Animorphs is a book series written by KA Applegate. They are mainly aimed at 12 - 16 year olds, but they exibit a mild 'Harry Potter' effect - ie, older people like them too. The series tells the story of a group of kids who are trying desperately to resist a secret alien invasion. Their only weapon is the power to 'morph' into any animal they touch, a power granted to them by the dying Andalite* Prince Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul, as a last resort to save our endangered planet. Unfortunately their enemy, the Yeerks, are completely ruthless, incredibly secretive, and extremely numerous.
The original Animorphs book, The Invasion, was published in the USA in 1996. The series has now grown to approximately 45 books. Though the books are rather short and in large type, don't be fooled: They deal with the psychological effects of war on humans, and are rarely simple Sci-Fi adventures. The focus is on the toll exacted on the hearts and minds of people to whom this constant battle was never meant to happen. The characters frequently question the morality of what they are doing and if there is really any point to it; though they achieve a large number of small victories, the invasion relentlessly marches on. Even the victories they do manage to grab sometimes turn bad, with free Yeerk traitors being terminated and security being increased on Yeerk projects.
As has been said, the defenders' sole weapon is the power to morph. They do this by 'acquiring' animals, or extracting a sample of their DNA to use as a template for their new form. To 'acquire' an animal they must touch it and concentrate. This generally (though not always) puts the animal into a trance, lasting for about ten seconds after the process is complete. This allows the defender time to escape if, say, they are 'acquiring' a tiger, and also prevents the animal from running away while they're copying its genetic plan.
To acquire the ability to morph, the Animorphs used a small blue box called an 'Escafil device'. In the books the one supposed to receive the power touches the top while an Andalite touches the bottom (though it is never specifically said that an Andalite must be involved in the process, that is the general belief). Once in an acquired form, one may stay that way for two earth hours. After that time, they will be stuck like that forever. This happens to Tobias at the end of the first book, but he later regains his powers after an encounter with an Ellimist*.
'Morphing is not some neat, sensible, process where you gradually become something else.' This quote, or a variant of it, appears in every book. Once one starts, they first of all change size*, and various body parts sprout of their own accord. You can feel their bones grinding and internal organs reshaping and rearranging themselves. It feels like a Novocaine injection from a dentist - you know it should hurt, but it doesn't. Each book also features a flicker-book style series of pictures in the bottom left corner of the page showing one of the characters morphing, usually from a human into an animal (though there are other variations). These images are also shown in a brief series of overlapping pictures on the front cover. While morphed, an individual can communicate telepathically, either to just one person, to a few, or to everybody within range. This telepathy has about the same range as normal speech, but is not affected by barriers and can be understood by anyone, no matter what their language or intelligence.
The books tell you that the narrators are not safe, and the Yeerks are everywhere. They all begin with something along the lines of 'My name is Jake, and I can't tell you my last name, or where I live*. It's too dangerous. If the Yeerks find us, it's all over'. The books are all entitled The [Something], eg The Invasion, The Visitor, The Encounter, etc. They are alternately told from the point of view of each animorph, in this order: Jake, Rachel, Tobias/Ax*, Cassie, and Marco. Each gives their own slant on the war and how the others all seem to react.
Jake is the leader by common consent. No-one elected him, they just all kind of followed him, and when Ax asked who their prince (leader) was, everyone turned to Jake. Jake is generally seen as being some sort of general, and has had a lot of growing up to do in a very short period of time. Though the Animorph's ages are never revealed, 14 is generally a good approximation. Jake has to act like a military commander of about 40, and take responsibilty for almost all dangers faced by the rest of the group. For this reason, the war has hit him the hardest. Jake's brother, Tom, is a Controller1.
Marco sums up Rachel pretty well - 'Has it all - looks and brains'. Rachel is the bravest warrior, though as she herself is fond of saying, 'Bravery is not about lack of fear - that's insanity. Bravery is about being afraid and doing it anyway'. Whenever the team are deciding whether or not to undertake a mission, Rachel is the first to say 'I'm in!' She has coped remarkably well with her parents' divorce, and takes gymnastics classes.
