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Christopher Pike's New Old Horror

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Christopher Pike's debut young adult title, the instant bestseller "Slumber Party," came out in 1985. Its premise is hardly groundbreaking: six busty young ladies are snowbound in their luxurious winter vacation rental, gory mayhem ensues. Most of his earlier books mirror "Slumber Party"'s horror-movie cliches, with varying batches of stranded teenagers harboring lascivious urges, dark secrets, and psychotic persons in their midst. He soon turned his sights on the supernatural, penning a prodigious series of wildly imaginative and occasionally ludicrous stories of adolescents battling the forces of evil. His books are rampant with an oddball mashup of Christian moralizing and new-age woo-wooishness, and his characters spend the bulk of their time in a frenzy of hormones and senioritis‚ that is, when they're not trying to solve their own murders from beyond the grave or survive the attentions of various demons. In today's celebrity-obsessed public culture, Pike's fanatical reclusiveness seems almost quaint. His biography on his publisher's website is a terse "Christopher Pike is the author of over forty teen thrillers." He has no blog, no Facebook page, and the closest thing to a Christopher Pike website is his "unofficial" online fanclub, where devotees can purportedly contact the author (although the site's author bio is cribbed from answers.com). Despite a career spanning two decades and dozens of bestsellers, the most extensive online article about him is his Wikipedia entry.

Pike was writing about vampires and the adolescent girls who (didn't) love them nearly twenty years ahead of Stephenie Meyer's curve. In comparison with the flat and uninspired protagonists of most contemporary paranormal young adult fiction, his sturdy heroines read like cutting-edge feminist paragons. Despite tending toward the preternaturally buxom and shiny-haired, they're often feisty and insightful. They care about their friends, worry about their siblings, long for sporty -- and living -- young men, and, if the occasion calls for it, take out a variety of aliens and the undead by any means possible (shotguns, homemade gasoline bombs, their wits). They have no illusions about undying love and no interest in Bella and her ilk's self-abnegating and heavily gendered ideology of devotion. They're teenagers. They want to lose their virginity, score a hot date for prom, and party down in their senior year, and if they have to mow down a couple of zombies to get there, so be it.

Pike's monsters are even more striking. These are no angst-ridden softcore Goths mooning over underage vixens. They're genuinely terrifying: hellbent on wreaking havoc, tearing out throats, throwing a veil of darkness over the earth -- you know, monster-y sorts of things. Whether they're lizard people from a different planet or your garden-variety Martian vampire, they're people-eating nightmares that must be stopped at all costs. Though they're often seductive and charismatic, there's nothing lovable about them. Witness the undead football team of the (aptly named) Monster; one look at the iconic 1992 cover tells you all you need to know. They're like Ken dolls on bad speed. Their eyes glow red, they want to eat you, and they won't be gnawing upon forest animals to stave off their hunger for the human objects of their undying affections.

Sure, the "Twilight" series's staggering success and its legions of successful imitators indicate that plenty of people long for the dated, damp, and eternal romance of pasty-faced Edward and feeble, hapless Bella. But Christopher Pike's demon-slaying babes have been hitting the New York Times Bestsellers list regularly since 1985. Simon Pulse, his publisher, has already reissued most of his early backlist, and the "Thirst" Volume One, the 2009 re-release of his decade-old "Last Vampire" series (with Volume Two pubbing in 2010) spent over ten weeks in the Times's top ten. Pike's novels, for all their over-the-top cheesiness, are refreshingly honest and surprisingly modern in their approach to the complexities of the teenage mind. Odd as it sounds, there's a realism at the heart of his books that is never quite lost in the improbable plot turns and occasional outer-space shenanigans. Pike's teenagers are confused, horny, tough, and, most of all, human. Somebody's gotta be.

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Christopher Pike

CHRISTOPHER PIKE