Author: Christopher Pike
First Published: 1990 (Archway Paperbacks)
Reviewed/Pictured Copy: 1992 (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd)
Cover Illustration: Nicholas Forder
Pages: 162 (excluding preview of Chain Letter)
Love and hate are beyond time…
“Mark’s passion is video games, until he meets the girl of his dreams. And now his friend Kara wants to play cupid…
But Kara’s concern is becoming an obsession. She’s out of control, and nobody can stop her!
But Mark has to trust her. His life is in her hands…”
The first thing I feel obligated to point out about See You Later is that the above blurb for the book is damned misleading. It implies that this Kara is a crazy lunatic, or perhaps the villain of the book. The latter is certainly not true. The former? Well, she is a bit out there and does do some nutty stuff but it’s all the interests of Mark so that’s okay, right?
But first, as always…
Mark Forum is just your typical shy and socially awkward, average-looking eighteen year-old guy; a senior awaiting graduation. And yet, there are two crucial things about Mark that you need to know. First of all, he has a congenial heart affliction – a defective aorta valve to be precise – that causes him to lose his breath very easily. He also suffers with chest pains and a general lack of physical stamina as result of this illness. Secondly, Mark has made a modest success by writing computer games. He’s not in the big leagues by any stretch – living in a small apartment and driving (in his own words) a twice-rebuilt Toyota – but, hey, it’s something.
If you think that a geeky teenager-cum-young man living in LA and writing computer games with names like The Starlight Crystal for old keyboard prompt-driven personal computers couldn’t get any more late 80’s/early 90’s then you’d be absolutely correct! The turn-of-the-decade vibes continue to leak out of See You Later as Mark meets the love of his life in…the record store! The place to buy the hot music medium of compact discs (remember those?) and, fittingly, computer games from the…
“‘Do you have a software department?’ I asked”
I don’t know about anybody else but I would NOT expect to get a girl’s number after asking her so formally for the “Software Department”. But, hey, this is a more innocent time period in a young adult sci-fi novel so we’ll let that slide. Also, let me back up a sec. You see, it’s at the store that Mark meets Becky…
“She worked in a record store five miles from my house. I had been in the store a few times before but had never seen her. I love music. I had a compact disc player I had to scrape to buy and two hundred CDs that made the plastic on my credit card peel on both sides. But I wasn’t worried. I felt I could work my way out of any debt. In private I had tremendous self-confidence. The problem was outside my bedroom. There I was shy and awkward. When I opened the door to the record store and she spoke to me, I didn’t know what to say.
‘Hi,’ she said. ‘How are you?’
‘What?’ I asked. She was cute. I noticed that right away. But my heart didn’t skip in my chest at the sight of her, even though I had been born with a congenial heart defect that caused my pulse to dance at the slightest provocation. It was not love at first sight. But I like to imagine that something did pass between us in that first moment, that destiny was at work. She continued to smile at me. Her teeth were white and straight, he eyes big and brown.
… Her long dark hair possessed a remarkable shine. Her name tag read, ‘Becky’.”
Now I can’t resist going onto a brief tangent at this point and wondering how much of Pike’s own experiences and tastes the author includes in his books. After all, this was the third of his novels I’d read in succession where a male protagonist is desperately in love with a gorgeous brunette, with two out of the three female fancies having large, dark eyes. Oh, and there is a recurring theme of the main characters struggling to get with these girls for being either geeks, intellects, or simply not the high school jocks. I’m not judging here you understand. A man is entitled to his tastes after all. I just thought the pattern was worth pointing out.
Back to the book though, Mark summons up all of his available courage on a subsequent visit to the record store and asks Becky for an ice-cream ‘date’, dropping a little bit of wordly advice to the reader at the same time.
“I knew she was putting me off, but I persisted anyway. I’m not a pushy guy normally, and I wasn’t that upset, I just figured I might as well give it my best shot. I didn’t want to end up like my dog. He had always been afraid to take a chance with his life, except when it came to crossing streets.”
She eventually accepts and they both have a great time. Seizing the opportunity, and trying to capitalise on his current confidence streak, Mark asks Becky out for a proper date. Unfortunately for Mark, it’s at this point that she reveals that she already has a boyfriend. Although massively deflated on the inside, Mark takes the news (and the rejection) with grace, parting with Becky on excellent terms. But he follows this up by making the mistake that many guys make after being turned down: he continues to visit the record store multiple times a week to see her. In a non-stalker way of course but still, it isn’t a course of action I would personally advise if you want to get over unrequited attraction.
It’s during one of these visits to the store, several months later, that Mark meets the mysterious Vincent, who has apparently been looking for him. Like Mark, Vincent writes computer games, and he wants Mark to take a look at his current project and lend him some advice. So Mark, throwing caution completely to the wind, follows this total stranger back to his home. Vincent, however, is no ordinary stranger. He drives a Ferarri Testarossa and lives in a beautiful house atop a hill overlooking the city of LA. Vincent is extremely hospitable to Mark and they spend some time looking at his work-in-progress computer game dubbed Decision. Mark is confused, frustrated, and fascinated in equal measure by Vincent’s consistently calm demeanour and his ostensibly illogical choices when it comes to his game. He doesn’t have much time to digest all of this however because Vincent’s girlfriend, Kara, returns home.