Tobias, through a rather complicated series of events, is actually Elfangor's son, but is a human - or at least, he was. He never knew his father and his mother disappeared when he was about four, so he ended up being shunted back and forth across the country between an aunt and an uncle who don't really want him, and don't even try to find him after he 'disappears'. At the end of book one, Tobias becomes trapped in hawk form, which causes him great mental anguish, but he later gets over it and in fact tends to be the most cheerful (or at least the least maudlin) of the team. For the most part, Tobias lives like a hawk, but talks to his friends every day, and often flies into the local park to read over people's shoulders. With his hawk's eyes, he can do this from great distances. In book 13, he regains his power to morph, albeit with his hawk body as his basic form. Tobias is often described as their first casualty, and Rachel tends to get rather protective of him.
Cassie is the daughter of two vets, and Marco calls her a tree-hugger due to her highly pacific (and vegetarian) nature. She and her dad rescue sick and injured animals and heal them in their barn, and it is from here that the Animorphs obtain most of their animal forms. Cassie regularly wishes she could quit the whole war and just go back to the way things were, stop the fighting, or maybe find some sort of peaceful solution. This is not to be. She has a crush on Jake and no fashion sense.
Marco is the joker in the pack, though this is his way of coping. His philosophy, which his mother taught him before she disappeared, is that you can either look at the world as sad or funny. For example, it is sad that hundreds of people are killed in war, but funny that people get that obsessed over a useless patch of desert land. However, when the subject gets up close and personal (ie, related to his mother), then even Marco cannot laugh it off. He is highly suspicious, but this makes him good at seeing past the surface of things. He also knows that occasionally it is better to seem insane than reasonable.
Ax is Elfangor's brother and the sole survivor of the Andalite force sent to save Earth. (If this army were to be captured by the Yeerks, it will make them (the Yeerks) unstoppable due to the sheer numbers they would now control). Having an Andalite is not as useful as it might seem, as Ax is just a young apprentice warrior, and indeed is pretty much the Andalite counterpart to the Animorphs. Still, compared to humans, he is hyper-intelligent and knows a lot about the various aliens they encounter, and has an extremely accurate biological clock. When he narrates a book, he gives a very quirky account of Human society ('Humans wear clothes because they believe many parts of their bodies to be unacceptable. They are correct, but about the wrong parts. There is nothing uglier than a human nose.' - from book eight, The Alien). Ax's human morph is a male combination of attributes from the other Animorphs, except for Tobias, who was still permanently hawk when they found him. Since they are both outsiders, Ax and Tobias form a deep friendship, known to Andalites as shorm. Since Andalites have no mouths, Ax's desperation to experience taste tends to get them into trouble. His favourite food is chocolate, followed by chilli and cigarette stubs.
Visser Three, as his name suggests, is third in charge of the Yeerk army, and is also in charge of the invasion of Earth. He is the only Andalite-Controller in the galaxy. His Andalite body is that of the disgraced Alloran-Semitur-Corass, who attempted to prevent the Yeerks from conquering the Hork-Bajir by using a molecular virus, a forbidden weapon of lethal proportions, as described in The Hork-Bajir Chronicles, a prequel to Animorphs. Elfangor also had a role to play in Alloran's becoming a controller, which is described in The Andalite Chronicles. Visser Three has a less-favoured twin, Esplin 9466, and is unaware that the Animorphs are not Andalites. A number of his underlings suspect the truth, but they are too afraid to mention of it.
Erek is a Chee, one of a race of humanoid androids. Though he appears to be about 14, he is actually incredibly ancient, and know more than anyone else on Earth (except for the other Chee). He occasionally joins the Animorphs on their missions, but his programming does not allow him to fight.
