The Eternal Enemy
by Christopher Pike
The Eternal Enemy was a mixed bag. I love everything about the cover art of the 90s paperback edition. The VCR-centric plot was unique and dated in the best of ways. This was definitely one of Pike’s weirdest, and it’s a shame the overall book felt rushed. The main character didn’t feel as vibrant as Pike’s protagonists typically do, and the twist relied on a momentum-stopping forty-page info dump just as things were getting really interesting. I know Pike was turning out books at a steady clip in the mid-nineties. His rate rivaled that of R.L. Stine. This might be the first one I’ve encountered that seemed like it was turned in too soon in order to meet a deadline. With a few more edits this could have been something significantly better. The meat of the story is there, but the execution was lacking. The info dumping felt like the stream-of-consciousness notes an author should make but never put in the actual story. I know this was adapted for The Midnight Club, and I am curious to see how they improved upon the concept. I would be giving this a much lower rating if it weren’t so fucking weird. Weird is what saved it, kept me engaged, and where it almost thrived.
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It might not seem like much, but it has a big impact!
Recap & Observations:
Rela decides that she must have a VCR for the party she’s throwing on Saturday night. She goes to the store, I forgot what the name of it was so let’s just assume it was Sears. Ed, the slick VCR salesman talks her into the nice 4 head model even though she can’t quite afford it. She invites him to her party because she thinks her friend Stacy will be into him. You see, Rela is totally normal teenage girl living in Los Angeles. She loves cookies and milk. She lives alone with her father, who’s a priest only recently adopted her. She gives very little detail of the past beyond the fact that her grandfather is an important figure. All she really cares about is her latest crush: Christopher.
Rela programs her new state-of-the-art VCR to record an old sci-fi movie that she remembers scaring her as a child. Saturday’s party goes off without a hitch until she accidentally cuts herself with a kitchen knife while flirting with Chris. Honestly relatable. When her friends go to put on the movie she taped, it turns out she accidentally recorded the news instead. Lame. But at least she and Christopher hit it off. Turns out they are both big nerds. They even set up a date for next week. That night, Rela has a dream about some weird green vials and some kind of disturbing surgical procedure. She wakes up in the bathtub filled with cold water, and no idea how she got there. While she’s up, she decides to watch the news tape and figure out what went wrong. That’s when she realizes; the news is for tomorrow night.
She makes note of the sports reporting. The next day, while she is waiting for Chris to pick her up for their date, Rela is watching TV with her father. She recognizes one of the games she saw on the news the night before and makes a bet with him. Her very long shot prediction comes true. He ends up owing her $500. Chris takes her over to his house so he can show her all of the cool science gadgets he has in his room. He also repairs people’s VCRs as a little side business. He tries to get her to try some brain wave reader thing he’s got (that’s as specific as I’m going to get, sorry). Something about it freaks her out. I think it might have something to do with her weird surgery dream the night before.
She records and watches some future news again. This time she noes a surprise horse race winner. She skips school and drives to Vegas. She talks a bookie into placing the bet for her since she is not yet eighteen. He’s reluctant but takes her hunch as well. They both win big. SHe drives back home and tells no one about it. Instead, she has more of her weird ass surgery dreams. This one has some purple liquid and she feels her spine being removed. So far as body horror dreams go, this one is pretty awful. Gotta hand it to Pike on that one.
On her next future news binge, she sees a story about four window washers falling to their death in San Francisco. She decides to use her winnings from the horse race to fly to San Francisco, with absolutely no plan, in an effort to try and stop it. She makes it to the hotel in time but can’t get anyone to listen to her. She only succeeds in saving one woman by knocking her unconscious. She manages to sneak back home through the very relaxed 1990s airport security even though the police are looking for someone that fits her description. But at least one person, a mother with two kids, ended up being saved. That’s not bad for getting on a plane with no game plan whatsoever.
Things take a rough turn when Rela sees herself on her next future news reel. According to the report, she was found dead in her house by her father. She had told her boyfriend that she thought she was being followed by a man. Someone familiar. Rela goes to work at her part-time job a the library, not knowing what else to do. She meets a strange bald man in a sweat suit that gives her the creeps. She calls Ed (the VCR guy who is now dating her friend Stacy) and Chris to meet her at her house because she’s afraid. Rela finds Chris after work and decides she needs to show him the tape. She takes him to her house, thinking the killer won’t attack if Chris is with her. She watches the latest recording but sees that it has changed; now it says that Chris was found dead in her house and she was missing.
There’s a knock on her front door, then Chris falls unconscious. Gas of some kind, but why didn’t it affect her the same way? Rela talks to the man on the other side of the door. He agrees not to hurt Chris if she lets him in. She let’s the bald man inside. He tells her that Chris will be fine, because he’s too important. But Rela needs to die. That’s when Rela’s memory finally comes flooding back. She recognizes the strange man as her grandfather. The gas didn’t knock her out because she is no longer human. Rela was never her name but an acronym for Robotic Experimentation Logistical Algorithm. Now get ready for the most epic momentum-stopping infodump you have ever experienced. It was a tedious read. I will do my best to distill the 40-page chapter down to the most crucial elements.
