Friday, December 19, 2014

Twistaplot #1 The Time Raider

After a reasonably competent submarine simulator that ended with renouncing society for the simple pleasure of island life and trying to ignore the other two people on said island doing the wild thing I figured I might as well stick with Twist-a-Plot for a little longer, especially because every time I review one of those books I'm significantly closer to the point where I never have to think about this series again. The good news is that today's offering is from R.L. Stine who, unlike other luminaries like D. Terman, would go on to have sustained success with the "Goosebumps" series, putting his embarrassing slumming in Choose Your Own Adventure's unlikable little brother completely behind him, instead of letting it define his career like The Siegels and so many others.

This is not to imply that writing for Twist-a-Plot wasn't the Big Time. It totally was. Take a moment to wrap your head around that one. There was a time when the appetite for branching dead tree narratives was so ravenous that it wasn't the path to fame and fortune, it was the destination.

The book version of "Let me tell you about the sixties, kid."

We kick off with an exciting time at Uncle Edgar's, noted inventor and general ball of incarnated goofiness. I've noticed we get a lot of Uncles in these books. I guess it makes sense when you think of it logically. A secondary relation distances the reader from dwelling on the possibility of inheriting hereditary wackiness syndrome in a way "Your crazy laws of thermodynamics defying Father!" wouldn't and it allows for surprises like "I built a time machine" to occur in a more organic fashion simply because you don't share the same house, an arrangement that would make secretly tampering in God's domain largely untenable. 

And yes, he made a time machine. Man, can't wait to see some metaphors for society's stratification with that bad boy! I should also point out that the first Choose Your Own Adventure book also featured a similar theme but I'm sure that's just a crazy coincidence. Anyway, there's the oddly named "Time Raider." Pack up your own weapons and get ready to go pillage the jazz age, I guess.

  The book version of "Let me tell you about Operation Paperclip, kid."

Unlike past inventions like the underwater toaster, this one promises to work. He also gives me a pendant that will somehow return me to the machine if I get into trouble. Yeah, he also developed some sort of teleportation technology, but it's dismissed as the most banal thing ever for some reason. This thing will break about ten different laws of physics, don't worry about it. Let's focus on this other thing over here that breaks about fifty of those laws.

We crank it up and it seems to be working, or at least shaking and humming not unlike a car with massive tweeters in the trunk because I'm all about that treble. Of course Uncle Dopey forgot his glasses and runs off, leaving me in charge of tearing up space and time. I can go "forward" or "backward." Since we're already going forward, if you want to get super technical, I opt to throw it in reverse.

 That feel when no glasses.

After a blink of an eye, I'm in some forest that gets a bare bones description and is even dismissed as lacking in excitement. The hidden extreme anti-environmental messages in R.L. Stine stories, friends. Let's pave this sucker and build something more stimulating, like a big box store or medium income housing. I just don't get this bizarre sylvan-hate, I really don't. Let's get out and explore.

My reward is arguably the most bleak and horrific ending I've ever gotten in one of these. I stumble out of the wooded area and there's Uncle Edgar's house. I'm not sure why I didn't immediately recognize my surroundings earlier, but we've got existential nightmare fuel to get to, so let's not dwell on it. The same conversation we had minutes ago is repeated, we get in the Time Raider, no glasses, hit the button, back in the forest. Then this repeated. Over and over. Forever. Trapped in a living hell of auto-pilot failure with no hope of ever escaping it, denied even the release of death. At some point I'd imagine my sanity will completely collapse and it will probably seem like a blessing when it does, but there will be no escape from this eternal time-loop, this non-funny version of Groundhog Day where all free will is stripped away, the futility of life is laid bare and there truly is no exit.

The end, but there is no end. Wow.

Get ready to get your despair on!

This run was too short to really fairly give a review, but even from the few pages I read it's clear R.L. Stine is a cut above your usual Twist-a-Plot author. Other plot-lines offer things like future slavery and meeting Daniel Boone of all people, so make of that what you will. I'll just take my totally wrecked by a paradox and the illusion of choice ending and move along, thanks.

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.

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