When given a piece of criticism, barking “Sorry!” before the speaker can even finish her sentence is an immediate betrayal that you have not even heard it. Don’t ever talk over someone who is approaching you with a concern.
The only things getting that shit off of you are sudsy hot water and time.
Tales of Terror (1997)– “Last Dawn”
Hey hey you guys!
So this story. Well, this story is really bad. I don’t even know if I can express how bad it is in this recap, because more than any other Pike work I’ve read, it’s the writing that fails in this one. I mean, his writing (especially the dialogue) is never good, at all, but the sheer repetitiveness of this piece is groan-inducing. Usually when I say one of his stories could have effectively been told in about a tenth of the pages, I’m referring to how drawn-out the plot is. In this case, I quite literally mean that I cannot figure out how he ended up using so many words to tell this riveting tale.
This one will be short and sweet, because I don’t think I can bear to sit with it for too long.
Let’s begin, shall we?
You know, what more is there to say about these little masturbatory scribbles Pike puts in front of these short stories? Although this one really is the worst of all.
He begins by telling us, his avid fans, that he’s decided to take the novel approach of writing a preface to a story before, y’know, actually writing the story. And then he proceeds to give us ALL OF THE REASONS not to even read this thing: he’s afraid there’s not enough plot to “sustain interest” (please tell me when that has stopped him before). It’s built of flashes of ideas, not a cohesive vision. To even write the introduction is “an act of faith” (FOR REAL).
Then we are treated to ANOTHER meditation on how hard it is for him to write, how Pike has to literally “force” himself to write sometimes, and while believe me I understand writer’s block as a woman with a blog that updates yearly I find this hard to swallow from the author of fifty books in fifteen years.
So, the world is basically fucked. Just as the millennium approaches, a giant dot appears in front of the sun, gradually covering it up and causing the world to freeze over the course of several pages of dubious science. Seriously, here’s the sequence of events:
1. Sun blacks out
2. Humanity loses its shit
Pike spends pages and pages documenting the rate at which the temperature drops and the way the oceans freeze and oh my god it is so boring. He made the apocalypse boring! He somehow made descriptions of riots and lynchings banal! Pike may well have achieved something I had long thought impossible.
Oh, and his grasp of international politics rivals that of Lassy. WHICH “third world countries” are you talking about? Also, this story may be dated, but Russia hasn’t been a world power for some time now, sweetheart.
But let us meet our erstwhile heros, Jim and (brace yourselves) Dardee Dawn, a plucky brother and sister duo somehow surviving three months after Sunpocalypse goes down. Apparently they’ve managed to hold on because they live up by Lake Tahoe in one of the few places where there’s still trees left after people set “the world’s forests on fire”. Their parents were…elsewhere? Honestly, this is a Christopher Pike book, you all know how this goes by now. This is no place for adults.
Our dynamic duo is leaving their log cabin to go find some fuel and scavenge for food at a nearby cabin, where there is another survivor just chillin’. Why don’t they just all rally in one cabin? Why haven’t they joined forces? What…why…
The trip to the cabin is only about 600 metres, but it takes seven pages. No joke. Here is your takeaway from that happy adventure:
1. It is really cold.
2. Jim and Dardee both failed social studies and have stupid ideas about what the world is like.
3. It is quite honestly very very cold.
4. Jim and Dardee love each other. Very, very much. In a very Targaryen kind of way.
5. Did I mention that the sun is blocked by a mysterious black film and therefore it has become a bit nippy? Also dark.
Oh, there are some real stunners in this piece of text, like “As the world slowly died, one truth had become apparent – women were basically tougher than men. Certainly, on average, they had a higher percentage of body fat that allowed them to withstand the cold better” (which I’m sure is a real consideration once the temperature drops to -50 degrees) and “Their torches were little more than burning sticks” (…Yes?). My favorite is this Mensa-level exchange:
“’How are you feeling?’ she asked quickly.
‘I’m cold.’ He paused. ‘Is that a stupid answer?’”
Once they get to Mr. Stenton’s cabin, they quickly discover that he is dead and that he managed to eat all his food before kicking it. How selfish of him! Jim starts freezing to death in a very prompt manner (there is all manner of description of his calves freezing and his thoughts becoming sluggish), so Dardee, that fucking wunderkind, sets the cabin on fire to warm him up.
