Tales of celestial descent are not restricted to ancient myth. Superman, who qualifies as a post-Classic Perseus, also dropped out of the sky when he survived a ballistic trajectory from his home planet, Krypton. As an infant, he was cradled in a projectile launched by his rocket-scientist father to ensure his escape from the catastrophe his world was about to suffer. He landed safely in a cornfield on Earth and grew up to become the Man of Steel–more powerful than a locomotive, faster than a speeding bullet, and able to transform the comic-book industry in a single bound.

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Modern science fiction has also leveraged uncontrolled descent to Earth into a variety of perspectives on the meaning of contact from outer space. In “Kaleidoscope,” Ray Bradbury’s bittersweet tale of an accident in space, the spacesuited crew is scattered to separate trajectories of gravitational doom. One of them, routed toward Earth, realizes he will be immolated on reentry and wonders if anyone will notice the human meteor returning dust to the Earth.

The film The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) showcased glam-rock star David Bowie as an extraterrestrial who arrives like a returning nosecone and nosedives into a New Mexico lake. There’s meaning in this water impact, for global drought is annihilating his home planet. Stranded on Earth, he joins corporate America and reverse-engineers the development of high technology directed toward construction of a rocket that will let him return home and rescue his family. He remains instead, entangled in the bonds of Earth. His real descent is a spirit degraded by human contact. He becomes more like us.

The alien in Starman (1984) accepted Voyager 2′s invitation to visit Earth, but on arrival his spacecraft is knocked off course by a missile attack that suggests we’re insincere about holding an open house for the cosmos. The Starman’s vehicle lands hard in the Wisconsin woods. Despite an extravagantly explosive crash, the visitor emerges from the conflagration as a disembodied light and glides to a remote lakeside house, where it clones itself into a replica of the dead husband of the young widow who lives there. She helps him negotiate the rough and unfamiliar manners of our primitive species, evade capture by government agents and military forces, and arrive at Meteor Crater, Arizona, in time for a pickup from home. Unlike Bowie’s character, the Starman is not corrupted but is enriched by contact with Earth.

A record of another kind of fall from the sky is said to be visible at Roberson Point, in the Venn Passage area at the entrance to Prince Rupert Harbor on the central coast of British Columbia. Here, in what was Tsimshian territory, a life-size, human-shaped depression is cut into a flat expanse of dark schist on the beach. According to one Tsimshian account, the human petroglyph was offered as evidence of a young man’s fall from the sky. Expelled for misconduct from Metlakatla, a nearby village, the man temporarily disappeared and then returned with the claim that he had acquired supernatural powers during a journey to the sky. Accidentally slipping from his heavenly perch, he fell to Earth. When his former neighbors expressed skepticism, he showed them the dent he had made in the rock. Persuaded by this concrete record of his plunge, they “accorded him great prestige as a powerful shaman.”

Journeys to the sky world and free-fall descents are familiar themes in shamanic tradition worldwide. The sky is regarded as supernatural and divine terrain. The shaman seeks transcendental knowledge from gods and spirits, and to get it he must enter their realms.

Not everyone has an aptitude for celestial ascent. In Greek myth, Icarus and his father, Daedalus–who designed the Labyrinth for King Minos of Crete–were imprisoned by Minos. Daedalus contrived two sets of wings–of feathers and wax–to airlift the two of them out of the maze. Despite the warning to follow his father’s lead and navigate a middle course between sky and sea, Icarus in exhilaration ascended close enough to the Sun to melt the wax that kept the airfoils intact. The wings disintegrated, and Icarus dropped into the waters near Ikaria, the Aegean island that bears his name.

In 1949 Walter Baade discovered a minor planet–number 1566–that skirted closer to the Sun than the innermost planet, Mercury. Crossing inside Earth’s orbit, it provided an unusual addition to the asteroid catalog, for it also approached the Sun more closely than any other asteroid known at the time. With elements that transport it within 28 million kilometers of our star, the asteroid prompted Baade to name it Icarus.

Once astronomers got to know the asteroid a little better, its “fall” toward Earth generated more concern than its attraction to the Sun. Realizing Icarus makes a close approach to Earth every 19 years, they calculated it would come within 7 million km of us on June 14, 1986. That was still about 16 times farther than the Moon, but at the time it was uncomfortably close. If Icarus, or some other minor planet, were to fall to Earth, it would leave a much greater mark than the human silhouette at Roberson Point.

