Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Hey – My Omicron Bread Is Soggy!

If you track fads – especially the ones in book publishing – a great way to see if something is passé is by noting what ends up being tossed away, especially if it’s many items from the same category.

No, I don’t engage in bin-diving. But I do check out the FREE BOOKS box at the local used bookstore. Recently I came across a bunch of titles from the CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE series published by Bantam Books. Apparently that craze is over; you can only give them away.

CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE was aimed at what is classified as RL 4 readers, age 10 and up. You were the hero, making choices that end up in victory or defeat. You could be a cyberspace warrior or an international ski racer. Each book would introduce you to yourself as a particular protagonist, quickly filling in the backstory before plunging you into an adventure.

At some point a crisis would occur and you had to make the right decision. Let’s say you’re a jungle explorer who is confronted by a menacing gorilla. You could try to shoot the beast or use a Tarzan yell to scare it away. If you decide to plug some lead into the primate, you’re told to turn to page 101. If you go for the yelling, then you would turn to page 16.

Let’s say you want to be an animal lover and try to deal with the gorilla in a non-violent manner. So you choose the Tarzan yell and then flip to page 16 to find out the gorilla thinks Tarzan is a punk and doesn’t give a crap about PETA. So the enraged ape rips off your arms, legs, and then cracks open your skull to dine on your fresh brains. THE END.

Next time, go for the headshot, sucker.

Of course, such a scenario as the preceding is an exaggerated take-off on what could happen to an adventure chooser. But still you can end up in unpleasant circumstances, such as being ripped apart by fanged and clawed ETs.

That unfortunate ending shows up in YOU ARE A GENIUS by Edward Packard (CHOOSE YOR OWN ADVENTURE #95). One day you’re an average high school student, but overnight you’ve become a genius. Soon you’re building robots that appear to be nothing more than R2-D2 rip-offs. Or you find a way to travel in space faster than the speed of light, building a spaceship that takes you to the planet Omicron.

When you land on Omicron, your ship is badly damaged and needs repairs. The locals, monsters possessing super-strength, are ready to rip your vessel apart. If you weren’t so stressed out, you would notice that while you build robots that are knock-offs of STAR WARS bots, these monsters resemble the critters from the ALIEN movie series, complete with elongated heads and fang-filled, drooling mouths.

Your choices are to fire at the monsters, move the ship to another spot on the planet, or take a moment to think.

OK, I’m an older reader and I could anticipate my fate with either fight or flight. So I chose to think it over. That decision let me study the monsters, learn their language, and approach them in peace.

Of course, you can’t reject a friendly offering or the “natives” will get restless again. What bothers me is the illustration by artist Frank Bolle of the aliens bringing food baskets to the ship while thick drool is pouring from their gaping mouths, sticky saliva all over the fish and the bread. Hey, I don’t want strange body fluids all over my lunch.

Then again, if I decided fight or flight, the aliens would have torn me apart. To be fair, there should’ve been a fourth choice: waiting for the bus. In classic Michael O’Donoghue fashion, a bus runs over the aliens, killing them, THE END.

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