[Book Review] Monster by Christopher Pike

Mary Blanc walked into the party with a loaded shotgun. In the blink of an eye she blew two people away. She wanted to kill more, but was stopped by her best friend, Angela Warner, and the police.

The next day, when Angela visits Mary at the jail she asks why she did it. Mary responds, "Because they were no longer human." Angela thinks she's crazy.

At first.

Until she probes deeper into Mary's claims and discovers a horror so unimaginable that she thinks she is going crazy. She even gets to the point where she wonders if she should have let Mary keep on killing. While there was still time to stop the thing from spreading.

The very old thing. The hungry thing.

Monster broke my brain so badly that I fell nearly a week behind on my reviewing schedule. After finishing Monster, I simply didn't want to think about the act of reviewing. How the hell could I possibly manage to express my disdain for this book? How can I pack all the emotion--the disbelief at what I was reading, the sheer amusement at the inclusion of the pseudoscience, my abject horror at the inclusion of the pseudoscience (given that there are actual people who believe it's, you know, real), my regret that such an awesome description turned into such a shitty plot, and my sheer relief at finally finishing the book.

Since I can't possibly make you understand why I felt the way I did about the book without detailing the contents of the book, I am about to delve shamelessly into spoilers. This is your second and last spoiler warning. If you don't want to know how this book begins, progresses, and ends, stop reading now.

Monster opens with a very graphically violent chapter in which one high school student, Mary, shoots two others, a football player and a cheerleader, to death with a shotgun. Their injuries are described in gruesome detail, describing for the reader exactly which bits and pieces of these teenagers were blasted away and exactly what corner of the room they ultimately landed in. Off to a great start!

Mary proceeds to go after her ex-boyfriend, Jim, and is ultimately thwarted by the combined efforts of her friend, Angela, and a South Vietnamese soldier turned cop.

With Mary in prison, Angela hopes to get to the bottom of what the hell happened. Namely, why on Earth would Mary kill and attempt to kill a specific selection of her classmates? After Mary reveals that she committed the murders because the three high school students are/were "no longer human", Angela is sure Mary's simply gone insane... but she's still going to look into it. As she does, we get the one fairly impressive detail of the book.

See, despite the fact that these Point Horror, Fear Street, and similar 80s/90s horror novels are described as "Young Adult", they never seem to include any of the real aspects of a teenager's life. In spite of the fact that they drink a shit ton of alcohol and drive everywhere without their parents knowing or caring (I've been informed that this was true to life in the 80s, at least according to my mother's recollection of her life as a young adult during that decade, so...), they rarely ever curse and they never under any circumstances have sex. Refreshingly, Monster is open about the fact that Mary and Jim were having sex during their relationship (though Mary calls it "making love"), and it takes the extra step of admitting that their trysts were increasingly passionless as they neared their breakup.

The thing that annoyed me the most about the book, however, is the unanimous decision among the characters that humans are inherently better than other species, in spite of the book's (rather clumsy) pro-environmentalism undertones. In a book that goes out of its way to paint its primary villain as an anti-environmentalist (saying things to the effect of, "the planet is just our plaything"), this is particularly infuriating... but I'll get to the most infuriating instance later.

Throughout the middle of the book, the characters' relationships become extremely frustrating. Angela and Jim start a "oh, he's so sexy and dominant and irresistible and blah, blah, blah" relationship that Angela "knows" she shouldn't consent to (but does anyway, of course!), which Mary flips out about when she discovers. Despite being described as friends, Mary calls Angela a "bitch" for daring to kiss the ex-boyfriend she tried to murder because she thought he was a goddamn monster and quickly gets to the point where it's obvious that she intends to kill Angela, as well. I will take a moment to note that this is Angela's only female friend (she has another companion, but it's a male Unlucky Childhood Friend).

But as the plot progresses, Angela starts to suspect more and more that her new boyfriend might actually be some kind of inhuman monster. As she's looking into the leads she's gathered, she goes to meet an old Native American stereotype man, and... it ain't pretty. The man is ancient as hell, clearly hinted at being "magical" in some way when the book mentions that he's well over a hundred years old, and he just so happens to be the only person in town who knows about the evil demon creatures that Mary thinks are about to besiege the town. He lives his granddaughter (to some degree to "great"s), who is shown to be a blatant swindler and speaks in broken English despite living in the United States for her entire life.

