Sunday, February 10, 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure #1: The Cave of Time

Last time we tried a Choose Your Own Adventure Book, a series aimed at grade school kids, we faced murder, alcoholism, home invasion, the horrifying existential nothingness that renders all we do absurd and meaningless, pistol-whippings, T.B.I., and ghoul/vampire monsters packing heat. Suffice it to say, that book was in no way representative of the series as a whole. Consider the very first book, where we'll face time travel, paradoxes, and the absurd farce that is free will, human agency and hope. Let's step into that Time Cave and encounter the exciting miseries, crimes and atrocities that make up the vast bulk of human history!

We get a little insight into the reckless nature of the pre-teen hero we'll be guiding right away, as he decided it's a good idea to enter a cave that was recently uncovered by a rock slide. I mean, what could go wrong? I guess reading page after page of slowly dying of oxygen deprivation in a collapsed cave that we foolishly entered is too bleak even for this series, or more likely that's the kind of horrible fate these books like to build up to rather than inflict right away. Emerging from this earth-hole reveals the sun is now set, the moon is in the wrong phase and there's a general sense that all is not well. "You must have fallen asleep," is the lame rationalization we get. Unless our hero is some sort of narcoleptic that seems like strainin' to do the explainin'.

Life ruining disabilities = comedy gold.

We're given a choice to simply "wait," which doesn't seem too logical, all things considered. Instead, we head back home with the naive hope that the spelunking-generated temporal anomalies will simply fix themselves if we sink deep enough into denial. I mean, I might have just fallen asleep in the middle of walking around, right? Sadly, this comforting illusion is ruined when our hero notes that the trail is different and also it's not a trail it's a river bed. Even then we lamely try to blame it on "moonlight playing tricks on the eyes." Assuming this kid somehow survives the coming nonsense he's gonna end on Dr. Phil or the non-televised equivalent as an adult, still blaming everything and everyone for his own self-constructed failure. I'm just saying.

I think we both know the moonlight is not to blame for your freebase habit.

The good news is the sun is coming up. The bad news is everything has changed and it's become so blatantly evident that no amount of double-talk is getting us out of this one. Even our watch is busted. Nevertheless, I must stay true to our character's delusional tendencies and keep heading toward "the ranch." An encounter with mountains and glaciation finally confirms what I think we knew from the start: we've been sent back to the Ice Age. Despite this setback, we still feel we can somehow get back to "familiar territory." The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, kid.

So we enter another, presumably non-fifth dimensional, cave. Here we immediately encounter stereotypical cave dwellers. As you might expect they're completely agog, because primitive humanity, never, ever, takes novel events in stride. A civilization and symbolic language-impaired gentleman approaches wielding a "vine." Here we get the classic flight or friends response and I decide to go with friends, what with my advanced frontal lobes and posture. Hell, I'll probably be in charge of this whole tribe in a month.

Assuming I don't get strangled with a vine right off, that is.

 Alternate cover embellishes the "vine" scene somewhat.

The universal language of "friendly gestures" is sufficient to make the scene with these Model-A humans. However, there still is a language barrier, which I overcome by making "drawings" on the cave wall. I want to point out that the current theory of cave paintings is that these images had religious and/or magical significance and messing with this would probably not win any points. I'm just saying this for the benefit of any of you that go into a cave and enter the Ice Age. Also, try not to wreck the present by indiscriminately killing and smashing. Follow those two rules and you should be fine.

Showing surprising adaptability for someone who is constantly trying to wish away the real world, I settle into the neolithic banality of cleaning, cooking and adding pictures to the wall. Just to mess with these human prototypes I draw airplanes, ships and cars, which their primitive minds see only as "abstract designs." So I'm a bit of a dick to the people that saved me from freezing or being devoured by a mammoth, no one's perfect. This pocket paradise of laughing into my sleeve at how backward and dumb the noble hunter-gatherer really was while pissing on their religious beliefs and generally being an ugly American time-tourist can't last, however. Cold weather is coming and with it "The Migration." Our ancestors were sort of like Canadian Geese.

Here, let me draw future objects you won't understand over this b.s.

Feeling I've taken advantage of these surprisingly hospitable hominids I use this as an excuse to try to find my way back to the cave of time and hopefully our present world of airplanes, electric razors and glory-holes. So I trudge off through the snow, all toughened up from my time as a cook, cleaner and iconoclast. Then I run into a wolf, kind of an odd choice by the author considering the plethora of more exotic Ice Age creatures. I run like hell into the cave, which conveniently enough is also right there.

Nearly ended by this.

I end up in a well-lit area of the cave, where an old man, the Keeper of Time or some shit, is waiting. Faced with this b.s. I decide to ask "who are you" rather than play along with his little games. This cuts the Gordian Knot, as Father Time or whatever is forced to admit he's a "philosopher" who chose immortality on the condition that he sits alone here, forever, contemplating chair reality and what is best in life and where does the Cave of Time fit into God's grand design and so on for all eternity. He basically admits he screwed the pooch with that choice and directs you back to your own time for the happy ending.

Overall this was an amusing enough read. Even though I just realized it contained devil-lution, evil magic, unholy immortality and false religions, thus opening the door for diabolic possession and the like. In light of that, it probably wasn't worth it. Still, the series had to start somewhere and time travel fantasy is always fun. Plus there was philosophy bashing and the futility of secular humanism, so I guess the questionable content evens out a bit. Just don't go exploring holes in that rock slide area, kids. You won't go back in time, you'll just get crushed by heavy stones.

  Don't try something like this, either.

Aaron Zehner's first novel The Foolchild Invention is available in e-book format at and Barnes & Noble.

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