Once upon a time in the future, Rela had been a girl named Sara. Sara loved her grandfather, but the world around them was going to shit. He had always wanted to make the world a better place and finally found his calling when he started working with a robotics dude. His boss experimented on himself with cybernetic enhancements but ended up killing himself because of the emptiness. Sara’s grandfather injected himself with the same cybernetic enhancements expecting better results. He ended up time-traveling into the future. He despairs over how much misery and suffering lies ahead for humanity and decides to do something about it. I’m sure you share my full confidence that his plan will go perfectly.
Sara’s grandfather steals robotics tech from the future and creates a cyborg from a brain-dead coma patient. The experiment was a huge success, and so he and his new cyborg made another one. The another, each one getting better and more sophisticated. Grandfather was careful that they were programmed to abhor the suffering of humanity at all costs. So the cyborgs formed their own secret society called New Life. They start having a massive but positive impact on the world, making good on their programming to end human suffering. Then, Grandfather looked into the future again and saw that there was no suffering, but there were also no humans. That’s because all humans would eventually evolve into robots.
If that sounds like a head-scratcher, that’s because it is. It’s also the coolest idea in this book. It would start small, with people getting cybernetic enhancements. People without enhancements would fall behind. Even the holdouts would die eventually. Over generations, humans would become entirely cybernetic. Grandfather can see no way of changing it. Sara is pissed at her Grandfather. First, he fucks up the future, then he just gives up instead of finding a way to fix it. And so she takes it upon herself to save humanity. First, she draws up a will saying that she wants to be made a cyborg when she dies, and then she ingests two drugs; one that she hopes will allow her to retain memories in the cyborgification process (green liquid)), and the other to kill her in a way that will make her an idea cyborg candidate (purple liquid).
So she kills herself and becomes a robot. As soon as her memories emerge, she uses her powers to time travel to the past so she can kill her grandfather. Only, her memories were incomplete. They were patchy at best. Christopher was her grandfather, she had found him but had fallen in love with him instead. She had inadvertently accessed her time-traveling capabilities through her VCR, which set off a cascade of events that allowed her now fully cybernetic Grandfather assassin to kill her. Yeah, this one is twisted even by Pike Standards. Back in the present, Cyborg Grandpa is fully intent on killing Rela/Sara so that she can’t change the future. Realizing she’s cornered, Rela decides to bide her time while appearing to comply with Cyborg Grandpa. They are interrupted by her friends Ed and Stacy, but she sends them away. When Chris wakes up on the couch, she sends him home as well. While she was complying, she used her super robot skills to record her story, this book, in hopes that it might find the right person. She accepts her fate as Cyborg Grandpa kills her and hopes that she made the right call.
Rela’s death is devastating to her foster father and her boyfriend/grandfather Chris. Her father decides to give Rela’s VCR to Chris because has no use for it. Chris finds a tape inside and watches Sara’s life story. He contemplates the horror that he is on track to bring upon humanity, does not reflect on the fact that he made out with the dead cyborg version of his own granddaughter, and then resolves to be a better person. The End.
So to summarize this plot badly: A high schooler from the future kills herself so that she can become a cyborg, who then goes back in time in order to kill her grandfather and stop his creation from causing all future human beings to evolve into robots, but her plans get mucked up when she loses too many of her memories becoming a cyborg, and she ends up accidentally falling in love with the teenage hottie version of her own Grandpa but starts to get her memories back thanks to a VCR that can record the future.
So… I loved the ideas at play in this one. With a few more edits, I think this could have been one of Pike’s best. But we got the first draft instead and it was a bit of a mess. I am very excited to see the way this one got adapted in The Midnight Club. That’s right, I still haven’t watched it yet. I still have three more books to read before I do.
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each.
I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are:
Concept: the strength of the overall idea
Execution: the mechanics of storytelling
Character: the protagonists, antagonists, and villains
Intent: does it succeed in being the kind of book it wants to be?
Originality: subversion and reliance on genre tropes
There were some pretty wild ideas in here but the concept itself was too big for this story. Or it needed some serious refining to make it something short. It couldn’t work as is without a massive infodump that stalled all of the momenta of the book.
This one just felt rushed, more than any other Pike book I’ve read. The story literally stops for 40 pages to do a massive flashback in a singular voice that just dragged on for way too long. There’s good stuff here, but this feels more like a rough draft turned in to meet a deadline.
Pike usually does a good job at giving some really dynamic characters, but Rela felt kinda flat. We didn’t get a real sense of who she was beforehand, which could have really helped. That said, the side characters were far more enjoyable.
There’s some pretty intense body horror and a good “road to hell is paved with good intentions” theme here. Not to mention the mindfuck one would experience from seeing the news from the future. I think the book succeeds in its trippy ideas more so than its execution.
Time-traveling robots are hardly original. But a high schooler who kills herself to become a cyborg so she can go back in time to kill her grandfather but accidentally falls in love with him… that’s pretty original. Gotta hand it to Pike on that one.
Don’t miss the next post in the Pulp Horror blog series:
Lois Duncan’s Stranger with my Face