Friday, October 24, 2014

Choose Your Own Adventure #19: Secret of the Pyramids

Last time the Twist-a-Plot pain was delivered via a somewhat risible tale of the evils lurking behind the local news. Today it's back to Choose Your Own Adventure to check out a book that represents a major milestone in the development of this series. In 1983 the demand for wussy vehicles tales laden with far left ranting and space/time adventures that are obviously drug abuse metaphors had outstripped the ability for R.A Montgomery and Edward Packard to respectively supply them. This meant new authors would join the stable, with wildly varying results. Dismissing the mysterious D. Terman this is the first entry by someone other than the two founding fathers of this glorious empire.

The writer in question is Richard Brightfield, who we already got to know in a book all about sub-mission. Judging by that effort he shares R.A. Mongomery's fascination with impractical modes of transport and is deeply interested in various pseudo-sciences that have fallen out of favor. We're going to turn that loose in Egypt. I'm already dreading the inevitable "sand buggies" and "ley line intersections."

Alternate title: "Secret Agent for ISIS"

Like any great work of literary fiction it starts with chilling out at home, doing absolutely nothing because pretty much every piece of technology that now dominates day-to-day life had yet to be invented. I get a call from Uncle Bruce who just got back from Egypt and is planning to return soon. Offered an invite, I'm all over it, as opposed to the 2014 reaction which we would be "Naw, got these video games to play. 'Sides, that whole area is now dominated by a violent and nihilistic democracy gone mad. Smell you later." 

Instead, I'll smell him right now as we take an airplane to Rome, breezing through the non-existent security and taking several bottles of soda on the plane, or at least I would assume. I learn that my relative is working on a less than credible theory involving cosmic rays, big gaping holes under the pyramids and the dream of producing unlimited energy. Something tells me a lot of this guy's speeches start with "Is such a thing even possible?" and end with " was aliens!"

Meanwhile, some guy is craning to listen, but because airline paranoia isn't really a thing yet I dismiss this as meaningless. I also note he looks strange, but the tight Brightfield prose doesn't explain how, so I guess you could call this "Choose Your Own Superficial Prejudices." R.A. Montgomery would just declare him a midget and be done with it.

Please, share your unlimited energy via cosmic rays theories.

Arriving in Cairo (Egypt, not Illinois) my Uncle and I part ways so he can deal with "red tape." Finally something a modern audience can relate to. The otherwise undescribed strange man presses a piece of paper into my hand and then runs off. It says "Beware the Sphinx." Yeah, thanks for the tip. If I see that sucka I'll be sure to blast him in the center of the face with Napoleonic artillery, assuming someone hasn't done that already.  

I want some answers, or maybe an actual physical description of some sort, so I follow the man. We get your patented exotic locale cab chase that used to be common in popular entertainment before scenes of characters typing on keyboards replaced that as the go-to dramatic bridge. Then a push through a "thick crowd" and I spot the runner going into a cafe. Man, all these rich descriptions of Egypt, the author must have done tons of research and not just watched part of an Indiana Jones movie with the sound turned off or something similar.

Next we get belly dancers. I assume the scimitar-wielding fanatics, foul-tempered camels and nervous guides are still to come. I find a table and try to adjust my eyes to the poor light. I've got to find this stranger, because if I don't there's no way I can tell anyone else what to look for. "He was just strange, all right?"

Just depicting what's in the book, nothing gratuitous, no way.

I'm given super strong Egyptian coffee (Turkey, Egypt, same thing) and one of the dancers locks eyes with me, but I wreck it by immediately passing out. I wake up chained to a bed. I'm still in the same building and can hear the music coming from below. Yup, this is one amazing story about the Pyramids. Before anything even more freaky can occur one of the dancers frees me from the lock and helps me climb out the window. Yup, it's all going down in this tiny cafe. Casablanca would have been way better if light bondage, knock out pills and dancing girls with hearts of gold had been bigger plot elements, maybe replacing that French anthem scene.

Myself and the low-level sex industry employee make it out of the window and scurry over some rooftops, chased by unknown but bad-intentioned pursuers. We do the obligatory roof-to-roof jump and the exotic dancer has to drag me up to the next building, a scene lovingly depicted in a full page illustration. "Are all belly dancers as strong as you are?" I lamely ask. I'm told she was trained by acrobats and is probably only doing the hip-shaking to pay her way through community college. Or was kidnapped by a gang. It was one or the other. 

I really didn't think sex trafficking was going to be a thing in this book, but there it is. 

 Fans of fad workouts, hold on to your hats!

It turns out this entire quarter of Cairo is controlled by the belly dancer cartel, so escape is by no means certain. We finally make it out hidden in a donkey cart and after leaving the area part ways. Morning finds me in some cemetery and after a pointless freak-out I'm reunited with my Uncle and share the amazing story of erotic slavery, chain kink and the physical benefits of acrobatics. Suffice it to say, I'm on the next flight back to New York. I guess all those questions about space energy and the dangerous Sphinx will have to go unanswered.

I'll concede that this book overcame considerable limitations (i.e. the author being a lazy hack) to rise to the level of acceptable mediocrity. I don't think it will win any awards for originality or descriptive prose, but the story I got was decent enough. Besides, there was belly dancing slavery. There will always be that.

I've had it know what, just forget it.

Check Out My Books!

Aaron Zehner is the author of "Posts from the Underground," now available in paperback and e-book. Read free excerpts here and here.

His first novel "The Foolchild Invention" is also available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.

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