Sunday, September 15, 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure #6: Your Code Name is Jonah

Last time out my promising, if small time, ghostbusting career was severely derailed by a series of plot elements that could charitably be called "hot garbage." Still smarting from that bad experience, I wanted to try a book I remembered from my childhood and knew would be a can't miss good time.

Actually, I wanted to do "Jonah" from the very beginning, but there was just one small problem that I'll illustrate below.

The government gets better deals on pens and pencils.

It's even more a rip-off when you consider there's a chance you'll get the lame reprint "Spy Trap," the copy you'll get in "acceptable" condition will resemble half a shoebox worth of confetti and every other CYOA book sells for a penny used. I honestly have no idea why the price on this one is so inflated, although it is one of the better and more memorable early entries. Are people really paying several hundred dollars for a battered mass market paperback? I can't get over this.

Anyway, after months of regular checking I finally found a copy for less than a dollar. It turned out to be the original version and in pretty good condition, so suck on that 80s children's book profiteers.

Seventy dollars. One star vendor rating. Lowest possible condition. What. The. Fudge.

I almost feel I should seal this bad boy in a vault or buy special insurance for it rather than read it, but I've got an uncompensated job to do and I take that very seriously. Like I hinted at earlier, this one is very different. You play an adult, for one, which might be the only time in this series that happens. And no, I don't want some crank to e-mail me a correction if that's wrong. You're a spy, there's cold war goodness and plenty of bad endings where you die horribly or get told you're a failure because you have a conscience. All right, the former isn't that unusual, but the latter is. Sort of.

None of this "pistol in each hand" silliness. Try a pistol and an AK. 

I'm in a sub-basement beneath the White House, a few doors down from the department that reads all your e-mails and the one that selects any right of center group for severe I.R.S. audits. My boss is "glaring" at me, which seems a bit much considering this is nothing more than a mission briefing. He wants to know what I know about whale songs and I humor him in the most patronizing way possible. I'm here to disarm bombs, seduce women with ridiculous sexually-themed names and fire off one-liners. Learning about aquatic mammals isn't even on the radar.

Despite my obvious lack of interest we plow forward with a story about a whale researcher who is trying to figure out why these excellent sources of lamp oil are vanishing. It appears a new whale song might unlock the mystery, but then Captain Science pulled his own disappearing act and we have reason to believe that the Reds might be involved, including KGB all-star "Double-Eye," who is presumably a young Vladimir Putin. I've got to find the missing egg-head, give fist imprints and lead injections to the Bolsheviks and solve the mystery of the new song. It's no "They might be stealing Bolivia's water!" but it will have to do.

The plot, more or less.

I decide to start with an interrogation and possible water-boarding of the last person to see the wayward scientist before his disappearance, a "Dr. Klein." He says they were using an "omputer" to analyze the song, but with the team head gone, the project has stalled out. Maybe you could go on the "ternet" and see if you can find any help there. I'm guessing I somehow obtained the extremely rare "typo on page four" version, so I'll be adding a few hundred dollars to the resale price. 

Fortunately this riveting discussion of the sounds emitted by Moby Dick is cut short by The Agency calling to alert me to a "Anton Roudnitska" a Soviet Agent planning to make his escape from a seaside farmhouse by boat to a waiting submarine. There's reason to believe this guy knows where the missing researcher is. I politely tell Klein that listening to his mix tape of cetacean vocal melodies will just have to wait. It's time to tackle the evil empire's shadow soldiers.

This is a real image that has not been altered in any way.

I take the next flight to Halifax, walking right on board with multiple guns in my hands because it's 1980 and that's how the world was back then if the evidence I've pieced together from discarded cans of "Billy Beer" is at all reliable. At the airport I'm met by a car. A young woman claims she's from the "Canadian Intelligence Office" and that I should get in the car. Already working on horrible "Canadian beaver" wordplay after I inevitably seduce her I get in and am promptly sandwiched between two armed thugs, both pressing the heat in my guts. Then I get clubbed over the head, which seems somewhat excessive at this point.

"We fight shadow wars, eh."

Now begins the obligatory "I expect you to die, Mr. Bond!" scene as I wake up in a farm house, chained to a bed. Yeah, apparently living in a closed society with rigid restrictions on free expression leads to kinkiness. Well, at least it does in 2013 America. The reference to "rubbing my throbbing head" certainly does little to remove my thoughts from the gutter. 

Anyway, Stalin's Secret Fun Club wants me to answer a call from the missing scientist and then encourage "Russian cooperation" as the only viable solution to the whale crisis. Yes, kids, there was a time when getting someone to sell out America required this sort of violent, convoluted set-up. They're all "do it or die" so I go along, hoping the researcher will realize I'm just trolling. 

The real "save the whales" heroes, right here.

I have a short conversation with the Big Brain, hoping he'll pick up on my sarcastic tone of voice, unlike everyone else I talk to. The KGB goons are appeased by my performance and announce it's time to "chain me back to the bed." Someone, somewhere on the internet, has probably used this scene as inspiration to write "Your Code Name is Jonah" gay bondage erotica. 

While getting frog-marched the other red operative yells "Hey Vladimir!" Man, did I call that or what. I use this distraction to break free of the Kung Fu grip of the future President of Russia and escape through a window under a "hail of bullets." Ok, that kicked ass. 

Everything is quickly wrapped up. The enemy spies have fled with false intel, the researcher is rescued and it turns out Anton Roudnitska, that guy I was hunting before my ignominious capture, is actually one of our people in deep cover. Nice try Boris, you almost had us, but freedom and democracy are victorious. Oh, and about the whale song and the missing whales? Not important any more, I guess.

This was as good as I remembered. Not three hundred dollars worth of good, of course, but worth checking out in the unlikely event you find a semi-reasonable price. The spy story is generally solid and original. There's lots of classic illustrations, gun play and a tone that while perhaps not mature is at least serious and consistent.

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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