Friday, April 3, 2015

Which Way Books #2: Vampires, Spies and Alien Beings

After a potential hollow earth adventure ended by playing it safe and avoiding danger it's back to Which Way Books. They're what I'd imagine the Choose Your Own Adventure series would have resembled if it had been produced by East Germans. You've got stark, utilitarian prose, tons of White space where words or illustrations probably should be but are absent in a masterstroke of bleak, modernist art and a quality that veers from pretty good to "There are two doors, which one?" making up an entire page. For all its obvious shortcomings, there's a certain charm to this series. Like that Soviet bloc product, you get the feeling that with everything that was stacked against the makers, including their own considerable limitations, the moderately serviceable final result still represents the best that could be hoped for. On days when the kommissar is there it can aspire to even greater heights than, "well, that's something."

Compare that to Twist-a-Plot, where clearly talented people were involved but they just didn't care and had a massive amount of contempt for their potential readers. I'll take my entire page with two sentences on it, thanks, as long as those two sentences aren't full of terrible, suspension of disbelief shattering attempts at comedy.

You know what, maybe we should just start reading this book.

Today it would be vampires, factory owners and kinky billionaires.

With all the artistry of a Minsk apartment building I'm informed I won the "Grin Toothpaste Sweepstakes." That's pretty much it as far as that goes: no attempts to expand on the concept, no jokes about consuming thousands of tubes of the stuff en route to this amazing triumph, nothing. The only reason it's even mentioned is to provide a fig of explanation for what follows and having served that purpose we just move on. Nice.

The big prize is a trip to a movie lot, but before I can start watching amusing celebrity meltdowns there's crazy noises and the sort of glow that suggests imminent alien abduction. The guide is all "Oh no, it happened!" which might be more understandable in the face of a tantrum from a bankable star than this madness.

The explanation, as you probably already guessed, is the studio created a machine that turns fantasy into reality. Yeah, just let this idea wash over you. One thing you have to say about Which Way, they never met a high concept too ridiculous. "Turn on the reality machine, we need to create glistening blood-suckers of high school age!" Sounds a lot more sensible than endless remakes. 

I feel the Killer Goalie story should be told to every new generation.

The bottom line is we're caught in the "Reality Warp," which sounds more like what happens after a six pack of beer than a science fiction concept. An attempt to run, clearly the best weapon against the very fabric of our world being torn open in pursuit of an off-brand E.T. knockoff, fails when I crash into an invisible barrier and am confronted by three "grays." For some reason the book let's you simply walk away from this inescapable mess to see the vampire movie area, so I do that. 

I end up in a dark classroom where stern Mr. Draco (Man, Harry Potter stole from everything, no matter how humble and forgettable) and am instructed to take a seat. I'm informed by a classmate that the one I selected used to belong to "Charlie" but he was murdered the night before. Well, it's not like he's going to need it, then. 

  If Dracula had studied liberal arts instead of business.

The school day goes by without result and it's pretty clear this part was written to stand alone and then shoe-horned into the "Movie comes alive!" conceit to fill pages. The "reality warp" and movie lot tour have been forgotten and this is all described as banal and ordinary. The teacher wants me to stay after, since I'm new and all. The meeting is going down when halfway through there's a horrible odor. Yeah, creatures of the night were a little different before they discovered their love for erotic tie-up games. I'm given a chance to bolt, but honestly this book is robbing me of my will to resist and I'd kind of like to wrap things up.

Draco denies that there is any smell, which of course confirms that he's the origin. Then I get dizzy and pass up. Yup, they really missed the boat on the concept of vampires using their horrible personal hygiene to get their victims as the centerpiece of the new, totally lame mythology recent years produced.

I treat my hundreds of employees very well.

I wake up in a graveyard and, hey, it's Lisa! Remember her? Well no, in a nice continuity error the route I took to get here contained no references to this character, who apparently was another student that disappeared. I forgive the mistake. When you have to churn out dozens of words a day to write one of these it's easy to see how this might happen. Anyway, she's basically offering to turn me into a vampire, but I'm apparently so slow on the uptake that I just "feel strange" about this whole arrangement.

I tell her to put in the fangs and that's what happens. I'm given the dark gift and become an undying monster. Still, I'm an optimist to the last, realizing this means no more "decimal points" or being told not to stay up late. Sorry kid, if you're going to become an industrialist like most of the undead you're gonna need that long division. 

All amazing.

I didn't like this one. It seems likely that the author couldn't manage the 3,000 words required to produce a full Which Way Book and just combined some failed, poorly edited fragments with the "reality warp" nonsense providing the link. It doesn't really auger well for this series that this sort of almost unbelievable laziness is already happening two books in. I also didn't like how clueless to obvious genre elements my character was. This isn't a zombie movie ("Some kind of ghoul...or walker? I don't know!") so there's really no excuse.

Maybe the "aliens" and "spies" portions were better, but I'd bet a shiny nickel against it.

  Mars needs suburbanites. 

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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