October 23, 2014

Christopher Pike: "The Season of Passage"

Title: The Season of Passage [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Christopher Pike [Facebook | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Supernatural, Horror
Year: 1992 (reissued 2011)
Age: 18+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Riveting mix of genres full of tension build-up. Engaging main characters.
Cons: Outdated science (but see blurb below).
WARNING! There's some rather heavy gore, but then again, there are grosser books I think (thus spoke the woman who chickens out in front of Stephen King...). There's also the incipit of a rape scene...twice: both in the main narrative and in the story-within-the-story. But it's not the human version of a rape (more details in the review).
Will appeal to: Those who like creepy and weird stuff...and don't care about accuracy.

Blurb: Dr. Lauren Wagner was a celebrity. She was involved with the most exciting adventure mankind had ever undertaken: a manned expedition to Mars. The whole world admired and respected her. But Lauren knew fear. Inside - voices entreating her to love them. Outside - the mystery of the missing group that had gone before her. The dead group. But were they simply dead? Or something else? (Amazon excerpt)
Note: oddly, the 2011-version blurb on Goodreads talks about "a mission to rescue the crewmen of the Russian ship 'Lenin'..."...while, in the same reissue, the ship is actually called 'Gorbachev'. Nevertheless, this is what the 2011 version states: "This book was written in the 1970s, and it reflects the knowledge mankind had of the solar system at that time. For sentimental reasons, the author has decided to leave the novel in its original form; thus no effort has been made to update the story. Please accept the odd dates and the strange absence of cell phones". So I guess the ship's name is pretty much the only change that's been made...and note that Gorbachev was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, while the first issue of this book was out in 1992. And, as I said, the name stayed in the 2011 version...which is understandable, since Gorbachev made a huge mark in history.

Review: I have a three-point premise to make before I start with the actual review.
Point 1: I don't think Christopher Pike is the finest writer out there. Yes, I'm obsessed with his stuff, but I can see that his writing is often choppy and not particularly sophisticated. This alone should bring my rating down half a star at least. Then again, if I had to judge his books with this in mind, none of them would be 5-star material - but sometimes his wild ideas, and his ability to suck you into the story, atone for what his style may lack. This is one of the books where it happens.
Point 2: is this novel original? I honestly don't know. I haven't read many horror books (if not by Pike himself) or books set in space. I'm in no position to say if Pike was a pioneer in 1992 (the year this novel was first issued) or in 1977 (when he wrote the first draft). What I know is, I love this story, dark as it is, and I enjoyed each and every twist and turn of it, even those who probably were to be expected somehow.
Point 3: some reviewers were kind of put-off by the outdated science. Now, judging by this rule, we'll have to bury most works of art from the past, and pretend they never existed. Also, it's funny, because while the English definition for this genre is "scientific fiction", we use a peculiar word for it in Italian..."fantascienza". That is, more or less, "fantastic science" or "imagined science" - because of course, most of what sci-fi authors write about is pure speculation, often combined with fantasy elements...So, basically, maybe half of Pike's theories/notions about planets or space travels are outdated or incorrect. So what? It's only a made-up story. It's "fantascienza". It's a hell of a ride, and I love it as it is :).
From the very start, the book's mood is mysterious, disquieting. Both Lauren (the first woman to land on Mars) and Jennifer (her 13 y.o. sister) are somehow spooked, an suffer from recurring inner voices/nightmares. We are introduced to Lauren's fiance Terry, a down-on-his-luck journalist and wannabe writer, and the rest of the space crew - apparently, a smaller group than the Russian one who landed on Mars two years before, never to be heard from again (this choice sounds rather strange to me, but I suppose Pike decided that having only six characters on the planet would be more handy for his story - or maybe it was the NASA who opted for minimizing the risk by sending out less possible victims!).
Jennifer starts writing a story about two ancient people and their war, which is interpolated into the main plot. While the tale sounds definitely mature for a 13 y.o., we will understand later how she was able to develop it. Most of the time, I'm not a fan of Pike's stories-within-the-story (there's almost one in every book), especially because they are often a bit disconnected by the main narrative, and I can't see their point; this time, however, the second story mirrors and enlighten the first one, perfectly integrating within the main plot, though we don't immediately see why and how. And as a matter of fact, this is part of the book's charm. [...]

TSOP mainly relies on a crescendo of tension and horror, not all of which is visual. Though there's a small subplot that is supposedly there for the sake of comic relief, it soon makes space for the crew's trials on Mars, Terry's desolation and anguish on Earth, and Jennifer's increasing concern for her sister, till she seem to realise things have gone past the concern stage and there's no going back. (Pay attention to the story-within-the-story, because you will get all the clues you need about the two sisters getting more and more apart, and what it means for them in the "real" world). Or is it?
This story piles horror upon horror, sparing its space-crossing characters nothing. They often make bad decisions, but after the first, stupid mistake (still a mistake out of hope and human compassion), there's no going back or doing better. On the other hand, there are a lot of kick-ass moments, since Lauren is determined not to go down without a fight. Jennifer's characters are spared nothing either, and make their share of mistakes (compassionate and not) as well. As I stated in my warning, the horrors on both sides include rape (or fantasies about rape, induced by an ancient curse). It's not your usual man-imposes-on-woman stuff though...except in one of the fantasies. It's more of a race-conquer-race thing, and it has a "raison d'etre" in the book...it's definitely not there for shock value. Read what Pike has to say about that (and the whole book) in this Facebook post of his (just scroll down a little).
The ending is both heart-breaking and full of hope. Like in many of the books Pike wrote, the "supernatural" (for lack of a better word) ultimately takes over, but it does so integrating with everyday's reality. Also, look for a future favourite device of his here ("future" if you keep in mind that TSOP was first drafted in 1977)...Hint: to be found in books like Gimme a Kiss and Fall into Darkness ;).
A small note...the future that Pike imagined in 1977 had videophones instead of cell phones, and typewriters able to reproduce your penmanship instead of personal computers. Which is kind of funny, if not particularly insightful ;).

For more books by Christopher Pike click here.
For more Adult books click here.

1992 Paperback/Hardcover and 1994 Paperback (they used the classic YA-Pike cover style for the latter LOL).
The quote typed on Lauren's hair reads: "Love me - the voice said - I am not evil..."


  1. So I have to admit that I have never read a Pike novel. I think I might start with this one because your review has me intrigued.

    1. Never read a Pike novel?!?! O_O
      LOL, don't mind me - I'm so biased ;).
      Maybe this one is a bit heavier than the books you usually read...I hope you like it though!


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