The trees outside start exploding because of the sudden rise in temperature (????) as Jim and Dardee flee the scene like the punk arsonists they are, and upon arriving back at their cabin they discover some old fucker just chilling out like nothing, staring at their fire. SERIOUS WHOA.
This is when I’m gonna pause to allow you to make bets regarding the eventual ending of this story.
The Wonder Twins are altogether too ready to just accept the presence of this random wackadoo in their living space, and of course there is the obligatory references to how the children feel a sense of connection to him (“Jim received a shock because the man looked so familiar”). Dude just sits there staring at the fire and repeatedly asks if he can share it with them, and Jim and Dardee are all, “Totes fosh!” Then old dude is all, “Let me ask you really invasive questions about you sibling relationship,” and Jim is all like, “I love my sister in a way that is verging on inappropriate now that we are both past the age of puberty.”
(Storytime: When I was four, I once announced that I fully intended to marry my brother, because I could not imagine going through the difficulty of finding some other male to shack up with. That was when I was four. Jim is eighteen, and Dardee is twelve, and I’m pretty sure Jim’s nearing that, “Well, since we’re the only two people left alive…” mark – and he’s looking forward to it. I guess Pike was just trying to emphasize the depth of their familial attachment, but it’s super creepy.)
So old wackadoo starts spilling all this, “Oh, I have met you before, a very long time ago,” nonsense and fucking Dardee is all 1950’s housewife politeness, like, “Oh? Do tell! Please make more veiled allusions and crackpot comments while you help yourself to the hors d’oeuvres. The creamed shrimp on toast are particularly delightful!” C’mon, Wonder Twins, step it up.
Then there are suddenly a lot of bangings and rumblings and big mysterious noises from outside, and since Jim is still half-crippled from the near-freezing-to-death incident (I don’t think I mentioned this, but they had to flee the burning down cabin before he was fully thawed because, y’know, it was engulfed in flames) Dardee goes out to investigate by herself. Jim points out that they promised never to go out by themselves (the only sensible thing they’ve done all story), and asks Ol’ Wackadoo to go with her, but Ol’ Wackadoo shakes his head all sad and portentous-like and is all, “I can’t help you.”
Dardee insists this is all bullshit, announces, “I’m invincible” (no, actually, she does), kisses Jim (perhaps Jim is not the only one en route to the Attic with Flowers in it, is all I am saying), and runs outside with a stick-torch.
Y’all - whatever spoilers whatever – Dardee is gonna fucking kick it.
So old dude starts telling this story about “some other guy” (uh huh), how once he had a sister too, and he also loved her in a Flowers-In-The-Attic manner. And then one day she died in a boating accident. This made “that guy” so sad that he spent his whole life thinking up a way to kill the whole world. Then time travel happened, so he flew in a space ship to the past (about three months before his sister died) and (get this) released some kind of veil that blotted out the sun to FREEZE THE WHOLE WORLD (*gasp!*) and apparently ensure that the trip to the lake got cancelled so his sister never had to die (except, you know, of freezing to death because he killed the world).
Dudes, I can’t draw this out anymore. Ol’ Wackadoo is Jim! From the future! Jim is “that guy”! Dardee is the girl who died in the boating accident! It was Jim who loved his sister in an obsessive kind of way, and orchestrated the whole death of the world because he was so sad when she died! And this is the day Dardee would have died on the lake if the whole blotted-out-sun-thing didn’t happen!
Ol’ Wackadoo and Jim go outside and find out that Dardee was killed by an exploding tree (SERIOUSLY). They have a real deep conversation about how it is important to move on and remember the dead but not be controlled by them and whatever. Ol’ Wackadoo is sincerely sorry that all his earth-killing machinations changed nothing anyways, and then Jim tells him to get his ass back to the future and change some shit.
Ol’ Wackadoo leaves, and later that day the veil is lifted from the sun, and I guess Jim just goes about rebuilding the world without his sister-lover and whatever. Probably because it’s what she would have wanted.
Seriously, who the fuck names their daughter “Dardee”?
SERIOUSLY. THIS IS THE WORST STORY IN THE WORLD.
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So I know I never update this blog, and I should because it’s amazing and hilarious. Sorry, these things are just a lot harder to write than they should be.
