Saturday, July 30, 2016

Which Way Books #6: Sugarcane Island

After experiencing a very, very poor man's Narnia via the magic of Twist-a-Plot it's back to the other cheap knockoff series, but today's subject is something a little different. Somehow, through the magic of public domain or perhaps high-powered copyright lawyers (all that Simon & Schuster money had to be buying something and it sure wasn't quality authors) Choose Your Own Adventure founder Edward Packard shows up for his lame competition. Making this even more incredible is the fact that "Island" may have been the first interactive work of fiction ever created and here it is as a throwaway entry in a lazy "me too!" series, with Packard's name replacing the steady march of Alan Smithees (R.G. Austin???). My mind can barely handle this, I'll be honest. We'll talk more about it when we look at the revised C.Y.O.A. version, but for now let's do this.

We got the rights to this book by some Packard goof. Only 99 cents! Cheap!

Betraying the fact that this book was straight-up poached from the godfather of the genre, this one has a completely different appearance than the other Which Way titles, including different numbers, black lines as a divider before most of the choices and an extremely brief reminder to use our head because on Sugarcane Island you can get wrecked quick. Not unlike how your hard work can be stolen out from under you by another publisher, I guess.

The set-up is pretty straightforward. I'm on a boat in the Pacific on the way to see a Doctor Frisbee (no Vivaldi, not yet) on the Galapagos Islands. The merciless sea has other plans, however, and I get swept off the boat by a rogue wave, finally washing up on a beach after blacking out. Yes, the human body has an automatic "tread water" ability that kicks in when you're out cold, in case you didn't know. Anyways, tropical island paradise or horrific death await and concerns about food and rest are already pressing to the fore. I decide to climb a "rocky hill" in search of food and perhaps sports balls to befriend.

It's actually not subtle at all, bro.

Being sure to keep a watch for snakes I climb the hill and manage to find some "tasty berries." Man, this survivalist stuff is cake. Now I just need to build a bug-out shelter. Or keep climbing that "hill" which apparently more like the cliffs of Dover. To reach the top I must contend with "dangerous looking rocks" (don't like the look of those rocks...don't make eye contact...just keep walking) but decide to lie down and rest instead because sloth is the solution to all of life's difficulties.

Strangely, another Deadly Sin kicks in and I decide to keep tucking into the berries and perhaps look for more instead of maybe getting some winks. It appears the whole "hill" plot-line has been abandoned, not like I miss it or anything. Hey look, an "enormous white dog!" Better approach and domesticate this sucker as I rebuild civilization piece by piece from first principles in this new Eden. If this goes well I'll be building ziggurats and making crude clay records in a pictograph alphabet within a week or two, max.

This is clearly designed to appeal to adults over the age of 21.

Sadly, my animal training skills aren't really up to it as I end up being herded by the K-9 to a clearing where another dozen similar dogs are waiting. Assuming I can turn this around and eventually have a hound army I decide to stick around instead of running. Then the pack runs off after "unseen game" and I run off, too. Well, that was something. During my cowardly retreat I encounter a turtle and am given a chance to ride on it. I can't really think of any compelling reason not to.

Incredibly, this well-conceived Jeb Bush strategy leads toward disaster as Mr. Turtle swims into a some crocodiles and then is heading out to sea because I guess sea turtles sometimes spend long periods of time on land for whatever reason. Not wishing to get chomped on by a future pair of boots I hang on. So it's into the ocean where I get devoured by a shark, complete with a lovingly crafted illustration of this awful fate. By trying to avoid being torn apart by a toothy predator I caused it to happen anyway. Oh, the irony. So many spoons, etc.

 Make sure none of the guests lost loved ones to Mr. Jaws before holding this particular party.

Like all classic, pioneering works of high art this one is basically review-proof, but I will say it was a bit of a mess. Most of the events were just bizarre in their randomness and it didn't feel like there was any goal I was getting closer to or further from, just various compartmentalized encounters loosely tied to the island itself. You have to start somewhere, so you can't really complain too much. We'll save that for when we review the amazing "revised" edition next week.

You will entscheidest so hard you'll barely believe it. Also, watch out for snakes!

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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