Friday, March 6, 2015

Which Way Books #1: The Castle of No Return

Last time a search for a living fossil ended in horrible death and I learned that you definitely want to try to steer left or right when your ship is being thrown around by massive rogue waves. Coming off this less than stellar run I've decided it's about time to get back into the Which Way series. Honestly, I don't know why I waited so long. Which Way is sort of the anti-Twist-a-Plot: It looks like another inferior Choose Your Own Adventure knock-off, but I was amazed at the minimally competent story-telling and direct prose free of pain-inducing attempts at humor. Yes, this is high praise. Today we're going to go back to the one that started it all. There's some crazy stuff going down at this castle. I feel this is an acceptable high-concept plot line to begin a high profile series.

  The new darker and edgier "Scooby Doo" re-imagining.

Like all the greatest myths and legends common to every culture on earth this epic tale begins with bad television reception. I try to fight it, because passive entertainment/indoctrination totally rules, but fail to get the job done. Worse, every television in my town is down! In nine months the maternity ward is going to be flooded, I'm just saying.

It's at this point I notice "strange electronic sounds" coming from the woods behind my house. It's on now. I grab my knife (yeah, really) and head out. These suckers are gonna pay for messing with my idiot box.

The upshot of this amazing back-story is that many hours of hiking through the apparently massive forest finally takes me to the titular castle and a run-down shack that somehow didn't get title credit. I'm just going to stop here to allow a moment of silent awe for this set-up. This is on par with the story behind "Blaster Master." Glass toilet down. Get knife. Find castle. So good. 

 It's a pretty logical progression when you think about it.

I can either swim the moat to the castle or examine the low-income housing. After much deliberation, I decide to try my luck in the water, although logically the unabomber residence is probably more likely to be the source of the attack on our beloved anesthetizing technology. I'm about to dive in, but the drawbridge simply lowers, so it looks like I won't have to mess up my hair or get the shark treatment after all. I walk across and it closes behind me. Bad move buddy, now you're trapped in here with me, my deadly swiss army blades and my righteous fury that demands satisfaction. You awoke a sleeping giant when you attacked my cathode ray tranquilizer, punk.

Someone is screaming and there's a poorly described light beam. Let's see about that beam.

  We apologize for this interruption of "The Mussolini Bunch."

I walk to the light and there's some odd prose about how it might "warm me" whatever that's supposed to mean. Also, there's a door. The minimalism might be starting to work against the narrative here, I'm just saying. I could just stand in the light and "warm my body," but I'm here for some of that get even, not to experiment with alternative heating methods. I try the door.

Then another door. Then I fall down some stone stairs and knock myself out. This all happens in rapid fire with about as much description as I just gave you. Coming around I'm "groggy and weak" and, using all that knowledge of concussions that didn't exist when this was written (Get back in the game, you're fine!) I decide to take some time to recover, or "rest" as the book puts it. Yup, gonna rest that traumatic brain injury, a little worst aid will fix this right up.

Man, can't wait to post this on Facebook.

My sensible brain injury protocol is, of course, rewarded with horrible death. A black widow spider crawls over, injects its deadly venom and I die in agony. I guess I should have know it wasn't going to be my day when all my favorite shows weren't available, but when you see a castle in the woods you just have to know. 

I'm giving this one high marks just for the absolutely insane introduction. Once the story proper kicked in it wasn't nearly as fun. Everything seemed so straight forward and ordinary in the Castle of Evil where more weirdness would have been quite welcome. Maybe other paths give you that, I just opened doors and took the Nestea plunge to my death. Also, 1982 didn't know anything about concussions.

Alternate cover suggests heroic fantasy, not poor reception and deadly stairs.

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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