But I wanted to let you all in on a very exciting development:
I only have two Christopher Pike books left to find.
That’s right, readers: After two years of desperate searching, I have acquired through means fair and foul all of the Christopher Pike teen thrillers, 1986-2000, except for The Wicked Heart and The Star Group. That’s 40 books’ worth of hate reading, you guys!
I found the Tachyon Web at BMV while shopping with N last Wednesday, and B, the stage manager for the rental I had last month, has generously purchased Monster for me as a closing present (I’m still waiting for it to come in the mail. Eeee!).
So keep your eyes peeled, readers! And remember Pip’s Rules of Acquisition for The Christopher Pike Collection: Used or free, always.
I know, I couldn’t believe it either. But then I read
half about 16 pages of Stine’s so-called “Super Chiller” entitled Broken Hearts and man let me tell you, that shit is weak. It’s all badly written teen romance and poorly contrived stalker letters and dog murdering. Dog murdering! Why do you have to kill a poor, innocent puppy when you have so many douchebag teenagers running around, Stine?
And then I flipped to the end and not only is the killer totally predictable (remember, I barely even cracked the spine and I still knew who it was), but s/he (look at me, not spoilering this horrible book none of you will ever read [except for when you totally did when you were fourteen]) dies by falling into a frozen lake and letting his/herself drown under the ice without even a satisfying douche-off at the end with the protagonist. LAME.
I’m working on another entry from Tales Of Terror, entitled “Last Dawn”. It’s really bad, you guys. It’s so bad I couldn’t even read it until I sat down and read it out loud to Steven. Maybe if Mikaela and I don’t get too sucked into watching Gossip Girl and drinking tallboys tomorrow night, it’ll be ready to go up.
What’s that, you say? But it’s only been several months since my last update? Well, aren’t you just the lucky ones!
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Christopher Pike’s Tales of Terror (con’t)
Oh man you guys. On a tangentially related note, I started reading Execution of Innocence today, and oh man. It. Is. Amazing. It’s one of the douchebag teens fucking themselves over genre, and it’s SO FULL OF CLICHES. The back cover actually includes the line “when love and rage held hands on that darkened street”.
I CANNOT WAIT.
But in the meantime, we have more Tales of Terror to discuss, so let’s get on with that, shall we?
The Fan From Hell
So the preface is all Christopher Pike telling us about how hard it is to be a celebrity, and how difficult it is to have such avid fans. After spending several paragraphs convincing us that the internet is somehow simultaneously both above and below him, he tells us the harrowing story of when he went online (on AOL; ha ha ha ha…) and some of his fans badgered him and kept asking him questions, and how hard it was to keep them sated so they wouldn’t get pissed at him. No matter how hard he tried to not get sucked into their vortex of longing for him, they want so much of him that he can’t ever give them enough! What’s a reclusive writer to do?
[This is where I was going to put a gif of zombies, preferably that frame near the end of The Walking Dead trailer of them all swarming the tank. But…I’m lazy, and gifs require effort. Moving on.]
Of course, this was in 1995, before the age of Twitter. Now we all know far more than we would like to about Courtney Love’s rocky relationship with her daughter, and access to “celebrities” no longer feels like such a rare and privileged thing. It probably seemed pretty daunting then. Still – grow a pair, Pike. This ain’t Misery.
Pike himself references Misery as a comparison point, and jizzes about how he loves Stephen King (“He really is a genius and has always been an inspiration to me”). Keep this in mind for later.
So Pike thought up this story about what happens when a fan gets out of control online and becomes a creepy internet stalker…and then pretty much bones it by stripping out all the actually creepy stuff that can come out of an internet stalking (the access to information you didn’t know existed, the facelessness of your stalker, never knowing where they are or how they found you or even THAT THEY’RE WATCHING YOU AT ALL). Instead, he uses the Internet to introduce the characters online and then they meet IRL in the first two pages and then it’s just a classic (really badly written) entrapment story.
Pike tells us that once he had the idea, he needed a protagonist, and it seemed natural (i.e. easy) to use
his alterego a character he’d already made up who could be conceivably in the same situation, and so he resurrected Marvin Summer, the douchebag protagonist of Master of Murder. As if it were an option in a FICTIONAL STORY, he lets us know that he himself could not be the protagonist, because he’s “boringly without blemish and couldn’t for an instant be taken in by a pretty face and crisp style.”