The threat posed by Icarus actually is not serious. Despite its intersections with our path around the Sun, Icarus will not intercept our planet anytime soon. Its Earth-crossing orbit, however, was enough to inspire the Icarus Project, an investigation into the consequences of an Icarus impact and an exploration of options to avoid it. We now know that a lot more Earth-crossing objects besides Icarus are out there. Donald K. Yeomans, Manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, estimates that there are about 1,000 of these objects 1 km or more across, and more than 460 have been inventoried. We have begun to understand the importance of a complete census and the value of a procedure for diverting any that have our name on them.

Spacecraft imagery of heavily cratered asteroids such as Eros, Ida, Gaspra, and Mathilde suggests the minor planet named for Icarus is also dramatically scarred by impact. And though the mythical Icarus left no sign of his legendary fall, the Earth, too, has scars from space–such as the pockmark in Arizona where the Starman made his rendezvous. Certainly any organisms unlucky enough to have occupied ground zero for these events were also victims of the Icarus theme–the sad finality of a fall from elevated circumstances.

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Each magazine or publishing house has its own character, so reading and studying their published magazines and books beforehand is essential to having a story or book accepted–or even read–by an editor.

hssFor example, a light-hearted whimsical romp won’t likely fit in Analog magazine, which publishes serious hardcore sci-fi stories with the proper science and engineering background fully exploited and realized. Fantasy & Science Fiction might not prefer such a story either, but wouldn’t necessarily balk at one featuring both robots and ghosts, or even the ghost of a robot. Asimov’s Science Fiction is known for its more literary approach, and Talebones for the dark spin on its stories. There are many other science fiction outlets, mostly low-paying, but all good places to start and to learn about marketing. Be sure you make a thorough study of the different categories.

Unfortunately, every science fiction editor can testify that neophytes eagerly submit stories in which the lone survivors of a spaceship crash are revealed to be Adam and Eve.

Such cliches may bring smiles, but can easily be avoided by knowing science fiction’s history, from Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein to the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, to E.E. “Doc” Smith to Robert Heinlein.

Luckily, there are many excellent annual anthologies full of Hugo and Nebula award-winning stories, and fine anthologies of pulp and Golden Age science fiction. It’s easy to find lists of novels that have won honors: check your local bookstore, the library and the Internet. Becoming familiar with the science fiction genre is not only easy, but great fun, too. Think of all the superb, mind-expanding stories you’ll get to read.

Pose a question

To write effective, appealing science fiction, isolate an idea, learn what’s been done with it by writers who have come before, and then put a spin on it that marks it as your own.

“What if?” and “If this goes on …” are two classic types of science fiction questions. You will be well-served by an interest in what the future may bring–not only the trends and Delphic surveys of futurists (who often are held in contempt by science fiction writers) but the utterly surprising and unpredicted wrinkles that science and technology might bring into our lives.

For example, while many predicted that the automobile would become common as a means of transportation, no one foresaw the effect of cars and back seats on our mating habits. Had anyone done so, it would have been a superb example of science fiction thinking.

As Brazilian science fiction writer Andre Carneiro wrote in a 1967 essay, “Introduction to the Study of Science Fiction,” “Science fiction is not an escapist literature, but a way for placing man inside the fantastic reality of technological progress.” Introducing new ideas, by the way, is a rare occurrence, and it’s rewarded. The late Irish science fiction writer Bob Shaw came up with an entirely new concept–slow glass, a special type of glass through which light passed very slowly. This concept allowed for all sorts of story ideas to evolve. Shaw’s innovative thinking earned him special standing with readers.

Such original ideas come along once or twice in a generation. It’s great if you come up with one, but you can write successfully by building on established science fiction concepts and presenting them in a new way, bringing a fresh slant to your story.

Find a new angle

When writing a science fiction story, one ought to prepare as if for court. Do your homework: Read not only classic science fiction, but as much science fiction as possible. It will help you find out if your idea for a story was covered already and, if so, whether all angles have been examined.

Above all, remember that readers are loyal to their favorite authors. It doesn’t pay to sneer at what’s honored in the field. The old pros are like the senior partners in the law firm: established stars in science fiction’s firmament by dint of hard work and years of genuine accomplishment. You can learn from them.

