Do you remember them? Did you read them, or do you just remember the covers? Girls turned into starfish, boys into tigers, and it was beyond wacky. I remember staring at them in absolute, pre-ironic fascination. I was not allowed to read them. If you were, lucky you.
I decided to start reading the series in this year of our lord 2k19 to set right what was once wrong, and let me tell you, it is beyond rad. It is everything the covers promise, and more. I think it is the best series of our time.
Let me begin with the fact that I have not finished the series. I have not even reached the equator; in this 54-book epic, I am now merely at book 14, and for the moment it has been worth every line.
The series starts when a group of kids stumble upon a dying alien of the beautiful race of Andalites, who warns them of the invasion of Earth by the Yeerks, a slug-like species who slither into people’s ears and possess them. Once in control of the individual, they Yeerks become indistinguishable from regular humans because they can use the host’s memories to blend in. As a weapon to fight the Yeerks, the Andalite gives the kids the ability to morph into any animal they manage to touch.
There are more details, but this is the core. The plot of every book follows the same structure: something fuck-y happens in their town, the kids decide to investigate, morph into the Animal of the Week, and sabotage what invariably turns to be the Yeerk operation. Some drama goes down, the kids go through a battle, traumatizing stuff happens, incredibly stupid shit happens, and they regroup to eat ice cream or something. What saves the series from being any run-of-the-mill late twenty century story is the following:
- All the transformations are described in horrible, pants-shitting detail. Eyes go on stalks, pants dissolve, skin disappears, the mind becomes lost in a swarm or in a bunch of animal impulses and instincts. Ah, also, if you spend more than two hours in an animal morph, you stay like that forever. And that is not an empty threat, it actually happens. So far we have a kid that has become a bird for Bob knows how many books, eating live rats and wanting to mate with other birds.
- The books are so, so very ACAB. Yeerks strategically infect cops, politicians, teachers, doctors and authority figures. The kids quickly learn to trust no one.
- The books are surprisingly nuanced for an alien invasion story. Yeerks are not uniformly bad. Most of them are awful, for sure, but there is significant subtext of them just wanting to live despite being subject to shitty biology. Some of them even boycott other Yeerks, for various reasons. Also, the Andalites show signs of not being the Ascetic Race of Saintly Warriors they were appeared to be at first, and there are hints that they might suck ass as well.
- As dumb as the series can be (believe me, it becomes very dumb), the kids are taken seriously. They are kids, they are not ready to fight an interstellar war, and the whole thing is well beyond their means. They are traumatized by the deaths and the violence they are seeing. The casualties in the war are not treated as non-player characters (NPCs).
- Most importantly, and related to the aforementioned point, is that, despite all their efforts, the kids are losing. Outnumbered and out-skilled by several orders of magnitude, they are reduced to using guerrilla tactics on an enemy that virtually controls the region’s economy and politics. What they are doing makes a difference, for sure. There are lives saved and battles won, but at this point in the series they have done nothing to delay the inevitable. And, if at some point there is a breakthrough or help arrives, it still will not bring back the dead.
I think a lot about the last point. Are we not, right now, engaged in a completely futile battle? The planet is dying, our living conditions are becoming worse, wealth is being concentrated in the hands of the few. We can dream of a time when the power of capitalism will be a thing of the past just like the power of kings, as Ursula K. Le Guin said, but that time will most likely not come soon.
We are all engaged in a battle for equality, for the environment, for our right to live. We have no signs or guarantee of winning. However, if we work together, it will make a difference. Only it is not enough. And, despite only being able to save a few, we have to keep fighting as if we could save everything.
Text and Image by Crab
Crab is a translator, cook, and writer based in Berlin. They are interested in food and community activism. They have collaborated with COVEN BERLIN since 2013.