Sunday, September 20, 2015

Which Way Books #5: Lost in a Strange Land

This was supposed to be the long-awaited (well, in my own imagination, anyway) read-through of Choose Your Own Adventure #13, but this R.A. Montgomery non-classic was apparently shipped in a solar powered sugar glider or the like and failed to arrive. And this was after I decided to settle for the pathetic reissue and not pony up a hundred or so dollars for a box of ashes or whatever "acceptable" condition actually means. It's just not meant to be, so might as well stay in the Which Way Books rut I've been digging with all the speed and precision of a glacial valley. R.G. Austin drivel in the hand is worth a lot more than R.A. Montgomery communism in the bush, after all.

The above b.s. is the best and only cover image online. 

As per tradition most of the actual creative and, let's be honest here, legitimate effort is expended in the opening. I'm summering in the Pacific Northwest where I've acquired the habit of exploring "lava tubes" in the ample free time this set-up provides. Yes, this was parenting in the eighties. "Go explore the volcano holes, Timmy. If you're not back for dinner we'll assume you were melted like a flesh candle or otherwise killed horribly. Have fun!" 

Not surprisingly this dangerous hobby leads to trouble, but perhaps not what you'd expect (can't breathe, so hot, it was all worth it, etc.). Instead another hollow earth plot kicks in as I fall through a crumbling floor and plunge into darkness. Reverse gravity kicks in and after hours of gentle floating (that does sound pretty righteous) I land softly in front of a sign (!) warning, in English, that I'm about to enter bizarre worlds full of all manner of fantasy cliches and general "What's up with THAT?" Forewarned by this convenient and non-suspension of disbelief damaging advice, it's time for a patented, choice that is. 

 "Mantle" and "Outer Core" are establishment propaganda, man.

The choice is basically a three-headed coin toss, since there's no hints to distinguish Alpha, Beta and Gamma World from each other, apart from my preexisting knowledge that being the Alpha is b.s. I'll let the lucky Maryland quarter split the difference, Maryland it is, so off to Gamma. I walk through mist for awhile and arrive at a golden gate. Yes, it's time to gatecrash heaven. How long can I last before the deception is noticed?

There's a garden beyond the gate, which I just walk right through without incident. Hey, those two sentences that make up an entire page of this book still have value, just not in terms of advancing the plot or providing anything resembling artistic prose. Anyway, there's a banquet table covered in food and a tree, so I decide to tuck into some of that.

I was on a beach and boozing at the same time...such misadventures!

After getting the old eat, sleep and shelter on, I get a wake-up call from the tree, which apparently can both talk and vomit out exposition regarding a cyclops that used to visit but is now very much into his gold. With Greco-Roman mythology effectively destroying the Garden of Eden allusions there's also a reference to a "fairy queen" but this book pretty much had me at "cyclops." Can't wait to go all Odysseus on the old one-eyed monster.

A short walk later and there's a giant with one eye. "This must be the cyclops." Honestly, between this observational brilliance and my love for lava tube exploration I've really got a bright future ahead. All this heavy duty processing of information leads to being picked up by the dangerous giant and there's a short debate over whether I'd be a "tasty morsel" or impossibly dry and stringy, with my position in this great debate being the latter. 

Unfortunately, this only makes the monster decide to put me on a weight gain diet until I'm sufficiently plump and succulent. Insisting that I "only eat junk food" (Nationality: American) proves useless as somehow this creature from legend has plenty of burgers, fries and other delicious left arm tinglers right there. Oh well, might as well dig in.

I hope the point I'm making isn't too subtle.

Suffice it to say, I use clever trickery worthy of the Hero of Ithaca to get the cannibalistic offspring of Poseidon addicted to the junk food (It's so good, try it!). This eventually puts the bestial abomination into a food coma, while I've meanwhile "lost weight" and can slip between the bars of the cage it was using as a reverse fat camp prison. I take the gold and start thinking of all the amazing charity work I'm going to do with it (Yeah, really) and, presumably, somehow escape this incredible world of barely reheated tales of wonder.

Maybe being denied the R.A. Montgomery lectures I was anticipating put me in a receptive mood, but I actually thought this one was decent. Sure, it was just various well-established elements awkwardly combined but it was painless enough and even delivered a heavy-handed "Knock it off, carb-face!" message. By Which Way Books standards this is high praise. 

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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