Saturday, February 7, 2015

Choose Your Own Adventure #28: Mountain Survival

After exploring the uplifting world of medieval societal norms and due process, it's back to the present day (Well, the 1984 present day, at least) to try to survive in the mountains. I'm already digging this idea. You're in an inhospitable environment, try to stay alive. Brevity, something something, wit. Honestly, what's not to like about a version of "The Grey" for children.

 Once more into the fray, kids.

The minimalism doesn't stop with the simple concept; we get an introduction worthy of D. Terman. Myself and some guy named "Jake McKay" are flying a wussy R.A. Montgomery-style biplane in the Canadian Rockies and there's a snow storm. We make an awkward crash landing. That's the back story. No motivations or characterization, no time wasted on my hopes and dreams or if I was going to commit suicide the night before this flight. Instead it's right into the action. Rock and roll.

Good old Jake, who I guess I can project whatever traits I want onto, has destroyed his ankle, a nice convenient Burt Reynolds in Deliverance way to take him out of the action. It seems our best hope is a ranger station that should be within walking distance if the map can be trusted. Of course, walking distance in this case is nine miles, which for the average 2015 American might as well be the distance from Earth to Pluto. Also the station looked abandoned when we were flying over it (You've got some sharp eyes, Jake) but there's bound to be food, medical supplies and a radio and not simply an empty room with a sign explaining how the Canadian version of sequestration (All non-essential, non-hockey programs shut down) has closed it down.

   It's not a very walkable area, I'm just sayin'.

Jake offers encouragement and some stiff-upper lip-ism and based on that I'd now feel bad if he got eaten by a wolf or whatever. Making a character likable really isn't rocket science, #amwriting wannabes. I check my gear and head off for that last good fight. After some trampling through nature, it starts to get colder and I'm given a choice between taking an animal trail or trying to cross some whitewater rapids. You know what, falling into nearly freezing, fast moving water is probably the fast track to nothing good, so let's try that trail. 

Of course the other route is no winner, either. First a strong wind comes up and then I'm caught in a full-blown squall. Take cover? But Jake is counting on me, the book nags. Yes, good old Jake, a righteous bro that shared my sissy flight interests and was composed in the face of his own mortality. I owe it to this guy to press on. 

I manage to make my way up one of those mountains that I'm trying to survive. The view is top-shelf, but the going is difficult and head pains and dizziness suggest that either the side-effects of just about every prescription drug ever are kicking in or I'm freezing to death. I can either go back down and try to find another way or press for the summit, only 300 feet off. I came this far, I have to go farther, right?

The agoraphobic adventurer does it again!
I struggle on, but the symptoms get steadily worse and soon I can't breathe at all. When did this nondescript Canadian mountain turn into K-2, man? Suffice it to say I join the choir invisible, a victim of what I self-diagnose as high altitude sickness. Sorry Jake, I guess you're gonna be wolf food.

Not a great run, but I liked this one a lot. It reads like a single-digit title, not #28, a point in the series where fewer choices and endings and more drawn out and often irrelevant prose was starting to become the rule for this series. That's not to say that this one didn't have some nice descriptive writing, but never at the expense of moving the story forward into the next life-threatening situation. Compare it to the god-awful Twist-a-Plot attempt to tell a similar story and there's no denying this one is quality. Good illustrations, too. Top marks, would read again.

No money. Unique skill set (shooting guns, making broken bottle gloves). Tres bien.

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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