Flashback Fridays: Science fiction, double feature . . .
Posted by Stephanie Whelan
You just celebrated your 16th birthday along with your friends who have been your “birthday buddies” since you all were small. Ever since the celebration, however, you’ve been having weird dreams and figuring out that you’re able to do stuff no one else can do. Your friends are behaving strangely too. And now one by one they’re disappearing . . .
Do you remember:
Experiment in Terror by Bernal C. Payne Jr. (Simon Pulse,c1987)
Obviously this would be considered a teen book by todays standards, but I read it when I was a tween. I consider it fair territory for Flashback Friday since while it does concern teenagers, it really doesn’t touch on anything unacceptable for a middle grade audience to the best of my memory. Now, this book doesn’t look like anything worthwhile. This particular cover is a terrible one. Really terrible. The one I remember wasn’t much better, and the title is awful too. But this is one of those circumstances where judging based on title or cover could have cost me a lot of reading enjoyment.
Steve is one of seven kids who were all born on the same day and who all celebrate their birthdays together every year. Up until now things have been going great for all of them. None of them have ever been sick a day in their lives, they’re smart and successful and happy. But after that fateful birthday, something starts happening to the seven of them. Steve finds he’s having dreams, bizarre dreams of snakes. His friends are all acting strangely . . . and one by one they’re disappearing. Steve finds he’s got abilities beyond the norm–abilities that allow him to save his brother from being crushed by a car by lifting it off of him. Steve finally finds out what’s going on when he goes in search of his friends . . . it seems that none of them, Steve included, are quite human. Instead they’re part of larger experiment of human/alien hybrids. There are alien creatures desperately seeking a place where their race can continue. They hoped their experiment would create a hybrid that would allow their race to live on with humans on Earth, but instead the results are disastrous. As the hybrids reach sixteen, they are reverting to fully alien, and now must be picked up and taken aboard the spaceship before they revert too much to live on the planet. Only Steve seems to be different . . . he’s not reverting. But can he possibly save his friends? Or will he lose them all?
This is a surprisingly more thoughtful and emotional book than the cover or title suggest. And it was a book that I read, reread and checked out of the library repeatedly until they discarded it. It’s one of those 80s alien plot books that was pretty common and would probably make a suitable B movie, but the book left me thinking. It’s not black and white: the aliens aren’t bad or good, the ending is good for some but not a pat, happy ending for all. It made me consider things from other perspectives–an interesting exercise.
I wouldn’t ever say this is a great book, but it sure did capture my imagination. Even after all these years (I probably haven’t read it in close to 20 years.) I still remember the plot rather vividly, and even specific scenes from the book. There’s no real information about the author available. He’s written two other books for teens, one a time travel adventure and one a fantasy, but that seems to be about it. Overall this is one of those books that suited me perfectly as a tween, but I couldn’t say if it holds up for adult reading. My guess is it probably hasn’t aged well over the years, but it’s still fondly remembered.
Any books you love that didn’t age well? A particular favorite that seems awfully cheesy now?