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Fedex: The Williams Family

UPS: Josh Killacky, Jake Deanda, & Alex DiTommaso

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[I wish we’d had more Jake Sisko. I love that he’s a writer and reporter rather than wanting to go into Starfleet. I love that he comes up against his idealized versions of things over and over - in ‘Explorers’ we learn that his father thinks he might want to write more about what he knows, and in 'Nor the Battle to the Strong’ we see how he moves away from fiction - and traditional ideas of heroism - to write about his own war experiences. See also: 'what about freedom of the press?’ to Weyoun. ]

Short opinion: This is the best book.  Not the best Animorphs book, just the best book of all time.  Period.

Long opinion:

This is one of those books where plot and character are difficult to sort out, because the plot is so character-driven and the characters are so influential to the plot that they are irreparably wrapped up in each other—and the entire story is driven by the protagonists’ agency.  This book opens and closes on Jake’s dreams, and in that first dream sequence he’s this tiny, helpless human in the face of this ginormous cosmic power.  I love that this scene draws attention to the fact that Jake first encountered Crayak under circumstances when he was literally the most helpless he’s ever been in his life: Jake is literally paralyzed because of the dying yeerk inside his brain when he suddenly finds himself facing down this malicious all-knowing deity.  In that scene Jake describes himself as the “keeper” of his brother’s memories (Have I mentioned the Cain parallels recently?), foreshadowing both the fact that by the end of the book he’ll be the only being with Howler DNA or memories in the whole universe, and the fact that by the end of the series he’ll be the only being with Tom’s memories in the universe.

The next scene with the kids watching a production of Lion King (funny how that plot hinges on the villain killing his older brother…) in a way that makes them utterly themselves: Rachel is pretty much daring a guy to try and hit on her so she can release a little pent-up frustration on a harasser, Marco is pulling ridiculous stunts to get Jake to laugh, Cassie is totally zoned out because let’s be real she doesn’t give a crap about the fine arts, and Jake is enjoying the peace and quiet for a bit while also not giving a crap about the fine arts.  When Ax shows up he’s totally confused but goes into hyper-protective mode toward his team anyway, and when Tobias pops up he figures out in two seconds flat what it took everyone else a few minutes to catch on to: this is the Ellimist at work.  

One of my favorite subtle moments in the series is when Marco snarks at the Ellimist about the pinnacle of ketran evolution being the ability to look like a teenager with braces, and then almost immediately has a silent freak-out because he just sassed a divinity.  I really love how Marco’s quick thinking gets him in trouble almost as much as it gets him out, and how it shows that even his clever one-liners are a coping mechanism rather than a calculated attempt to appear cool.  His inability to get through a stressful situation without making dumb jokes literally almost gets the kids killed in #30 and #42, and here he has the good sense to realize that the Ellimist is the absolute last person he should be mocking—about ten seconds after he’s already gone and done it.

Also, Jake and Rachel’s relationship in this book is heartbreaking and awesome.  When the kids first learn about the conflict with the Iskoort they’re understandably reluctant to get involved in yet another cosmic war but Rachel especially argues that they shouldn’t get themselves killed needlessly in a conflict that has nothing to do with the yeerks… Until Jake admits that Crayak has been harassing him in his dreams.  Rachel does a one-eighty to “No Crayak space monster is gonna beat up on my cousin” the millisecond she finds out (#26).  Marco also jumps sides of the argument immediately with an eye to defending Jake, and before they know it they’re already off to the races.  Later on, just before the final battle, Rachel literally holds Jake in her arms in grizzly morph while he becomes a Howler for the first time, because she’s the only person Jake trusts to kill him without hesitation if he loses control of the morph.  These two share a level of trust—Jake trusts Rachel to defend his life, but also more importantly to know when to end his life when the cost of defending it would be too high, and Rachel has exactly the same level of trust in Jake—that we don’t see with any other pair on the team.  It goes way, way beyond their simple shared willingness to get their hands dirty; it’s about trusting each other with their lives but also with their deaths.  

