Friday, March 20, 2015

Choose Your Own Adventure #18: Underground Kingdom

After playing through a Which Way book that made the Blaster Master origin story look fairly logical in comparison and was probably less than 500 total words worth of "Pick a door!" before a deadly head injury it's time to return to the relatively verbose world of Choose Your Own Adventure. I have to admit, I'm pretty hyped for today's offering. Hollow Earth is one of the those science fiction ideas that really needs to make a comeback. Sure, it's a scientific impossibility, but so are vampires, benevolent factory owners who have bizarre sexual proclivities and vampire benevolent factory et. cetras, and that impossibility doesn't seem to dissuade what passes for the modern writer. I mean, come on, let's have more stories about the new race just discovered beneath Denver and so forth.

 It's time we get off our high horse and have a national conversation on the coming race.

Unfortunately this one gets off to a poor start with the always unwelcome Edward Packard "Special Warning!!!!" a gimmick that has reared its ugly head in the past. Sadly, this one promises to be a veritable family reunion of Edward Packard tropes that I've become so thoroughly familiar with since I started jousting this particular windmill in 2013. In this case, we're offered to the chance to read theories from some "Is such a thing even possible?" academic regarding Hollow Earth. To sweeten the deal, we're told this excerpt will be "rather boring." My Hype Level is dropping fast and we're not even to the first page.

Wait 'til Queen Victoria hears about this!

I slog it out and the main takeaways of this not exactly thrilling dissertation on ideas that have been proven wrong about as completely as possible is that the Earth is in some ways like a pumpkin, there's a "Black Sun" inside that absorbs heat instead of generating it and some reverse gravity concept is at play. It's very important to describe this because otherwise ten-year-old Timmy would be crying about scientific inaccuracies in a lazily written homage to 1880s pulp novels.

The story finally gets going and at least the set-up is mercifully economical. I'm in Greenland with a dynamic duo of a geologist and a different kind of geologist named Larsen and Sneed. These guys have "get devoured by giant lizards living in Earth's mantle" written all over them, so I'm fighting not to get too attached. We've reached the "bottomless crevasse," a sight we regard with mixed feelings of joy and sorrow. Yes, this is a massive discovery, but good old Dr. Vivaldi disappeared into it a year ago and hasn't been seen since. Barring some miracle, the author might be forced to come up with a new name to attach to his personality-free academic stereotypes. Please, no. 

  The answer is "fiction."

We stand there in silent thought, wondering how something could be bottomless and so on. Before this philosophical onanism can offer the massive pay-offs you'd expect some strange force pulls me into the chasm and I'm in free fall. I'm given a choice to aim for a ledge, but decide against it because all that boring but useful knowledge I gained a few minutes ago suggests a change in gravity should kick in and save me from the horrible death that is so common in these stories. 

Instead I land in a heap on the ledge. It turns out the pages for the two choices were reversed. A pretty embarrassing mistake considering what a big money operation this was at the time and that this is the very first choice. Oh well, play it where it lies, right? A snowbank prevented serious injury and like the true hero that I am I'm able to offer pitiful cries for help to the Geology Dream Team up above. They're getting ropes ready, but then I remember the bizarre sucking force and decide to warn them off and hopefully forestall their appointment with mortality. Yes, I'm the kind of person who roots for the security officers in old Star Trek episodes. As doomed as these guys clearly are, I want to see them defy the odds.

 Believe it or not they actually survive. Really!

Forewarned, the rock scientists are able to rig up some ropes and pull my sorry rear end out of the dead drop slot. Everyone then immediately agrees we should quit while we're ahead and give up on all the amazing and totally radical adventures that might have otherwise occurred. So we go home. The End. 

Yeah, I spent more time reading what even the author described as dull introductory material than in the actual story itself. I did save those guys who I'm sure take the dirt nap on every other path, but that was about it. I can't really give you a fair rating after this kind of run, but based on what I did read I'd say don't get your hopes up. Hey, at least Dr. Vivaldi won't be coming back. Yeah, right.

Look at the nerd with the science book! Hilarious! Can't stop laughing!

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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