“Kara entered the room. I tried to stand, but I misplaced my legs when I saw how pretty she was. Like Vincent, she was blonde and blue-eyed, but there the similarity ended. Vincent was calm to the point of serenity, but Kara obviously was charged. At the sight of me, she went up on her bare toes and pressed her palms together in a soft clap. Her face radiated pleasure.
‘Is this the computer genius you told me you were trying to find?’ she asked Vincent, keeping her eyes on me. I’m ashamed to say that I forgot all about Becky at that moment. Kara’s hair fell past her waist – a mass of tiny golden curls that clung to her like a warm embrace. Her mouth was wide. As she smiled, her red lips parted, revealing perfect white teeth. She seemed so delighted to see me, a complete stranger, that I didn’t know how to react.”
Mark immediately hits it off with Vincent and Kara and it’s here that you would begin to suspect that something isn’t right. After all, it’s a little bit odd to meet somebody in a record store, go back to their house, meet their missus, and to become BFFs in an instant. Yet this is how it is for Mark after his evening with Vincent and Kara, and he quickly feels at ease with them.
But then Kara takes Mark aback with her extremely keen interest in his feelings for Becky. She asks him lots of questions and offers to help him get his girl, despite Mark’s protests that he has done what he can and at least salvaged a friendship with Becky. But Kara isn’t fazed. She tells him that it doesn’t matter if Becky already has a boyfriend and that she is convinced that Becky does actually like him.
“‘I want you to think about what I said’, she said.
‘How could you possibly help me?’
‘I’m full of ideas. Do you want me to tell you some?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘Becky’s happy with who she’s got. I have no right to interfere.’
Kara looked down at me. She was no taller than Becky but she gave the impression of great stature. She didn’t have Vincent’s calm confidence, but she had something few girls her age possessed – a sense of mystery.
‘Are you sure?’ she asked.
‘That I shouldn’t interfere? Of course.’
‘No. That’s she’s happy. How do you know? Have you ever asked her?’
‘It’s none of my business,’ I said.
Kara leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. Her lips were warm, her breath cool and sweet like chocolate ice cream.
‘You’re wrong, Mark,’ she said.”
Now, I don’t want to reveal too much more or use many more quotes from the book from this point on or else it would just render reading it yourself obsolete. But, to summarise, Kara makes it her mission to help Mark and break up Becky and her boyfriend – Ray – after informing Mark that Ray is no good for her, and somewhat of a jerk…after carrying out some stalker-ish reconnaissance of her own. Mark protests in the spirit of upholding some sort of ethics and not wanting to hurt Becky but finds, when he has the perfect chance alone with her in the record store, that he is unable to bring himself to warn the object of his desires of the plan that Kara has concocted to ‘prove’ Ray’s infidelity so that he can be removed from the picture for Mark’s benefit. Kara’s plan succeeds perfectly, leaving Mark battling with conflicting feelings of deep guilt and elation.
“One glance at her and I knew immediately that Kara had carried out her plan with cold-blooded efficiency.
‘Hi,’ Becky said softly, glancing up from a box of compact discs she was shelving. There were circles under her eyes.”
With Ray eliminated, Mark and Becky go out on a date but it ends in disaster as Becky is still – naturally – upset over Ray. Worse is to follow when she finds out what has happened, despite Kara’s protestations to Mark that it should have been impossible for her meddling to have been uncovered.
This is all pretty much only the beginning. The rest of See You Later is all about Mark discovering the shocking truth about who Kara and Vincent are, and why it is so imperative for Kara that she gives Mark’s love life a huge prod in the direction of Becky. Up to this point, it is plainly obvious that there is something not normal about Vincent and Kara. How they have such a nice house and a pair of matching Ferrari Testarossas yet don’t seem to do anything for this wealth, for example. Or how Mark finds himself suddenly in the strongest of friendships with the pair in such a short space of time. And why Kara is so adamant that Mark and Becky get together and live happily ever after.
Again, I don’t wish to spoil too much but I will just say that the explanation is out there all right. As you may have guessed from this book’s title, tag-line, and cover art, time travel (and the resulting paradoxes) is at the core of everything, and I can definitely say that re-reading See You Later, and revisiting the characters’ early interactions and the things that they say, reveals a lot of foreshadowing if the book’s complete plot is still fresh in your mind.
Personally I found the ending a little unsatisfying which was disappointing after the rest of the book’s twists and turns had proven to be surprisingly gripping for a young adult novel (when I am far beyond that age bracket by now and versed in reading more complex fiction). The conclusion is bittersweet in a way, and you absolutely should not expect a happy ending where the hero gets the girl and rides off into to sunset but – even though this was a small part of why I didn’t enjoy the end – it was more to do with unanswered questions and inconsistencies that Mark himself mulls across the closing pages. When even the book itself seems unable to fully corroborate the story Kara tells Mark, you know there isn’t much hope for a fully satisfying finale, especially when the protagonist doesn’t even get to brush the mystery off and enjoy a good ending.
All of that said I still enjoyed See You Later, and was pleasantly surprised at how a book like this – well below my reading age – still kept me captivated to the point that I was always eager to read the next few chapters and find out what happened next. That’s always the mark of a good story, regardless of what age bracket the book is actually intended for. I think my teenage self would have loved it even more but, alas, this was one Christopher Pike book that I missed back then. Thankfully I’ve made up for lost time now. Awful pun totally intended.
(And, yes, somebody DOES actually say “see you later” somewhere in the book…)