Obviously, no sci-fi series would be complete without a selection of weird aliens, and Animorphs is no exception:
Resembling blue centaurs with no mouths, scorpion tails, seven fingers on each hand, and two auxiliary eye-stalks, the Andalites like to portray themselves as the galactic goodies, but in fact are arrogant to the point where they will refuse any and all help, regardless of the good it might do. They have a strict law called Seerow's Kindness which forbids giving advanced technology to more primitive races, named after the Andalite Prince who gave the Yeerks the ability to travel through space. They eat through their hooves. Though they tell their people that they are doing well in the war against the Yeerks, they are in fact losing.
Yeerks are a race of parasites, similar to the Goa'uld in Stargate. Yeerks enter a host though the ear and attach to the brain, linking with their neurons so that the host is completely dominated and the Yeerk has access to all of the host's memories. The host cannot access the Yeerk's memories beyond what the Yeerk decides to show them, but may feel the Yeerk's emotions. There is no way to tell if someone is possessed by a Yeerk, as they will behave exactly the same as they always have. Yeerks must leave their host every three days to enter a 'Yeerk pool' and soak up 'Kandrona Rays,' waves emmitted from a machine designed to simulate the Yeerk's home sun. If they do not get this regular Kandrona fix, they will die. The supreme Yeerk authority is the Council of Thirteen, and below that, there are 42 'Vissers,' or generals. One who is possessed by a Yeerk is known as a Controller. Visser Three is the only Andalite Controller, and Visser One inhabits the body of Marco's mother.
Asymmetrical, stupid, monkey-like organisms with poor powers of sight, Gedds are the original hosts of the Yeerks. They are still given to low-ranking Yeerks.
Though very tall with a lot of blades and claws, the Hork-Bajir are actually very peaceful and feed on nothing more dangerous than tree bark. The Yeerks, however, use their claws and blades for killing. They are not spectacularly intelligent, and their native language contains a mere 500 words. Every so often, a 'seer' is born to them, supposedly to guide them through a dangerous phase, but actually as the random result of suppressed genes for intelligence popping up despite advanced genetic engineering. The Hork-Bajir were first created by a race called the Arn as guardians of a delicate ecosystem which they created in order to survive after an asteroid collided with their home planet. There is a colony of free Hork-Bajir living in a remote mountain range on Earth, which the Yeerks are always trying to find. Yeerks use the Hork-Bajir for combat.
The Taxxons are giant, carnivorous, cannibalistic centipedes, whose hunger is so intense not even a Yeerk can control it. The Taxxon home-world is mostly barren wasteland, and the race submitted to Yeerk control voluntarily. There is a small group of rebel Taxxons fighting against the Yeerks on the home-world. Taxxon Controllers are generally used for technical jobs.
These are a race of giant telepathic frogs, with tentacles for front legs. Visser One is leading the invasion of the Leeran home-world, using Yeerk-implanted, genetically enhanced hammerhead sharks as soldiers. Leeran telepathy prevents the Yeerks from using their normal tactics of gradually assimilating all the intelligent races on a planet.
A female-dominated race of 2mm-tall humanoid insects, Helmacrons are intent on conquering the galaxy in toy-like spaceships. They can use an Escafil Device to shrink other organisms to their size. The Animorphs defeat them by enlarging a group of males and sending them back to their home-world to lead a revolution. Due to the way Helmacron minds operate, this will take an extraordinarily long time.
Their original form is unknown, and their very existence is considered by many of the more intelligent races to be nothing more than the intergalactic equivalent of a fairytale. The Ellimists were once organic beings, but their technology progressed to a stage where they could successfully alter time, and they became a race of pan-dimensional, omniscient, potentially omnipotent beings; in short, gods. One of them shows up in the series from time to time to send the Animorphs on various errands, despite their having a strict (and frequently broken) code of not interfering in the affairs of other races. They tend to get around this by finding loopholes such as getting members of another race to carry out their wishes. Elfangor also has an encounter with one in The Andalite Chronicles, where he sees it in its true form: 'An indescribable being of light and time and space.'*. The ultimate aim of the Ellimists is for all races to live together in peace and harmony.