Playing off established themes and motifs or finding new ways of handling them will appeal not only to editors but to readers, too. Science fiction is in many ways less a literary genre than a continual debate. In no other genre is Golden Age material kept alive by constant references and citations. In no other genre is comparison and contrast used so ruthlessly to weed out the derivative from the original. In no other genre is there such a detailed, endless reassessment of the entire body of work.

Conduct thorough research

Knowing the material already covered and the names of main proponents lets you find where you can fit in on your own terms, establishing your own name.

Every year there are dozens of science fiction conventions attended by thousands of enthusiastic, informed, dedicated people. No other genre supports such a subculture. To enter this detailed, diverse arena, your work must be well researched discussion. Those who bring in new topics and themes are lauded as Big Names. Those who merely fill in the gaps left by Big Names are banished to franchise fiction and work-for-hire media tie-ins.

Fitting in is the key, especially when there are so few open slots. While science fiction is arguably one of the healthiest genres–look at all the popular sci-fi movies–the market for printed science fiction has shrunk to only a few magazines for short fiction and a diminished mid-list for novels.

It can take a while to break into the field. Impatience may be the single factor responsible for most failed science fiction writers. Too many want immediate success and don’t do the research required to become informed; therefore, they are not taken seriously by the players, the debaters and the readers.

To quote Carneiro’s essay: “Science fiction is above all literature, and must be judged as such.” Writers need to take the time to do it right.

If you have done your research, been inventive and written well, the genre’s fans will judge your work to be worthy of their interest.

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At the close of the war, the scientists who had built and launched Nazi Germany’s V-2 ballistic missiles immigrated to the Soviet Union and the United States. Amid the gypsum desert of White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico, they worked with their American counterparts to rebuild and relaunch these rockets. The British knew firsthand the destructive power of rockets in war as the V-2s bombarded London; rocket power, as demonstrated by the German V-2s, was becoming a major new force. In 1952 Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto, who worked at that time at White Sands, got Clarke access to the site and talked with him about rocketry’s potential.

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Clarke saw the promise of space travel, but he also understood that governments would be loath to embrace it unless a practical use could be found. In October 1945 Wireless World published his article “Extraterrestrial Relays,” which laid down the principle of geostationary satellites. Three communications satellites, positioned 120[degrees] apart in a geostationary orbit, or “Clarke orbit,” as some now call it, would cover the globe except the polar regions. Clarke’s idea was ignored at first, as the U.S. and the Soviet Union struggled for technological superiority in the postwar years. Then on October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, into orbit around the Earth. American thinking changed overnight. The U.S. was catapulted into the space race, and Clarke’s idea for geostationary satellites was finally taken seriously. “Communications and astronautics were inextricably entangled in my mind,” he explains, “with results that now seem inevitable.” Clarke’s vision became a reality in 1969, when the global network of Intelsat III geostationary satellites became operational shortly before Apollo 11′s historic lunar landing.

“If I had not proposed the idea of geostationary satellite relays,” Clarke wrote me, “half a dozen other people would have quickly done so. I suspect that my disclosure may have advanced the cause of space communications by approximately 15 minutes.” Hardly. Clarke, as a science-fiction writer, could see its potential and suggested it first. More important, he wouldn’t let the idea drop. In 1947 he wrote Prelude to Space, in which he pushed his idea for communications satellites even further. It was a novel set 30 years in the future–he envisioned a world where these satellites played an important role. It turned out to be prophetic indeed. “I have reason to believe,” Clarke e-mailed me, “that the proposal had some influence on the men who turned this dream into reality. In the 22 years between the writing of Prelude and an actual landing on the Moon, our world changed almost beyond recognition. Back in 1947 I didn’t believe a lunar landing would be achieved even by that distant date. I would never have dared to imagine that by 1972 a dozen men would have walked on the Moon, and 27 would have orbited it.”

Clarke took the idea a big leap forward in his 1997 novel, 3001: The Final Odyssey, the fourth in his Odyssey series. Where now many satellites serve us in Clarke orbits, a thousand years in the future Clarke sees most of humanity living in a giant geostationary ring, hanging 35,900 km above the Earth and linked with three gigantic towerlike space elevators.

