Saturday, August 31, 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure #52: Ghost Hunter

A long time ago I solved the mysterious murder of Harlowe Thrombey, overcoming pistol-whipping, crushing existential dread and a broken system that seemed more concerned with covering its own rear than actually solving the case. I had no idea then that there was a sequel. You can imagine my excitement. Throw in the fact that ghosts are going to be involved and this one sounds like it can't possibly fail.

Spooky stuff is going down.

Like a Rocky film, we start by quickly recapping the previous installment. After my heartless refusal to act as a pint-sized body guard for a one-percenter named Harlowe Thrombey he got murdered. I was able to redeem my appalling apathy toward my fellow human unit somewhat by solving the crime. Since then my detective skills have been in demand, but the crushing boredom and lack of purpose that comes from b.s. like "helping others" proved inescapable.

Like I predicted, the mystery game lost its luster. My other prediction, about becoming a drug-abusing human derelict, was less accurate. I'm not even mad, because something even more righteous than the "peaked as a child death spiral" occurred. I read an article in some magazine that was all "there might be ghosts, bro!" and this was enough to convince me that this would be a good use of my time and resources. 

Besides, the "Institute of Occult Studies" a.k.a. the "We don't know what happened to your dog, cat, or virgin daughter so stop asking building" is just down the street. I decide to roll up and get equipped for some serious paranormal investigating. Suffice it to say the lame "skeptics" are ignored. Harlowe's ghost is out there and since I helped put him into that state with my cowardly and selfish refusal to help I'm just the one to find him.

Blaming bad football seasons on supernatural evil since 1922.

I go to see a Professor Zieback and he conforms to pretty much every academic stereotype there is. Books everywhere, tweed jacket, pipe smoking...all that's missing is sexual misconduct. Surprisingly, he's less than enthusiastic to mentor me, but on the other hand is quick to point out "ghosts exist!" but quickly qualifies that with some "are we really here" philosophical self-abuse. When called out he says it's "complicated." Something tells me this guy gets lots of "very poors" on those student evaluations.

He then explains that ghosts can't physically hurt you, but you might get injured running away like a little sissy bitch or the like. I don't know, that strategy served me pretty well at Chimney Rock. Before I can get any more evasive half-answers and useless theoretical navel-gazing he's out the door, leaving me to consider the merits of the kind of idiocy that only someone with an advanced degree can produce.

    "I'd love to talk more, but I've got to give another award-winning lecture."

It turns out the entire choice to go to the Satan School was just a blind alley that takes you to the same page you'd go to if you just skip it. Worthless tutorial sections in a Choose Your Own Adventure Book? Yeah, almost. It didn't quite reach the level of "The pages have numbers, which you will use to navigate the story! Try turning to page 7 now! No, try again! Almost. Go back to the top of the page to reread these instructions" ridiculousness, but still seemed like a waste of time.

The girl that caused me to waste a ton of time exploring the absurdity of mortality last time wants to come with me. How about "no."

I'm so stoked to start holding out an electronic device of some sort and saying things like "If you're a ghost, now is the time to say stuff," but instead get drawn into some lame human drama where some niece who was related to the decedent just shows up at my door. See, this is why I got out of the Mystery Industry for the greener pastures of pseudo-science. I get some dreadful "woe is me" tale about wills and diamond investments and oh, by the way there's a huge diamond in the mansion that I have a quasi-legal right to even though some other guy owns the house and the rule of law doesn't really work like that so go find it using your ghost hunting as a cover to commit grand theft and give it to me instead of, say, following the law.   

To make it even more ridiculous, she implies that the new owner of the property is a drug-dealer, arms smuggler and/or bomb maker for terrorists (!!!!). Yeah, really. Give up your promising career in corpse-bothering to steal blood diamonds from the American Taliban. There needs to be a stronger word than "no" for this nonsense.

Can't wait to see where the Bush family ranks!

The book has the balls to over-rule both decisions I've made. Yeah, no kidding. I'm told that I change my mind and decide that stealing something that some stranger that randomly materialized at my house and has the most tenuous of claims on is actually a really good idea. I mean, I'm sure she didn't vilify the rightful owner just to make her position more sympathetic or anything.

Then I decide I need Little Miss "Maybe he committed suicide to prove God doesn't exist" on my side. Here I'm given a choice between "asking Jenny for help" and "offering to help her" and I decide to rage quit.

"They got a real nice gym, cable teevee, a toilet right next to your bed..."

Yup, didn't even finish this one. This may be the worst Choose Your Own Adventure book ever, certainly the worst one I've reviewed so far. First the meaningless bit with the professor, then two choices that are promptly nullified by a "but thou must!" The whole point of these books, again, is to allow you some limited agency to direct what happens. As bad as coin tosses and "if the name of the current day ends in 'day'" are, this was the bottom. Getting railroaded by a book written in 1985. No thanks.

Aaron Zehner's first novel The Foolchild Invention is available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.

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