Crayak is a single being - an enemy of the Ellimists and just as powerful. Part-organic, part-machine, he sits on a throne kilometres tall, and has a single, enormous, all-seeing eye. Crayak believes that there should only be one race in the universe that it should be under his control. To this end, he created the Howlers. Crayak is first seen at the end of book six, when the Yeerk that has entered Jake's brain dies, but true significance of this is not revealed for some time afterwards.
Pemalites and Chee
The Pemalites are a race of humanoid canines, and the Chee are their robotic creations. The Pemalite home-world was once an idyllic place of total harmony, and the race's advanced science was used only to perpetuate peace and love. When they developed a robot that could tell a joke (the first Chee), they held a celebration that lasted a year. However, their peace was shattered when the Howlers appeared and started a massacre. The Howlers used both lasers and germ warfare, but their most lethal weapon was their namesake: the howls. All Pemalites, upon hearing it, dropped dead after a few minutes. The Chee were unaffected, and they evacuated the planet, taking the last few Pemalites with them - Pemalites that were all close to death due to the Howlers' germ warfare. The Chee landed on Earth with a mere six Pemalites still alive. Seeing no way to save their creators, the Chee transplanted their souls into wolves, genetically the closest animals to Pemalites on Earth. This gave rise to super-emotional, almost always happy dogs. The Chee, meanwhile, stayed to help their creators, using holograms to appear as humans. These holograms are super-advanced, though insect eyes can see through them, even appearing to age. Every few years, the Chee seem to die, but in fact just load a new hologram. Though incredibly intelligent and sophisticated, the Chee are specifically programmed to be incapable of violence. They believe that all life is sacred, and to this end, work both to free humanity from Yeerk oppression, but also to preserve the Yeerks.
A race of war-like cyborgs created by Crayak, whose only purpose is to wipe out all other life. Though they are equipped with eyes that automatically scan other life forms and detect weaknesses, built-in guns and high intelligence, their greatest weapon is their howl. The Howlers are the most dangerous race in the entire universe, and the only way to defeat them is to outsmart them - which is actually surprisingly easy, since their knowledge tends to be limited to their own experience.
Iskoorts are from the distant future. Some Yeerks saw that what they were doing was wrong and genetically engineered bodies specifically to inhabit, bodies with no will of their own, who could not, in fact, survive without a Yeerk - or, as they know themselves, Yoort. The Yoort also genetically engineered themselves so that they could only inhabit this new body, which they called an Isk (Isk + Yoort = Iskoort). The Ellimist and Crayak each decide on a team of champions to fight over the Iskoort on their behalfs - the Ellimist chooses the Animorphs and Erek; Crayak chooses seven Howlers.
The Skrit Na drive flying saucers and their life cycle is divided into two stages. The primary stage, the Skrit, resembles a huge, many-legged cockroach, and is quite stupid. After a few years, it spins a cocoon, and a few months later, a Na hatches (the Na are the series' obligatory 'take' on the 'grey' alien, who has entered the popular imagination as the typical alien asociated with conspiracy theories such as the Roswell incident and tales of alien abduction). The Na are quite intelligent, and run the civilisation of their species. The Skrit Na are a race of collectors, extracting samples of organic life from various planets and bringing it back to their own world. Why they do this is not known.
In 1999, Animorphs was converted into a short-lived TV series on both the BBC and Nickelodeon. Despite the popularity of the books, the TV series was a critical and commercial flop. People simply weren't interested, though it didn't help matters that the series deviated a lot from the books and lacked many of the anti-war undertones of the books. The books, themselves, however, continued to sell extremely well. If you want to read a series about the effects of war on people, a Sci-Fi conspiracy series where the Humans are losing, or feel you have outgrown Harry Potter, then Animorphs is well worth checking out.