Bet you thought this was going to be a NaNoWriMo post.
I mean… come on: Middle of the month? Ironic yet clever title? Something about conserving ammo, checking your exits, and knowing when to double tap your closest friends to maximize your own life expectancy? Clever analogies… OR ARE THEY?
Today, I don’t want to talk about writing; I want to talk about reading.
Specifically, I want to talk about Choose Your Adventure books and the cultural wasteland of my youth.
Where the Outbreak Began
A few things that have always been true: from as early an age as possible, I’ve been storyteller, a reader, and a gamer. Also, I grew up deep, DEEP in the heart of the Great Plains about an hour from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s old place (seriously). My only playmate for five miles in any direction was my sister.
We got in a fair amount of trouble.
And by “we” I mean “I”, and by “I” I mean “I’m still really very sorry about accidentally spraying that superglue in your eyes, sis.”
My parents (and my relatives, and our neighbors) were very enthusiastic about anything that might keep me busy for a few hours that didn’t involve me trying to construct a functional airplane from a 2×8, our welcome mat, and a plugged-in battery charger I was about to clip to my belt buckle. (True story! Short, but true.)
As a result, people got me copies of every Choose Your Adventure book ever printed. In some cases, I had two. In the eyes of my gift-givers, they were the perfect combination of elements: a story! but a story he made up himself (kinda)! and you choose paths, like a game! Seems an obvious choice, really: I can see why folks picked them up for me by the five-pack. There was only one key bit of trivia they overlooked.
They were positively execrable. Holy pinball-tilting buddha, they were bad.
You know what I used to do with the CYA books? (Never did a three-letter acronym serve multiple masters so admirably.) I used to read them in page order. Not because I didn’t understand how they were meant to be consumed, but because digesting the elements of the product as a mishmash of unrelated plot points, sappy successes, predictable reveals, and weak failures was not, on the whole, any worse. Also, when I did it in that order, I could make up the interstitial stuff that lay between each page so that the whole thing still (or, finally) made some kind of sick sense.
That was my experience with Choose Your Adventure books when I was a kid. (A few years ago, someone gave Kate a copy of a CYA reprint at a book fair. It did not encourage me to revise my childhood impression.)
The Infection Spreads
You can, given this background, imagine my terrified caution when I learned of a new book coming out. It’s called Choose Your Doom: Zombie Apocalypse, and it looks like this:
Take a look at that cover. I’m not really qualified to discuss nuances in a piece of art, but I feel compelled to point out it’s got zombies in it. I believe my love of zombies is well-documented.
But then there’s this cover copy.
You control the fate of Tobe, a teen-aged slacker living in the shadow of the Cheyenne Mountain military complex. When a secret experiment goes awry, the citizens of Colorado Springs are exposed to an alien mold that turns those infected into zombies. With your help, Tobe must battle the newly undead, wild animals and the most dangerous creature of all: Man. Will your decisions help him save the city, or lead him to certain doom?
Obviously, I was torn. On the one hand, you have this:
But on the other, this:
I think you can understand my concern.
Clearly, there was only one thing to do: for my sanity, for your safety, I had to read the thing.
“But Doyce,” (you ask), “how can you have made this sacrifice for us? The book doesn’t come out until November 26, 2010.”
Obviously, I am a time tra–
Err. No, wait. You don’t know about that yet. Paradox. Right.
Obviously, I used my many nefarious contacts within the underworld and put out the word that I needed a copy of the book a few weeks earlier than the unwashed masses. I was eventually put in contact with De Knippling, one of the authors, and we met for some unpronounceable yet delicious coffee in her home town.
“Your city,” I said. “Nice place.”
“Err,” she replied, “thanks.”
“Be a shame if anything… happened to it,” I cliched.
“”Umm…” She raised an eyebrow in my direction, obviously to conceal her trembling fear. “Dude, do you want the arc or not?”
“SUBMIT TO MY COERCION.”
Conversion is Complete
Following that exchange (or one almost exactly like it in all ways except the actual words spoken, and the location, and the coffee), I set in to ‘read’ this ‘book’.
I died. Then some other stuff happened. Huh. Cool.
I read it again.
Dead. Some entirely different stuff happened. Heh. Funny.
Dead. (A hippo?!? What the hell?)
Dead… and this time I felt the slightest tug of… sadness? Was that a real moment of touching humanity there? Why yes, yes it was.
People, I’m horrified.
You know what the authors have done with this thing?
They’ve destroyed a (literally) life-long prejudice; my well-considered and heartfelt disdain lies dead and mouldering while a category of books that died in the mid 1980s shambles upright and stumbles back into the light. Worse, they’ve taught this unholy creature about humor and pacing and suspense and the tragedy and joy of the human condition. They made it good.
That’s what Choose Your Doom: Zombie Apocalypse is: it’s good.
I wanted it to be bad. I needed it to be bad so that I could continue to cling to my childhood, but this book denied me — it pulled my tattered copy of Inside UFO 54-40 out of my hands and turned my eyes toward the light.
Then it ate my brains.
I suggest you check this thing out. Sincerely. It’s fun romp, a number of entertaining yarns, some surprising depth and (if you know the authors) unsurprising humor, and I think most of the people I know will like it.
And don’t worry about the way it makes your eyeballs itch; the infection only burns for the first few minutes, and zombies are always more effective as a horde.