Full disclosure: I never got into podcasts. Although I have a weakness for old radio plays, talk radio never appealed to me. However, when information about The PikeCast came across my Twitter timeline a month or so ago, I was 13 again.
As best I can recall, I did most of my reading of Christopher Pike’s books in junior high school, and they really were the start of my passion for all things horror. Sometime in high school, I decided I had outgrown them, and sold them all to my local used bookstore, using the credits to buy more grown-up novels.
Then, sometime in my 20s, I had the urge to reread some of his work, but unfortunately, the heyday of Pike was already pretty much past. I was only able to track down one of my old favorites – See You Later – but I picked up a few that had come out after I had stopped reading, including The Midnight Club and his more adult-focused novel, Sati. I toyed with idea of rebuilding my collection, but I never really pursued it.
Now, I’m in my 40s, and I’m scrounging around in online used bookstores for thirty year old YA horror novels in the middle of a pandemic, and well, if that isn’t peak 2020, I don’t know what is.
Everything past this point is going to contain oodles of spoilers, both for the first two episodes of The PikeCast, and for the books discussed therein (Die Softly and Whisper of Death). If you’d like to avoid spoilers, stop reading here.
In a way, I’m kind of glad that The PikeCast didn’t start at the beginning with Slumber Party, because if they had, I might not have felt like I had to read the book before listening. I have at least vague memories of every book he published prior to 1990, but my recall gets really spotty from there. Die Softly was published in 1991, and I’m fairly certain it’s not a book I had read before.
I don’t remember Christopher Pike books being so blatant with the morals, but I also admit I read a whole lot differently now than I did at 13. Die Softly makes sure you know that cocaine is bad, and that it can turn you into a heartless, violent monster. Several minor characters suffer this fate, although the main antagonist was a complete psychopath before she got involved with drugs.
For the most part, I found myself nodding along as I listened to The PikeCast, but I also felt like there wasn’t a whole lot in this one that was overly open to interpretation. Although I wasn’t overly enthused about the book itself – the protagonist was pretty unlikable so I struggled to get too invested – I felt like this was a really great choice to introduce listeners to the structure of the podcast and the level of detailed analysis of character, plot, and writing each episode will feature.
And then there was Whisper of Death. Now, I thought Die Softly was a little heavy-handed on the message, but it was nothing compared to this one. On the one hand, I found it really interesting that a YA horror novel from the nineties would be so upfront in talking about abortion. On the other, this book was nearly incoherent outside of the framing device if you tried to take it at face value.
Which is why I was so surprised that the folks from The PikeCast were so sure that (a) this wasn’t meant to be a blatantly anti-abortion book and (b) the mid-section of the book actually happened, as opposed to being an anesthesia-fueled nightmare in which the protagonist’s feelings of guilt and shame were personified by a recently deceased student with horrifying powers (who, by the way, was never even mentioned before things got weird). Read that way, it does become a bit of a morality play, but for me, no other reading makes any sense at all.
Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of potent imagery in the maybe-supernatural, maybe-dreamworld portion of the book, and I suspect that is also what would have stuck with me had I read it for the first time in my early teens. But I was also very surprised that none of the folks taking a deep dive into the book in the podcast even seemed willing to entertain the interpretation that felt so obvious to me. I think, perhaps, if this had been the first episode, it might have turned me off from the podcast entirely.
That said, I totally understand how overwhleming nostalgia and memory can be, and I’m still really excited about this project. In fact, I signed up to their Patreon today. I may not have agreed with much of what they said regarding Whisper of Death, but that hasn’t dissuaded me from wanting to revisit these books, and then listen in on folks who are as passionate about them as I once was.
I’m looking forward to doing my first Christopher Pike re-read (The Midnight Club) and then listening to the deep dive by The PikeCast. I am still not sure I’m 100% get the allure of podcasts in general, but this one is so completely up my alley, I expect I’m in it for the long haul. I’m especially looking forward to the episodes that talk about the first dozen or so books, because that’s where my nostalgia lies.