And then we get to the reveal of what exactly the titular monsters are. It's at this point that any hope I had of enjoying this book flew right the fuck out the window. Try this passage on for size:
"It is likely that in the past the fifth planet from the sun was not Jupiter, but another planet."
"Do they often switch places with each other?"
Spark chuckled. "No. But between Mars and Jupiter is the asteroid belt. It is commonly accepted that the asteroids are what is left of the original fifth planet."
"What happened to it?"
"No one knows. For one reason or another it blew up."
"When?" Angela asked.
"Most astronomers would say it was millions if not billions of years ago. They base that estimate on the time when many meteors hit the Earth. These ancient meteors, both large and small, are believed to have hit the Earth when the original fifth planet broke up."
"Do you believe that?" Angela asked.
"I believe that when the fifth planet exploded it threw good-sized rocks our way. Most must have landed in the oceans. We see evidence of a few on land, however."
"Wait a second," Angela interrupted. "You said in your article that Point Lake was formed less than a hundred thousand years ago. You said that the lake in South America was formed at the same time."
"At about the same time, yes."
[...] "So you believe the fifth planet blew up then--not millions of years ago, but only a hundred thousand years ago. You think these two meteors [and the unidentified microorganisms] came from that planet's breaking up."

Let's get one thing clear, m'kay? The Phaeton theory is utter bullshit. Due to the U.S. government shutdown, I unfortunately cannot link to the relevant NASA page, but trust me, the above passage has so much nonsense in it that I'm starting to fear my head is going to explode.
  1. The idea that the Phaeton theory is "commonly accepted" is so mindbogglingly wrong that my brain actually hurts. No one believes the Phaeton theory besides conspiracy nuts.
  2. A meteor (or shooting/falling star) is burned up as it enters the earth's atmosphere. If it hits the earth, it's a meteorite.
  3. "Many meteors" enter the Earth's atmosphere every day. According to Cornell University, it's between 37,000 and 78,000 tons per year.
  4. This book just proposed the idea of a planet "blowing up for one reason or another only a hundred thousand years ago" and sending alien microorganisms to Earth, which then "possessed", so to speak, a group of teenagers. No.
So, yeah. The monsters in this book are created by parasites transported through space on asteroid remnants of the "real fifth planet" that exploded to create the asteroid belt. Because when you're writing science fiction, it's always best to use antiquated hypotheses from the 1800s.

But, wait! It gets better! Not only does Monster present the Phaeton theory as true, it also revolves around the idea of an ancient, space-faring human civilization that was regrettably wiped out by the first wave of these parasites. Because, you see, ancient man was so ambitious and technologically advanced that they visited Phaeton multiple times, bringing back the alien parasites with them and turning the people of Earth into space vampires who then had to be hunted down by still-human humans with laser guns. Though they were too late to save the human civilization of Earth (and any signs that they existed, I guess?), the genius ancient civilization went to Phaeton with a machine that somehow ripped Phaeton's motherfucking crust off and turned the planet into today's asteroid belt.

 I just can't, man.

Now, I'm sure there's someone who's going to read this and go, "So what? It's fiction!" And to that hypothetical person, I say good for you; it's my assumption that you exist that led me to give this monstrosity an extra half star of the "someone might like this" variety. If the ridiculous nonsense I outlined above doesn't bother you, try Monster. You might actually like it. Me, I'm a stickler for real science in my science fiction, so books like Monster make me want to pull my hair out. What're you gonna do, I guess.

In the end, Mary is killed by the space vampires. Jim turns Angela into a space vampire, which has been his incredibly obvious goal throughout the entire book. Angela eats her Unlucky Childhood Friend (making him perhaps the unluckiest I've ever seen) before becoming the only space vampire to maintain her human morality in spite of her body's biological need to friggin' eat. After Angela kills all the space aliens besides herself, the book ends with the lovely quote, "People were not for eating", which infuriates me to no end because fucking duh people are "for eating". Now, I hope to never run into a person whose personal moral code permits them to eat me, but... c'mon. We're made of meat and our role in the food chain, if one disregards our cheating use of tools, is to be eaten by wildcats, bears, wolves, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. So if Angela isn't human any more--to the point that she no longer remembers ever being human--why oh why oh why oh why are humans "not for eating" while deer and other nonhuman animals are?

This whole "vegetarian vampire" shit makes my skin crawl.

In any case, there's one saving grace of the book. I'm proud to announce that in spite of all my expectations, the dog lives.

Not that it makes this mess worth reading.

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