This is also the book where (if he didn’t already have it) Jake definitely earns the title of “war-prince.”  Not only does he fight a battle against two infinitely more powerful beings and win, not only does he outmaneuver the most deadly alien species the kids ever face using the power of love, but he also plays the part of Team Mom throughout this nightmarish field trip while just as scared and lost as everyone else present.  He takes the time to check on Cassie in the middle of the night while also terrified the Howlers will attack at any moment.  He gently talks Marco down when Marco’s about to panic at the sheer foreignness of the situation.  He not-so-gently calls Erek on the fact that Erek is lying by omission for large parts of this book.  All the while he also weighs and balances everything he knows about the Howlers and the Iskoort, constantly gathering more information (frequently at risk to his own life, as with that awesome-nutso gambit with jumping off a cliff to acquire Howler DNA) until eventually he figures out the motivations of everyone else jerking him around.  He describes himself as “an ant on a chessboard,” but that doesn’t mean he can’t learn how to play.  By the end of the book he’s thinking on the same level as the Ellimist and Crayak, while also viscerally understanding the ordinary Howler or Iskoort.  As Rachel’s bulletin board says:  ’“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.’ - Sun Tzu” (#4).  

Jake also verbally embraces the title of “prince” for the first (possibly only) time in the series during this book, twice ordering Ax to defend his own life against the Howlers.  Jake doesn’t totally get andalite culture, evident in the fact that he’s not sure why Ax cares so much about having run from an unwinnable battle.  But he also knows and understands (and cares about) Ax, enough so to grasp that what Ax needs is the reassurance of his prince that he didn’t do anything wrong.  Jake has to practically step on Rachel’s toes to stop her from volunteering for the suicide mission (because of course) but he does it, aware that Ax will view this as a chance to reaffirm his place on the team and regain what “honor” he lost by running from the Howler.  Jake is never comfortable with the leadership role, and least comfortable of all when someone puts a formal title on his leadership.  However, he also understands that when Ax is literally ready to die in order to affirm his place on the team, the whole “prince” bit is not about him; it’s about helping Ax.  And so he calls himself Ax’s prince, not once but twice, in order to save Ax’s life.  Because it’s what needs doing in order to keep the team alive.  

In addition to the spot-on characterization and the mind-bogglingly huge plot, this book also has some vicious commentary on philosophy of war.   Marco actually calls Erek on the fact that, when the Animorphs are about to be slaughtered by a far more powerful enemy, Erek’s decision not to act is an action in and of itself.  Maybe Erek doesn’t have a choice about not causing harm, even at the expense of preventing a murder, but Erek also sure as hell does not have the moral high ground.  Pacifism is not a righteous course of action in the face of atrocity, and Erek standing by to watch his friends get slaughtered—knowing all the while that the entire Iskoort species also hangs in the balance—is not the moral high ground.  Jake actually feels loathing for the Pemalites as he frantically flies back toward the hopeless battle that might have cost Cassie and Rachel their lives, thinking that he’ll never forgive them if they got his friends killed with their short-sighted, obsessive nonviolence when they programmed the Chee.  

The social comment in this book isn’t a particularly comforting or comfortable one (but then when are they ever, in Animorphs books?) but it is an important message: that the world is an ugly place in which simple neutrality is the prerogative of the privileged.  One cannot call oneself moral simply by standing by and refusing to fight back while evil triumphs (X).  As Cassie points out to Jake, only slave owners and Nazis have ever had the luxury of branding entire groups of people as uniformly evil and one’s own cause as uniformly good (#26).  In order to stop a terrible wrong, the kids have to commit a terrible wrong.  The war is not won through anything as easy as standing on principle, because no lofty abstract principle ever works in 100% of cases in the real world.  Erek is no better or worse than any of the kids because he is held to a certain standard of behavior by external constraints; even an idea as pure as “do no harm” does not stand up when one has the chance to stop genocide and cannot.  

Crayak understands the idea better than the Pemalites did, when he designs the Howlers: the opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference (X).  The Chee aren’t programmed to hate—or to love—any other species.  

More specifically, this book also calls Erek out on his tendency to consider himself above the Animorphs because of his nonviolence.  Erek is every bit as vengeful (bloodthirsty, even) as Ax or Rachel throughout this whole conflict, but he also refuses to acknowledge that fact.  He conveniently forgets to mention the fact that the Howlers are innocent (relatively speaking) in their childish indifference to death and ignorance of failure until Jake also discovers that fact.  Years before the Animorphs use Erek to do their dirty work in the fight against Tom’s yeerk, Erek uses them to do his dirty work through setting up the fight with the Howlers and letting them annihilate another species without even having all of the facts about who they’re fighting.  