Reality Versus Fiction

“I believe that if you’re an optimist,” says Clarke, “you have a chance of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.” In April 1968 2001: A Space Odyssey exploded into theaters around the world. Eight months later three real-life astronauts circled the Moon for the first time, sending greetings “to all of you, all of you on the good Earth.” The real 2001 seems different from the one Clarke offered us back then. But the differences between what Clarke and the late director Stanley Kubrick foresaw and what we have now are basically in the details. Although they are not yet common, video phones like the ones shown in the movie are certainly available: Clarke used one himself to talk to me during a PBS television program about Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 nearly seven years ago.

We don’t have a base on the Moon yet, and a human mission to Mars is still years away, but a space station is rapidly coming together high above the Earth. Artificial intelligence, cryogenics, and plasma-rocket propulsion are still in their infancy, but we’re slowly making progress in these fields. Clarke has no regrets for his futuristic picture of our world three decades ago. In its essence, he had it right.

A Spice Odyssey

Thankfully, we still have the benefit of Clarke’s insight. At 84 Clarke lives in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), a tropical island nation he moved to in 1956 for its excellent diving, and because he had suffered through “too many English winters.” But now, with post-polio syndrome, Clarke is pretty much confined to a wheelchair, although he can stand up with assistance. He contemplates the future from a large, book-lined room in a place called Cinnamon Gardens. “A spice odyssey,” he teases. “One of my windows looks out on my extensive garden; the other on the blank wall of a ladies’ college!”

Daylight has all but faded from my sky tonight. Halfway around the world, Clarke’s large garden must now be shrouded in predawn darkness, just as my desert yard will soon be dark. I wonder if he had the chance to use the little Questar telescope he’s had since 1956, or his more recent 14-inch Celestron. As I head outside to my backyard observatory, a brilliant moving light grabs my attention. It’s the International Space Station which, during the past year, has grown from a faint speck of light to a beacon that can be as bright as Jupiter. Although Clarke has in hand the predicted passage times of the space station over Sri Lanka, clouds often prevent him from sighting it. For me, that distant space station, made real by 2001, is the inspiration of Arthur C. Clarke who, in this real way, has brought space to Earth and made it useful to all humanity.

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De Camp, a native of New York City, was one of the leading early figures in science fiction, getting his start in the 1930s and 1940s at the same time as colleagues such as Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Lester del Rey, and Frederik Pohl. John W. Campbell, the influential editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, pointed to de Camp’s stories as an example of the kind of science fiction he was looking for.

They were based on imaginative but careful and reasonable extrapolation from contemporary science. De Camp was known for his erudition (especially about history), scientific accuracy; polished writing, and “swashbuckling” style.

decmAlthough best known as a fiction writer, de Camp was a meticulous researcher who brought his interests in science, history, and archaeology and his background as an engineer (B.S. in aeronautical engineering from California Institute of Technology in 1930; masters from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1933) to his nonfiction works. During World War II, de Camp, Heinlein, and Asimov independently worked on research projects at the Materials Laboratory of the Naval Air Experimental Station at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. “For three-and-a-half years, Heinlein, Asimov, and I navigated desks and fought the war with flashing slide rules,” de Camp later wrote.

(In a letter to me in June 1981, de Camp addressed claims in a newly published crank book, The Philadelphia Experiment, that during World War II scientists at the Philadelphia Navy Yard had developed a way to make a ship invisible. He pointed to how he, Asimov, and Heinlein were all there. “If any experiment remotely resembling that described by Messrs. Berlitz and Moore had taken place. I am sure we should have heard about it. I need hardly say that we heard not a word, nor was any of our own work along such lines.”)

De Camp’s book Ancient Engineers, published in several editions, chronicles the ingenuous methods engineers throughout history (Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek, Hellenistic, early and late Roman, Oriental, and European engineers) used in constructing great works and monuments. According to a current list on Barnes & Noble’s Web site, Ancient Engineers is his best-selling in-print book.

For Great Cities of the Ancient World (1972) he traveled thousands of miles over several years to study thirteen ancient sites. Citadels of Mystery (1964, with Catherine) explored twelve wonders of the ancient world; the back cover of the 1989 Ballantine edition described him as “a man with the mind of an archaeologist, the heart of an adventurer, and the soul of Indiana Jones.”

Several of his books were about fringe-science and pseudoscience. Among them are Lost Continents: The Atlantis Theme in History, Science, and Literature, described as “the most derailed study ever compiled of lost continent mythology”; Spirits, Stars, and Spells (1966, with Catherine), about magic and occultism; The Ragged Edges of Science (Owlswick Press, 1980), a collection of articles on the borderland between “the bright-lit land of science on one side, and the dark domain of magic, occultism, and pseudoscience on the other”; and The Fringe of the Unknown (Prometheus 1983), another collection of articles on borderline or controversial matters in science and technology. It included chapters on Mad Men of Science, Orthodoxy in Science, Hoaxes in Science, and Little Green Men from Afar.

