Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Twistaplot #10 Mission of the Secret Spy Squad

Last time we explored a rich and highly nuanced world of fantasy in Deathtrap Dungeon by entering a deadly dungeon and...well...dying. You can't accuse them of false advertising, that's for sure. Following that debacle (I think it's impossible to die faster than I did) it's time to put away the dice and go back into the kiddie pool for another Choose Your Own Adventure idea thief. This time it's "Twistaplot" which, believe it or not, was put out by Scholastic and prominently featured Goosebumps author R.L. Stine (not in today's book, though). With that impressive pedigree you'd think this series would be a little less on the fudged up side, but you'd be mostly wrong as the stories would often veer into murder, mayhem and, in today's tale, cold war espionage. Yeah, really.

Overall, I have a soft spot for this series. It was generally well-written and as original as a rip-off could be. There's also a lot of fourth-wall breaking snark, perhaps anticipating a future where they would basically be fodder for that in a blog. Let's check it out.

"Ok, USA!"

I love the title. It's a secret spy squad, as opposed to all those spies that operate openly with full disclosure. The redundancy, repetition and saying the same thing over and over is very much appreciated and enjoyed. We get a funny bit right away as the instructions page threatens to self-destruct in thirty seconds. Like I said, these books were a little more self-aware than was typical of the genre. Apparently I'm on the Junior Track and Field Team, something that conjures up images of homoerotic stretching, underage drinking purges and buying a bottle of aspirin for $100 after being told it's "steroid pills." International espionage never really came up.

By taking all of these pills I shaved two seconds off my mile time and my genitals fell off.

Anyway, we're supposed to compete in some sort of b.s. "peace games" in Europe, but instead are in a cave being briefed for the cloak 'n' dagger by a Bogart look-a-like. He also has a metal hook for a hand, the code name "Raven" and regards the C.I.A. as a "boy scout troop." This all comes off as pretty try hard, quite frankly. The fictional country of Solonia (between Belgium and Luxemburg!) is menaced by a group called BRUTE (not the aftershave, I think) who are planning on assassinating King Idle (!) which, somehow, could cause World War 3. I mean, what could be a bigger threat to the Western Democracies than the death of a paternal autocrat in a nation roughly the size of a Burger King parking lot.

You stay dry, a figurehead monarch gets wet.

Since this is still America, what to do next is put to a democratic vote and it all comes down to my decision. The book lets you "chicken out" but immediately calls you out on that decision in another nice touch. Instead, I decide we should go to Solonia and save their beloved tyranny from the long arms of double entendre using deodorant makers.

Next stop, the Blandsburg airport, presumably not far from Squaresville. Not surprisingly for a nation known as "Little Luxemburg" everything is small. The local press is waiting, eager to do an interview, but he faces stone-walling from my coach. We learn that "marathon sleeping" is the national pastime of Solonia, the flag is "gray on gray" and the anthem has two notes. Again, the fate of the free world rests with this feudal left-over.

A possible replacement for the "Two Shades of Gray" flag.

He keeps playing the sympathy card to try to score that scotching expose, but with the stakes as high as they are I turn him down. He makes a cryptic remark and offers a gray button that says "Solonia Is For Surprises!" Legitimate, intentional humor in one of these books? Yes. After refusing the button the reporter produces more erratic behavior, blaming "an old ping pong injury." It is something of a blood-sport.

"Finish Him!"

We get a shockingly prescient bit where airport security starts tearing into my possessions. They even suggest a "body search." This book is legitimately humorous and it predicts TSA grope sessions. 10 out of 10, friends. Suddenly, I'm alone, as the rest of the team probably bugged out rather than witness me having to drop and spread. I'm given a choice to run (to where???) but decided to let them finish the search. 

I'm hustled into a "little green room." "You're shaking so badly you get your zipper stuck halfway down," the book states. Fortunately this a reference to the zipper on your jacket, but still. They find something incriminating, and the next thing I know I'm being frog-marched toward what's basically the Ministry of Love. Time to put on that "rat helmet."

I'll take the radiation, please.

Back in the mini-love I'm accused of spying and seated in front of a "ping pong sized table." Man, what is it with the co-authors and ping pong? Still more shake-down happens (gah, enough already!) and this time the "Solonia" button turns up in my bag. Not sure how they missed it earlier. From here it's off to a "detention cell." I'm really enjoying all this high adventure: cavity searches, holding cells, stuck's a dreamworld of magic.

"Me lawyer you" offers a full-figured gentleman and luckily this isn't code for making me a jailhouse bride. A long conversation is summarized in another funny bit, with the choices coming down to admitting guilt and hoping for the best or rotting in the cell. Seeing as how the evidence is all against me and one would imagine the American government would notice my plight at some point I take the plea bargain, such as it is. I rot in the prison for a week, lose ten pounds and am exchanged for a crew of fish mongers and a second round draft pick. The end.

Let's drag your excess fat into a blind spot and shank it.

It was a pretty disappointing run, all things considered. I didn't do any spy stuff and what did happen is pretty much business as usual in today's airports, though I guess the idea of getting repeatedly violated by government goons still had some novelty in the early eighties. Next time I'll have to try to get to the page where "your undercover contact is a bionic pig!" We can create better bacon, we have the technology.

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

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