a total jerk
Ifi: Oh Ax, I want to take you home and cuddle you
Adam: So we now know what Ifi's ideal man is like
Adam: Six limbed, blue and with a weaponized butt
Ifi: Yes that’s right
Adam: =X

Ifi: Anyway, Ax has nothing but bad news. The Andalites won't be coming to liberate earth for another year or two, the Yeerks are going to trash the planet for the hell of it, and he's just a kid, not unlike the Animorphs themselves.
Ifi: But we forgive him because he is awesome
Adam: And now we get a brief idea of how Andalite hierarchy works, which sets up a long running joke in the series
Ifi: Ah yes.
Ifi: "Don't call me prince."
Ifi: "Yes, Prince Jake."
Ifi: That never gets old
Adam: It did get a chuckle out of me, I will admit

Ifi: Oh and Taxxons can swim.
Ifi: Just because.
Adam: Yes, but they also burst open at the slightest nudge
Adam: This is a species that will devour its brother if it sees they have a paper cut

I expected it to be like the shark - hard, tough, unyielding. It was not. It was like hitting a soggy paper bag with a sledgehammer. The Taxxon burst like a dropped watermelon.

----Book Four, The Message

Ifi: That is incredibly poor design.
Adam: How on earth have they survived this long?
Ifi: I'm surprised they weren't all wiped out by a freak breeze.
Adam: Indeed
Ifi: By the way you guys are all murderers so congrats.
Adam: I’m pretty sure they were by the first book
Ifi: Yeah but this was the worst so far. And they are totally unbothered by it because Taxxons are ugly anyway.
Adam: Cassie does seem upset by it
Ifi: For exactly one line.
Adam: It's…better then nothing?

Ifi: Can we discuss Visser Three's morph now?
Adam: It's some sort of giant purple squid thing covered in tiny tentacles

I rose to breathe again and looked back. At just that moment I saw, far behind me, a huge, dark red, almost purple hump above the water. It seemed to be covered with hundreds of small fish tails, all beating frantically.

----Book Four, The Message

Adam: Doesn't seem like it would be very hydrodynamic
Ifi: It wasn't insanely ostentatious like past morphs, but it was just so impractical that I didn't know what to make of it.
Adam: Well, I guess it was his only water morph at the time
Adam: Remember, the Yeerk homeworld doesn't have oceans, so he might not have been properly prepared for it at that point
Ifi: No way man he spends his weekends looking for awesome morphs
Adam: This is what he does instead of playing golf
Ifi: Golf is boring as all hell anyway.
Ifi: And the Taxxons eat the flags
Adam: It was the flags faults for looking so tasty
Ifi: Oh sure blame the victims

Adam: Visser Three brings up his whole "eating people" thing again
Adam: Seriously, what is wrong with this guy?
Ifi: Easily his creepiest line so far, especially because he'd been utterly silent during his pursuit up to that point. And he’s so CALM.

<I am coming for you. You will be mine. Shall I make you Controllers? Or shall I simply eat you? The time for me to decide draws near. You weaken. Your time runs short.>

----Book Four, The Message

Ifi: Cassie and Jake do the exact same romantic confession thing that Rachel and Tobias did in the LAST book when they thought they were gonna die.

<Jake?> I said. <I wanted to tell you...>
<Yes. Me, too, Cassie,> he said.

----Book Four, The Message

<Rachel...I never told you...>
<You didn't have to, Tobias,> she said. <I knew. Good-bye.>

----Book Three, The Encounter

Adam: And then in the next book we have that with Marco and Ax

Adam: So things are looking down for our team
Adam: But they are saved, by the power of Deus ex Machina!
Adam: What particularly confounds me about this, is that they aren't the same type of whale
Ifi: Oh, I didn't even notice that
Adam: I mean, I guess I could soooorta be okay with it if he just brought some members of his pod
Adam: But no, he has a bunch of sperm whales with him too
Ifi: I just assumed it was his pod because anything else wouldn't make any sense
Ifi: Well I guess it is because whales, unlike humans, can see past petty differences and all respect each other as equals to make the world a better place for all and certainly do not prey on each other
Adam: *rolls eyes*
Ifi: And then they ride home on the whale's back. Even Ax.
Ifi: Because it is just that kind of story
Ifi: That is the most chill whale ever
Adam: And the whale knows the right spot to take them back to as well
Ifi: Well he is Jesus
Ifi: He sees you when you're sleeping
Ifi: He knows when you're awake
Ifi: Etcetera

Adam: So they make it back to land, and the wacky mishaps with Ax begin!
Adam: So he acquires them all at once, a skill which will never be used ever again, and turns into a naked bishonen
Adam: You can do your fangirlish squealing, if you'd like
Ifi: Nah I don't like him as a human.
Adam: <<
Ifi: All of the Animorphs comment at least once on how cute they find him.
Ifi: Actually, I wanted to talk about the DNA blending thing he did.
Adam: Go ahead
Ifi: He took DNA from four different people and made a composite of them. This skill could come in useful in many situations, but it's never used again, as far as I know.
Adam: I mean, it would make enough sense that he couldn't use this for different species, but I’m sure there's still some practical use for it
Ifi: I bet you could totally make a liger.
Adam: …this is probably true
Ifi: Isn’t that what you learn in Andalite school?
Adam: He wasn't paying attention
Ifi: It’s okay I forgive him
Adam: *cue Latin chanting*

Ifi: So they put Ax in some clothes and send him home with Cassie
Ifi: And we get a taste of what he is going to be like in human morph
Ifi: (a crazy person)
Adam: Stumbling around and repeating his words
Adam: Worrrds. Wordzuh. Zuh.
Ifi: I was sad we didn't get to see more of him. He was really an afterthought after Jesus Whale and the dolphins.
Adam: Well, we'll have more of his misadventures in the next two books
Ifi: Very true. I cannot wait!