The motif is writ large throughout the series: war is won through sacrifice, and most of those sacrifices are not as clean or glorious as simply dying for one’s cause.  Erek stands by, choosing to give up the fight after only one battle turns too ugly for his liking (#10), and as a result the entire species of Howlers gets wiped out by Crayak.  As a result of his later actions, both Tom and Rachel get killed and the Blade ship remains free to conquer another planet (#53).  And yet this is a being who (allegedly) never hurts anyone for any reason.  Erek is self-righteous, vengeful, and morally hypocritical.  That fact gets a little lost in books like #20, #32, or #45, but here Jake makes the contrast between his friends—who are running headlong into a deadly battle for the sake of some yeerk-descendants—and the Chee—who are forced to stand by and risk nothing with nothing gained—painfully clear.  

This book offers no simple answers, and it shows that in war, there are no simple answers.  However, it also ends with Jake surrounded by his friends, taking triumph from the fact that he’s just a helpless little human facing down a malicious all-knowing deity whose ass he just kicked.  USING THE POWER OF LOVE.  Have I mentioned that this is the best book ever written?  

Imagine hollowheart soulmate au

in which they both have tattoos of the day they’ll meet on their arms. Jacob who’s born in our modern days has a tattoo that says 09.03.1943 and that’s insane! How can it be, time travel does not exist so it must be a mistake! He knows about the stories grandpa told him but he still doesn’t believe. His parents tell him that grandpa probably chose the day in the story intentionally knowing about Jake’s mark and how he will probably be upset about it when he’ll grow up. Maybe grandpa created those stories just to cheer him up, make him believe that there really is someone for him.
But then Abe dies and his last words are about that goddamn date. So eventually Jacob finds the loop and the children and when he sees Emma he just instantly decides that it, that’s the girl, it’s 09.03.1943, she’s pretty and kind and bold and she actually likes him so it must be her! But he doesn’t tell her, doesn’t show the mark right away cause he’s afraid to scare her off, he thinks it’s too soon, waits for the right moment. 
He thinks that the right moment has come when they are on the ship, preparing to fight hollows and wights  to save miss Peregrine. He leans in to kiss Emma end tells her that he can’t leave her, they are soulmates after all and he shows her his mark. 
And oops Emma is shocked and kind of sad for him cause she has other date on her arm and she already found her soulmate and that’s Olive, the two of them met long before this loop was created. But she never tells him that the only person in this loop with a mark like that is Enoch. She thinks Jake should find that out for himself especially considering he and Enoch don’t get along very well. 
Jake finds out not long after when he and Enoch go to chek on how many hearts does Enoch have with him (how many skeletons he can bring to life with it), Enoch opens this big box full of organs, but before he does he rolls up his sleeves and that’s when Jacob sees it. A tattoo with the exact same numbers.
Jake is terrified cause you know they’re going into a battle, someone might get hurt or die even, and even if they all survive he has to go back home in his time, what should he do about all that? 
Jacob decides not to do anything for now, but he worries about Enoch, he tries to keep Enoch safe and all that. And he also notices how well they work together as a team, and how Enoch is protective of him too. And they both survive this battle but Jake still has to go home, so he doesn’t tell Enoch about all that soulmate stuff.
But then a year or so later he comes back, for Enoch, who already knows (“come on Jake, i’m not that stupid, i figured it out much earlier than you did!”), and who’s been waiting for him. 
But there’s also Enoch’s side of that story. Imagine how he must have lived in the times much older than 09.03.1943 in other loop and couldn’t even imagine why would he end up in this other year, wold it be a new loop, or will he just live that long in the one he lives now?
Then Miss Peregrine takes him to her loop where he meets her children and there’s no one there with the same mark on their arm. So Enoch waits for years and years when finally he gives up that stupid idea of a stupid love for some stupid stranger. 
So when Jacob finally shows up decades later Enoch hates him! He doesn’t even have to look at his hands to be sure. Of course it’s him. Who else would it be? So Enoch is all like “Well that’s just perfect! I was waiting for that dumb boy all those years and when i gave up, when i started hating even the idea of soulmate there he is! With his dumb blue eyes and his dumb everything! And maybe if i scare him enough he’ll run home to his time and leave me in peace?" 
Later he realizes of course that there’s another reason to why he was trying to scare Jake off. He was actually scared himself. That when Jake’ll see this mark on his arm, when he’ll also see what Enoch’s peculiarity is, what he can do, Jake will actually run away willingly. 
But he didn’t. He got scared of course but he didn’t run, he stayed, he helped, they even got friendly by the end of their adventure. 
And when they say goodbye Enoch suddenly realizes he will be missing this boy, he doesn’t want to let him go, but he should. And he’s not even sure now that Jacob really is his soulmate, he never told him, they never checked their tattoos to see if they match. 
So he doesn’t say anything, and then he waits for Jacob to return again, not even knowing for sure that he will actually return. But Jacob comes back eventually. He comes back to Enoch.