In 1995, Prometheus published his The Ape-Man Within, a book of social anthropology that considered why people behave in such unreasonable, ineffective ways, exploring how viewing others as adversaries had been a survival trait in our primitive past.

De Camp’s writings in the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER include “The Uses of Credulity” (Spring 1986, reprinted in the SI anthology The Hundredth Monkey, 1991) and his tribute to Isaac Asimov (“one of my oldest, closest, and most beloved friends”) in the Fall 1992 “Celebration of Isaac Asimov” issue (reprinted in the 1997 edition of Asimov’s The Roving Mind).

In “The Uses of Credulity,” he considered that “when a characteristic like human credulity becomes so widespread in a species, we must suspect that it plays a part in enabling the species to survive, even though we may not know what that function is.” He said some credulity is necessary for people to embrace an ideology, and ideology “is one of the lubricants, like liquor and hypocrisy, that enable men to live together….” Yet ideologies can and often do get out of hand. “So we must continue to combat the more destructive ideologies. The scientific debunker’s job may be compared to that of the trash collector. The fact that the garbage truck goes by today does not mean that there will not be another load tomorrow. But if the garbage were not collected at all, the results would be much worse. …”

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There’s a scene at the end of an early episode of The X-Files TV series in which Agent Mulder says, “They’re here, aren’t they?” And the mysterious informant (a government insider most likely, though we aren’t told for sure) responds over his shoulder as he turns to walk away, “Mr. Mulder, they’ve been here for a long, long time.”

Personally, I don’t have any idea whether they’re here or not. My question is, why have we become so fascinated by THEM in the past few years?

The extraterrestrials-among-us craze began even before the fiftieth anniversary of the Roswell Incident last July, when the alien autopsy became a hot topic of conversation again. The X-Files and movies like Independence Day already had viewers glued to the screen (when they weren’t outside scanning the sky for suspicious weather balloons). Then children’s booksellers around the country began receiving cryptic messages from Scholastic: “The Yeerks are among us” and “Animorphs have invaded this store” and “Step inside a morph. It’ll change your world.” Call it the Invasion of the Shelf-Snatchers, the way the instantly popular Animorphs series by K. A. Applegate began gobbling up space once occupied by the now-floundering Goosebumps. Had the youth of America finally tired of Mr. Stine and his impersonators? Did it take more than suburban swamp monsters and tight-fitting Halloween masks to up their adrenaline? Was what I overheard from parents in the checkout line at the bookstore true, that these Animorphs were much better written than “that other trash”?

I decided to investigate.

wthaaBefore reading Animorphs, I did a little thinking about science fiction’s current popularity and realized that it didn’t surprise me much that sci-fi flicks and TV shows had swum into the mainstream, special effects being what they are today. You don’t have to have an alien fetish to enjoy watching the White House explode. Or to think it’s cool when the skin peels away from Martin Short’s sexy date in Mars Attacks! to reveal the not-so-sexy Martian underneath.

Yet this doesn’t explain away the fact that the standard spaceship-and-alien science fiction book usually does not appeal to the masses. I still had to wonder how the Animorphs series has managed to suck such a large number of girls, as well as boys (the more typical sci-fi readers), into its complicated universe of Yeerks, Andalites, Taxxons, and Hork-Bajir. How has it turned science fiction into the latest hot genre for kids?

The answer, I found as I began to read, has something to do with a mixture of hi-tech Bug fighter ships and plain old squishable bugs. It has to do with taking the classic childhood dreams of flying and talking to animals and updating them for the post-Jurassic Park nineties.

In book one, The Invasion, five adolescents stumble upon a dying Andalite warrior (think Jedi Knight with a blue centaur body, antennae, and a scorpion tail) on their walk home from the mail. The powers he leaves them with are in no way vague or mystical. To help them fend off the evil Yeerks, who he says have arrived to take over the earth, he gives them the ability to acquire DNA patterns. Simply laying their hands on a lobster allows them to absorb its DNA and “morph” themselves into its exact replica. If they remain in a morph for any longer than the very arbitrary sounding period of two hours, they are toast. Or. more literally, they are lobsters–or hawks or cockroaches–for the rest of their lives.

