Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Jem: Jewels in the Dark

Last time in the exciting and always topical world of blogging about thirty-year-old gamebooks aimed at children we traveled back in time and used this temporal anomaly mainly to screw with the minds of primitive humanity before exposing philosophy as the empty fraud that it is and returning home having learned absolutely nothing. Today we're also going to travel in time, so to speak. Back to the glorious eighties and the pop music scene that we still can't get enough of.

It was a better time. The One Percent were heroes and role-models rather than some all-powerful boogeyman somehow causing the failure of socialism and the windmill to collapse. Outrageous meant "really good" instead of denoting that something was an outrage. And the colors, man! It was like living in a beautiful PCP-powered fantasy world all the time, minus the snake attacks and roof-jumping. The music was the best part, just great stuff about real day-to-day problems like slowly becoming Asian or trying to get sexual intercourse.

 Nothing says "essential" like Rick Astley or pre-NKOTB NKOTB.

What better to pay homage to all of the above than reading a "Find Your Fate" book following the adventures of glamorous and outrageous (the good, made-up definition) pop star Jem? A little background. Find Your Fate is basically a less inspired, less morbid, direct from a Serbian bargain bin knockoff of Choose Your Own Adventure. Jem was a line of dolls for girls, that if it came out today would probably attract a bizarre cult of socially inept, hygiene deficient male twenty-somethings. There's a little more to it than that, but let's just dive in.

We get off to an appropriately rockin' start. We're at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York (It's a real place? I thought it was just something made up to sell shirts.). The music is loud, lights are flashing, we're approximating an epileptic aura, but who cares? From the first paragraph we've begun to tap into the self-destructive lifestyle that made limp eighties pop music so unforgettable.

NKOTB's Donnie after an arson arrest. This really happened.

Surprisingly, this is not a concert but rather a "fashion shoot" intended to promote a set of precious stones called the "Langley Jewels." Why this needs to be done and for what purpose is never revealed, but on the other hand bright colors! Loud noise! Yeah! 

Oh wait, it is explained. A line of "costume jewelry" based on the genuine article is coming out. I can imagine a no good dog-of-a-man trying to pass them off as genuine to women, after refusing to buy Long John Silver's. Other than that niche group, the potential consumers for a new type of costume jewelry, even in a decade where greed and conspicuous wealth was worshiped, is probably not big enough to justify an elaborate marketing campaign. 

Make no mistake, this has been an elaborate campaign, featuring "billboards, magazine ads, television commercials" and more. Jem is less concerned about the total lack of fiscal responsibility being displayed and more focused on how exciting and glamorous it all is. Because thinking will only make your head hurt and give you wrinkles, girls. 

All is not well, however, as the "rock group that loves to hate you!" makes an unwanted appearance. That's right, it's the Misfits (!!!) consisting of evil genius Pizzazz, solid back-up assistant trouble maker Roxy and half-dead, fully-crazy Stormer (!!!). They're knocking things over, breaking stuff and making threats. Apparently we're in the same New York depicted in "Escape From New York" complete with no rule of law, all against all and roaming cannibals.

No, not these Misfits. Think Jem, bad trip version.

My eyes! I'm freaking out, man!!!

Faced with this intrusion and the apparent lack of property rights it implies we're given a choice between pulling a "You want to get nuts? Let's get nuts!!!" or keeping it cool in the pocket. With a big money costume jewelry account on the line, I play it smooth. This restraint is rewarded when security removes the gate-crashers, who go rather silently after all that build-up. I mean, what happened to you Stormer? Are you selling out to The Man and becoming domesticated? I barely even know you anymore.

Anyway, it's time for the publicity party. That's your life, endless parties, fashion shoots, rock shows and, presumably, several metric tons of white powder. The earlier victory over The Band that Loves to Hate You proves somewhat empty as they make another appearance to make a bizarre announcement about how Jem is going to steal the Langley Jewels, despite having no realistic motive for doing so and every reason not to. Plus, it's Pizzazz, a girl who wrecks things, makes lots of empty and ridiculous threats and basically behaves like an eighties version of Lindsay Lohan.

You're telling me this is just a coincidence. Come on, now.

Instead of committing grand larceny I hang out with "David Michael Springer" who is the only pop star that even comes close to my level. Yeah, take that Paul Young and Nena. He proposes that we launch a sort of "Monsters of Eighties Cock Rock" tour together and since I am, at heart, a musician first and a costume jewelry shill second, I accept.

This is more important than crass capitalism featuring a product almost no one wants.

This decision, unfortunately, ends the story. The book even bitches me out for not getting to experience this incredible and no doubt exceptionally well-written and sexy mystery by remembering that my character is in a band at the worst possible moment. Had I stuck around I would have experienced emotions many times greater than what we call "fun" but this will never be. The moving hand writes and having writ, moves on.

Roxy has no mouth-to-brain filter. Also, the walls are melting again

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

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