Oh, I’m pretty sure I could think of a few blemishes, Pike.
So, here’s the thing about this story: the whole thing is basically Pike’s extended love letter to himself. I don’t care how many times he goes on and on about how STRANGE it is that people think Marvin, that jackass from Master of Murder, is his “true child”, as he puts it himself. Let’s see, Chris: You made up a character who is a) an enormously successful writer of teen fiction who b) writes under a pseudonym (like someone else we know) and c) is all but a recluse and d) nocturnal and then you made him e) rich and f) a teenager, with g) a totally hot girlfriend. No, Pike, you’re right: he’s nothing like what would happen if your real life hit the lotto and got every fantasy it ever had fulfilled.
Also, another story ripped off from a previous novel? Here’s the proof: Christopher Pike hasn’t had an original idea since 1988.
So Marvin’s nineteen years old, just graduated high school, and is pretty much the world’s greatest writer of teen suspense fiction. One night he’s tooling around working on his latest book, waiting for what Pike describes as “those moments at the keyboard when the power of God flow[s] through him” [Pip pukes]. He’s gossiping with some other nerdaholics online, who apparently flock to him for writing advice. Marvin ponders the difficulty of giving other writers advice:
Marvin was free with his advice to struggling writers…Of course when he did review friends’ stories he often ended up wanting to change them so much that the original creators felt uneasy, because his new versions were invariably better than theirs.
OMG Marvin is such a dick, you guys.
Suddenly, a fan of his sends him a message online. She’s all, “I’m your #1 fan” and Marvin yawns all “You and everyone else” (because he’s the best writer in the whole world, y’all; haven’t you caught on to that yet?) and she’s all “I think you’re the most amazing” and then Marvin goes “K bye” and goes to bed.
In a couple days, he receives an email from this crazy bitch outlining a story she wants to write about some daft ass holding the whole world hostage with nuclear weapons in an attempt to get aid for starving Africans. (No, seriously). And Marvin’s like, everybody sends me this stupid shit, but this concept is “far superior to the usual garbage” (no, seriously). Also, she insinuates that she’s hot and she’ll have sex with him, so he decides to meet with her and talk about the story.
They meet in this coffee shop and Lassy (that’s the bitch’s name) is all hot and smells like jelly beans, “smiling with a mouthful of teeth that offered glistening promises”. As they talk, she reveals that she knows more and more life tidbits about him, which Marvin never seems to clock as weird.
I’d like to say that this makes him a huge idiot, but I sort of think this is actually a symptom of celebrity to a degree: you get so used to people you don’t know knowing so much about you the line of what they should know versus what they do know falls out of focus for you. It’s like how you or I would instantly clock it if someone brought up a fact about us that we didn’t tell him; we’d notice that it was strange that he knew, and wonder where his info came from. With celebrities, they don’t have to wonder where that info came from: it’s all around, in the public sphere, and the public sphere holds a surprising amount of shit.
Anyways, blah blah blah they talk about writing in a really shallow way and then she lures him into skinny dipping (while watching her strip, his “amazement returned like a fire iron in his pants”, which, what does that mean?) which of course leads to sex in his mansion when she asks if they can go take a bath together, and we do the whole teen-novel-smash-cut-to-black thing.
The next morning, Marvin’s up and watching The X-Files (natch) when his phone rings. It’s Lassy, of course, except this time she identifies herself as Jill Elliot (what is it with Pike and the horrible nicknames?). When he asks how she’s doing, she cuts to the chase pretty quickly: she tells him that she somehow beat the shit out of herself, inseminated herself with his sperm (out of the used condoms, which she points out is a technique one of his characters once used, which…burn), and went to the hospital where she got herself all rape-kitted out. She also lied about her age, and says that since she’s seventeen his nineteen-year-old ass is looking at a statutory rape charge, even if he convinces them the sex was consensual. In point of fact, she’d have to be fifteen for that to matter since the law in California says the perpetrator has to be more than three years older than the minor, but clearly when you’re writing teen suspense fiction like Pike you can’t be bothered with things like fact-checking (note: it took me ten seconds to find that out). She says that means four years in the state pen (in real life: less than one in county. Pike needs to get his ass a fact-checker).
