Sunday, October 23, 2011

Christopher Pike: A Retrospective

I remember being sold on the Final Friends series in middle school, and then sweeping through the rest of his classic YA horror novels:  Last Act, Chain Letter, The Weekend, Slumber Party (what kind of genius YA horror writer doesn't write a book called Slumber Party?).  I've read and reread Remember Me dozens of times over the years, well into  my 20s.

I can't say a lot about those books--they're teen mystery/horror novels--a bunch of high schoolers are away for the weekend and get picked off one by one, and then at the end we find out the twist of who did it.  They're fun and innocent and seemed very smart and realistic when I was 14.

Then there was Sati, which blew my mind in high school.  I wrote a paper comparing it to C.S. Lewis's Perelandra.  A girl who claims to be god turns up (appears?) in the desert of southern California and touches the lives of a group of friends and neighbors.  There's a Buddhist influence, and all these ideas about god that are apart from the mythology of specific religions, where god is so simple and magically spiritual.  I haven't read it in years, and I suspect I'd be embarrassed now at how I felt about the book, but I really loved it.

It turns out the Christopher Pike was a teenager when he started publishing those books.  In retrospect, they regain a lot of the ground that they lost as I matured past them.  I also recently learned that Christopher Pike is actually a pen name that he took from that other famous Christopher Pike, first captain of the starship Enterprise

Then we hit a wall.  I believe Scavenger Hunt was the first of his books where I balked.  It got really dark, really fast.  Witch, Die Softly--books where there was a lot of dying and a lot of hopelessness.  It was too sudden to switch from one, maybe two dead people in the book to everyone being destroyed by an ancient evil.

Looking back, though, Scavenger Hunt was a pretty good horror novel.  It's just that his books had always been thrillers, and I wasn't ready for it.  But that's when I stopped reading his books, gave up, and moved on.

I recently learned--realized might be a better word--that he kept writing, though.  A lot, actually.  He wrote a whole big vampire series, before vampires were big.  He wrote two sequels to Remember Me, very weirdly spiritual and all around strange.  And some "grown-up" books that I decided I had to try.

I picked The Listeners because the plot made me wonder if he'd gone more deeply into the mythology of Scavenger Hunt.  There is another world, maybe another dimension, populated by possibly lizard-like creatures that have evil intentions.  The lizard part isn't there, but the idea of another world touching ours and a gap that potential enemies can slip through--there was a lot of potential there.

I'm so sorry to report, after just a few pages, that the book is nearly unreadable.  The very simple precaution of reading your characters' dialogue out loud would have helped a lot here.  In the first scene, two high-level FBI agents, who are close friends, have a conversation in which one briefs the other and assigns him a case.  They do not speak like FBI agents, friends, or people having a conversation.  They speak like someone reading prepared remarks--the same person on both sides. 

Also, they're investigating an organization of psychics in the midwest for being suspiciously successful at predicting the future, and the briefing begins with information about what the ancient Mayans knew about astronomy--because it's very relevant.  It's not color commentary or in-depth subtlety; it's where you have to start briefing your friend and direct report before you send him to the midwest.  If you don't explain the Mayans, how could he possibly look into the suspiciously successful psychics?

God, I'm a whiner.  I've been writing this post for days, but I'm too depressed by this loss of my childhood innocence.  Plus, the absence of the Amazon Associates widget for adding book links is bringing me down.  Also, on a more personal note, it's bedtime and my living room suddenly smells like skunk.  I'll come back with something better in a couple more days; it's been a while since we've had a Mercedes Lackey retrospective around here.

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