DESIGN INTERLUDE THREE

Last week we talked about field-testing a character design by drawing a page or so of comics around it to see how the design holds up.

I felt pretty good about the design I’d done in my first test, but still had some questions about how it’d work from certain angles and distances. I decided to do another test to try them out. I also wanted to test out the character underneath the design, and to develop the world of the new story i was toying around with.

In the previous short the character hadn’t made any choices or done anything, it was all mood, and I wanted to give her an opportunity to find a voice here. And I wanted a world that was more convincing and well thought-out than the little graveyard I threw together for the last short.

So I made this:

The environment here is inspired by the roman roads, thousands of years old and leading nowhere, that i saw all over Italy when I studied there. I liked the idea of a girl traveling through graveyards towards her goal, but I wanted something like a whole city, a whole country given over to death between her and her destination. Like if after the sack of Rome, everyone just abandoned the Italian Peninsula, giving it over to nameless horrors, mad gods, and the restless dead. So I gathered all the pictures of roman ruins i could find, and some arthropod reference to help with the look of my nameless horrors, and got to drawing.

The exchange between the Third Sword and the creepies in the well was motivated by some personal stuff I was dealing with at the time, and I didn’t feel like I’d found her voice at the end of it. It felt more like me working shit out than this character speaking her thoughts. And I wanted to find out if she could actually sword fight in that coat. I liked the way it looked in a breeze, but was it combat-ready, you know?

So I decided to make another short to help me find my character’s voice and to battle-test her design.

-Jake

Short opinion: I might have had empathy for David while reading #20, but that all disappeared real fast around the time Jake tells Ax that they need to start looking for Tobias not in the sky but dead on the ground.  

Long opinion:

This book has always struck me as being a study in military leadership.  We get relatively little introspection from Jake for once (and thank goodness; as much as I love that kid even I think he needs to lighten up on the self-loathing sometimes) because this is a book about how the Animorphs are doing something very right.  Specifically, they are operating exactly as a small military unit should—and it takes a clueless, selfish outsider in order to act as a foil and show just how friggin’ competent these child soldiers actually are.  A lot of that competence comes straight from the Animorphs’ absolute, unhesitating trust in their leader, to the point of literally being willing to die at his command.  David throws a pretty huge wrench in the works by simply being there with the team, and none of the Animorphs handle that challenge to Jake’s leadership particularly well.  Then again, considering how much of the plot of this book hinges on the Animorphs needing strong leadership just to stay alive, one can appreciate their disgust at David’s disobedience.  

Because Jake holds that team together.  Marco might tease him for his lack of science knowledge, Rachel might treat him like a little brother, Ax might enjoy winding him up with the whole “prince” thing, Tobias might happily poke fun at his bad grades, and Cassie might be quick to point out his lack of people skills, but they all respect the hell out of Jake.  Again and again in this book (and in the series as a whole) they prove that they literally trust him with their lives.  Sure, it helps that going into the war Cassie and Marco have both been friends with Jake for years while Rachel’s known him her whole life, Ax wants anyone who can tell him what to do, and Tobias has latched on like a barnacle learned that he can rely on Jake to help him out.  But Jake also earns that trust over the course of the war.  He goes into every battle with six Animorphs, and he comes out of every battle except the last one with six Animorphs (X).  He will deliberately refuse to ask his team to do anything he isn’t willing to do himself, and he will physically throw himself between the line of fire and any of his friends if he can.  

…so it’s patently ridiculous that David thinks he can win leadership over the Animorphs through biting people.  It seems almost silly to consider that David thinks Rachel and the others will seriously acknowledge his superiority as a direct result of him hurting someone they love.  And yet that exact trope is incredibly common in fantasy and sci fi.  Highlander, Pacific Rim, Dune, The Sword of Truth, X-Men, Spectrum, Babylon 5, Journey to Chaos, and like 400 other books and movies I don’t have space to list all portray male characters winning or attempting to win leadership roles (or infinitely worse, the respect of relatively passive female characters) through punching each other.  Technically speaking, David and Jake’s little catfight is a classic dominance battle… and Jake loses.  Badly.  Non-technically speaking, David never had a prayer of getting the Animorphs to respect him as much as they respect Jake pretty much no matter what he did.  