Marvin twigs to the fact that he’s being set up pretty quickly, and asks what she wants. She asks for a meeting at the Santa Monica dock. He makes some empty threats. When she finishes laughing at him, Lassy hangs up the phone.
At the dock, she reveals her nefarious plan: write the horrible nuclear-Africa story for her and get it published under her name, or else she gives him up to cops as her assailant. There’s some back-and-forth about how she can prove it, what if she keeps coming back for more, he insists on calling her “Lassy” just to maintain some kind of power trip thing, and eventually he must accede that she has out-witted him, because Pike eventually realizes that we have to move this shit along.
Oh my god, this is so boring.
So there’s a lot of back and forth with them writing the book and him trying to find out ways to outwit her and her being too smart for him. Lassy keeps calling Marvin “Mr. Master Of Murder”, which, HEE! I think I like Lassy a little bit, you guys. She forces him to abandon all work on his own projects (the world will never recover from the loss) so they can work on her book all day long. Pike goes into a lot of detail about how she checks for bugs and Marvin asks her lots of personal questions and snooooorrrrre wake me when it’s over.
We have to witness many grueling fights between them which seem only to illuminate that Lassy isn’t a very good writer and that Marvin is way smart because he knows how to write a thrilling teen novel. I’m not saying that writing isn’t an extremely challenging art to pursue, even bad writing, but I would like to point out that we could stand to lay off the “I’m such a genius” shit while he’s getting owned by a seventeen year old.
Eventually (and this goes on for, like, six weeks) Marvin finally decides he’s had enough of the constant boning and writing a crappy novel that isn’t his (as opposed to the crappy ones that are his). He follows Lassy home and somehow manages to bug the car of the most paranoid person in the world. He also breaks in to her house and erases all of her copies of the book off her computer. Why he does not do even a rudimentary investigation into who this crazy bitch is while he’s skulking around her house escapes me.
The next time he picks her up to go work on the book at his place, he deliberately crashes his car into a tree so they have to use hers. While driving, he then starts coaching her into confessing the whole scheme while recording the conversation. This, friends, is the caliber of imagination that enables you to write bestselling teen novels.
After he’s satisfied with the confession he has on the tape, he whips the recorder out and is all “Ha-ha! I have you on tape telling everyone exactly how easy it was to entrap me! In spite of the fact that I should be horribly embarrassed about how this seventeen-year-old girl held me hostage for nearly two months, I will in fact use it! And I have destroyed your copies of our crappy-ass book, sucks to be you! Allow me to jump out at this intersection.”
And oh, you may wish that the story was over, but it is not. Because three weeks later this stupid bitch shows up at Marvin’s apartment again (where he is, again, watching The X-Files), and this time she’s got a gun. And so she drags him out to the desert where she’s all, “I’mma gonna shoot you, gimme my book back,” and he’s all “How do I know you won’t shoot me if I give you the book back?” and she’s all, “Don’t be dumb, I’m gonna shoot you either way.” Marvin, understandably, is not down with this sequence of events.
And this is the point where I got irretrievably bored, so let me just tell you that he somehow wrestles the gun away from Lassy, shoots her, and buries her in the desert. And then, because he hasn’t committed enough crimes against mankind, he finishes that goddamn book and publishes it. The end.
- Get a load of Pike’s idea of a sex life, via an email Marvin’s girlfriend sends him:
I love you, I want you. I need to feel your cold hands on my naked flesh. I am just sitting here and thinking about what it would be like to lie beside you in an icy bath filled with fresh strawberries. There is something about you, love, that makes me dream of sex and death together, entwined like lost loves on a dark and deserted road. You not only have what it takes, you know how to use it as well.
“An icy bath filled with fresh strawberries”? Um, hawt?
- Oh, and remember how I mentioned that whole “respecting Stephen King” thing? The whole story is littered with digs at King, including “Stephen King doesn’t hold a black candle to you” (addressed to Marvin, and also, yeesh) and “His latter books ramble too much for my taste” and insinuations that he pads his books to reach a certain word count. Holy hell, Pike, feel inadequate much?
Man, I do this. About a year ago, I started making a point of turning off my cellphone when having one-on-one time with people, but it’s still pretty terrible.
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"I’m Christopher Pike, bitch!"
Please do not ask me what this is about. From the incestuous overtones to the nonsensical ending, it is pure gold.
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