And to make things even trickier, the Andalite throws in a conspiracy theory. You can’t always recognize a Yeerk because, as Rachel, one of the two female Animorphs, explains in book seven, The Stranger, “They can be in anyone. Your best friend. Your favorite teacher. The mayor of your town.” For example, it turns out that the assistant principal at the Animorphs’ school isn’t just creepy and humorless. He is a Controller. He has an “evil, parasitic slug” in the driver’s seat of his brain.

At first, this mishmash of elements didn’t fit together for me. I didn’t buy that becoming a bunny–or even a mightier beast, like an elephant or a tiger–would help much in a fight against any extraterrestrial menace worth its salt. If the Yeerks, could figure out how to infiltrate minds, surely they were handy with a ray gun and some rat poison. The whole set-up seemed too reliant on cheap Hollywood tactics, too obvious in its attempt to win the audience over with something cute and furry or gross and scaly.

But after a few more books I began to grow more receptive. The animals-as-ideal-spies concept began to win me over, perhaps because I became caught up in Applegate’s gutsy, apparently well-researched attempts to imagine how the world might appear from the vantage point of everything from a dolphin to a flea. Each disguise an Animorph adopts brings with it different kinds of tension. The most obvious kinds involve whether the Controllers will catch them and discover their true identities, and whether their two hours will run out before they have a chance to morph back to human form. The more unique and compelling tension, in my opinion, comes from the unpredictability of the animal mind. Once Marco becomes an ant, for instance, he has no guarantee that he will be able to calmly scuttle into his assistant principal’s unoccupied study and help steal the Z-Space transponder, as planned. He might succumb to the powerful ant impulse to embark on a separate mission: “Food … Find it. Take it. Return to the colony with it.” Of course, in such situations the human mind always eventually retains control. Still, the promise of unique challenges accompanying every new morph–would the Animorphs lay eggs next? Spin webs? Eat maggots?–kept me going through the otherwise formulaic, cartoon-style theatrics of the plot.

Judging from the detailed winning entries of the “Draw a Picture of an Animorphs, Alien” contest, posted on the Animorphs web page, not every reader shares my opinion that the outer space contingent in this series is a pack of forgettable, hokey, B-movie monsters. Also, the fan letters segment of the web page shows that others see a lot more in the human characters than I do. To me, despite their carefully delineated superficial differences, the kid narrators are as alike as one Gap store is to another. But I would never try to argue this with the passionate fan who likes “sweet and gentle” Tobias best because “his struggle to hold onto his humanity makes the books deep and realistic.” I would never poke fun at the college and high school students who wrote in to say they enjoy Animorphs as much as their younger siblings do. I guess it’s because I don’t want to wreck the spirit of inclusiveness that is the main key to the success of the Animorphs; series. Readers can take what they want from it–the animal info or the aliens or the realistic adolescent dilemmas of crushes and problem parents. They can skim over the rest.

Maybe I’ve absorbed a bit too much of the Animorphs’ everyone-is-in-really-big-trouble paranoia, but I can’t help suspecting with dismay that these perfectly fine books, with their incredible visual potential, will soon morph into a TV show. The signs aren’t good. Already the original series has spawned Megamorphs. (books in which the kids alternate narrating chapters), the Andalite Chronicles (devoted to the history of the centaur guys), a computer game called the Yeerk Pool, and who can keep track of what else. Next thing you know it’s merchandising overkill–plastic Animorph toys and Animorph turtle (did someone say Ninja?) Halloween costumes on the fifty-percent-off rack.

Sifting through Animorphs’competitors, I couldn’t find one that didn’t have some relation to television. Hyperion’s Monday Night Football Club series by Gordon Korman, in which sports-obsessed boys morph into NFL stars such as John Elway and Barry Sanders, screamed advertisement so shamelessly that I could only stand a page or two before spiking it back into my book bag. I had hope for Avon’s kitschy little Eeerie Indiana series–kind of an X-Files with training wheels–until I flipped to the back and saw the Fox Kids’ network logo, followed by the command to “Watch the #1 hit television series every week!” And the X-Files books, published by Harper for both intermediate readers and young adults, are based so faithfully on teleplays that all I could think about while I was reading them was how I wished I were watching TV.

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