Adam: So, conclusion:
Adam: Cassie sneaks off to the zoo and goes swimming with the dolphins
Ifi: When I read this as a kid, I was insanely jealous of her in that scene
Ifi: But now all I have to say is
Ifi: WHY
Adam: Because it is not an Animorphs book without someone doing something stupid to break their cover
Adam: I’ve gone swimming with dolphins
Adam: It's not all its cracked up to be
Adam: I preferred the stingrays better
Ifi: I was eight fucker
Adam: Language
Ifi: Dolphins are creatures of rainbow and magic when you're eight.
Adam: I was more of a dinosaur kid
Ifi: We went over this, we had different stuff marketed to us.
Adam: We'll get to that book later, and I will giggle like an eight year old when we do
Ifi: This book was silly but it is still one of my favorites. I can't even place why.
Ifi: Must be the dolphins.
Adam: It's a nostalgia thing
Adam: And the inherit Lisa Frank-ness appeals to you
Ifi: So true
Ifi: So very sadly true.


  1. "...this is a species that likes to run around and kill things for the fun of it"

    Eh... isn't that the impression dolphins probably have of humans? Just sayin'.

    One thing I didn't notice until now (ahem): why oh WHY do they not use seagulls as their go-to flying form? Yeah, eagles are awesome, but wouldn't the gulls be a hell of a lot less conspicuous? *Sigh* _Animorphs_ logic.

    Can't stop thinking about the healing issue now either. Ye gods, would I get back my traitorous gallbladder? And what the hell happens to your fillings?

    And while this should go without saying, please never stop posting those new covers.

  2. I freaking love finding the new covers. It brings such joy to my heart.

    I feel like the healing aspect of the morphing technology is just as important as the actually shape-changing, or even more so. You could revolutionize the entire field of medicine with it! OR YOU COULD JUST TURN INTO A DOG AND RUN AROUND ALL DAY W/E. They sort of explore that whole thing in one book, but not enough, I think.

    PS: Thank you so much for the amazing fanarts! They were amazing!

  3. I remember being really into the whole Jesus-whale-telekinesis-whatever scene as a kid. I was all OH YEAH MAN SO DEEP. But I was into lots of weird new-agey mystical shit as a kid too so that probably has something to do with it.

    Those other whales were clearly his disciples.

    ...Someone draw The Last Supper with whales right now.

  4. Ifi - Thank you so much! Although I'm a little sad that somebody got to Whale Jesus before I did. (Ah heck, I'll do it anyway. :)

    Chris - Oh man... I got a big empty canvas lying around here. (I won't. What would my giant -although extremely liberal, post-Vatican 2, Christmas and Easter, Weddings and Funerals, Baptisms and Confirmations- Irish/Polish Catholic family think?)

  5. Addendum (since I didn't even realize this until after I hit "Post"): Has anyone else read Diane Duane's _Deep Wizardry_?

  6. I read that! One of these days I'm going to do a long-winded review of the entire series.

    I guess whales being sentient and even spiritual beings is sort of a common idea in fantasy/sf. I read tons of books about dolphins/whales as a kid, and they were ALWAYS morally superior to horrible evil humans.

    Little girls love dolphins. I can't stress this enough. I wanted to be Cassie SO BAD in this book.

  7. Hmm, I might just end up making the Whale Last Supper myself...

    Also, Ifi, read the Illuminatus Trilogy if you haven't already.

  8. I saw the whales as a distinctly New Age kind of trippy, myself.

    ...Now I wish they'd morphed corvids at some point.

  9. Corvids! Dolphins of the air!

    (Why do people look at me weird when I say that? <:( )

  10. Hmm, I could swear that they morphed crows in a later book. I could be misremembering though.

  11. Huh, I guess Visser Three's morphs aren't the only thing in this series that are based on a D&D monster manual:
    "Whales live in tribal gatherings called pods, they maintain strong personal and clan ties... they welcome communication with other beings. They do not lie... neutral in alignment toward humanoids (but) their alignment towards sea life is generally lawful good... In the cetacean culture they (great whales) serve functions similar to knights or barons by protecting... against evil sea monsters and whalers...(the Leviathan) is the lord of all whales and the intermediary between cetaceans and the gods... awakens if summoned by the needs of other whales or by divine request."
    -D&D 2nd edition monster manual- "Whale"

  12. Actually, the ship thing is not that unrealistic. A lot of stuff is automated, with cranes hauling those containers onto and off of the ships, and a relatively small crew that mostly fusses over the below-decks machinery. Staying out of sight on the deck of one of those huge shipping vessels would not be too hard.