Because this whole book is all about showing the boundaries of Jake’s authority, which are far-reaching and close to absolute. When Ax says that it would be smarter for him to join Jake in following David into David’s bedroom, Jake insists on having Ax in the backyard and Ax goes to demorph without question.  During the opening scene, Jake asks Tobias first for clothes for David and then for a seagull, and Tobias runs off (flies off?) to go grab both immediately.  When the Animorphs first pop up inside the banquet hall pillar next to the yeerk pool, Jake asks Rachel to go into battle morph… and then asks her to demorph thirty seconds later.  She does both without grumbling.  When the seven of them are facing down the (apparent) army of hork-bajir controllers, Jake asks Marco to attack the thirty-odd controllers while alone and unarmed (pun intended) and Marco just says “you’d better be sure” before he goes ahead and does it (#21).  Cassie and Jake toss the issue of What to Do About David back and forth, but Cassie defers to Jake’s judgment.  When the seven of them are poised to grab the Russian prime minister and Jake suddenly says “Battle morphs! Now!” without a word of explanation, his narration notes “No one asked why. No one hesitated” as everyone frantically starts morphing (#21).  

However, Jake also repays that trust in spades.  His snap-judgment order to have the team go into battle morph saves their lives when otherwise Visser Three’s trap would have closed on them all.  He doesn’t get Marco killed because he’s right about the hologram within a hologram, and he also correctly calculates that having Ax demorphed during that final battle with David is more valuable than having him in harrier morph would be.  When asking for favors from Rachel and Tobias he says “please” and “thank you” and “sorry for the trouble,” and offers to repay the surf shop out of pocket so that Tobias or David won’t have to.  He freely admits that Cassie’s a better judge of character, Rachel is a better fighter, and Marco is a better strategist than him.  He verbally acknowledges Tobias’s skill at aerial fighting and Ax’s at blade fighting.  

More than that, he knows his team.  Not only does he take the time to study all five of his friends, but he also spends this entire book trying desperately to figure out what makes David tick.  He says, “I knew each of the others. Name any situation. I could tell you exactly how Cassie or Marco or Rachel or Tobias or even Ax would react. But David remained unknown. Unpredictable,” and he’s right (#21).  He moves the chess pieces around and around and around solving the dual problems of the world leaders’ conference and the seventh Animorph throughout this trilogy, and eventually figures out how to solve the leaders himself and how to move out of the way to let Cassie and Rachel solve David.  He knows that when the David situation needs a gentle touch to use Cassie, that when the Animorphs start dropping like flies Ax has to “get Rachel,” and that when it comes to attacking controllers with finesse he needs Marco.  He tells Cassie that “I’m just a moron when it comes to figuring people out,” but the truth is that, while he might not be able to do it as easily as Cassie does, he’s still got the necessary brain power (and empathy, for that matter) to figure people out just fine on his own if given enough time to do so.  

All of the moments when Jake making snap judgments—and the other five core Animorphs following those judgements—result in lives being saved also justify the fact that Jake is pretty harsh at several moments in this book.  He threatens David’s life after catching him breaking into the hotel room, and actually snaps at both Marco and Rachel when they try to ream David out for nearly betraying them.  He risks everyone’s lives by sneaking them into the world leaders’ summit, and he goes after David on the roof of the mall with the intention of killing David to avenge Tobias.  Jake is not anyone’s dad (as he reminds the team again and again) but he’s also not a mere “teacher or principal or whatever” the way David tries to make him out to be.  The Animorphs’ lives depend on them having a strong leader who gives intelligent orders and can expect them to be obeyed immediately without question.  David threatens the continued existence of the entire team by subverting that order.  

Again, if this was a different type of science fiction series, then David winning the fight against Jake would be enough to promote him automatically to being leader of the Animorphs.  If this was a very different type of story, then David winning the fight against Tobias would mean he’d get to be Rachel’s boyfriend.  K.A. Applegate shows that those kinds of gender roles are frankly ridiculous, because the qualities that make Jake the leader of this team have nothing whatsoever to do with his ability to punch or bite things.  

Unexpected Lin

WTF? I just found out Lin Manuel Miranda is in one episode of Jake and Amir and I’m like 

???

(Okay I don’t know how many Hamilton fans actually like Jake and Amir but for me, this is a pretty big thing. I’m literally screaming right now. How have I not seen this before?)

It’s called Hardly working: Rap Battle if anyone wants to check it out