Saturday, August 6, 2016

Choose Your Own Adventure #62: Sugarcane Island

Seven days ago we began our amazing inquisition into the bizarre publishing history of "Sugarcane Island" that will, thankfully, come to an end here. I'm afraid I'm left with more questions than answers after taking note of the copyright information which gives 1976 as the year this was formally released. It's also mentioned that it was originally written in 1969 (seven years worth of rejection on what was basically a license to print money...I feel much better about my own recent track record now) while the Which Way version is, unsurprisingly, not referenced at all. It looks like this mystery will stay a mystery and I'm mostly okay with that because this edition promises to feature new illustrations and "revised" text (fewer spelling mistakes, now!) and is proudly presented as number 62 in the series because 62 is a number typically associated with major milestones and anniversaries.

The turtle that took me to my death last time is prominently featured in the new cover.

Anyway, exciting revisions and major improvements. Or perhaps not, as the set-up seems almost completely identical. You know the drill: a reference to a doctor character that will never matter, rogue wave, in the drink, pass out because the body will swim on its own while out cold and then hit the beach. Last time I went for the "rocky hill," a hill that vanished as soon as the author got distracted, so this time let's walk along the beach and see what that gets us. We also get one of the new illustrations we were promised which features our in-story avatar giving a shocked expression while lying in a relaxed position, something not even hinted at in the text. Man, this special 62nd edition, I feel so privileged to be part of all this history.

Anyway, my long walk on the sands (I like sunsets and having fun, too!) ends with the discovery of some clams and the foul-looking meat within. It doesn't look "tasty" but I'm starving and all so let's just tuck this in. They taste horrible, but so does hateful death, so I choke it down. Then I remember that dehydration is the bigger danger in these situations. The big brain I'm packing, unbelievable. This segues into finding a "pond" because I guess I'm just speaking things into existence now like at a Texas mega-church. Sadly the water tastes very salty and I have to decide to drink or not. I love how this book is nothing but deciding what goes in your maw for page after page.

All new high-quality illustrations!

I'm not about to get all Ancient Mariner up in this biz-itch, so I just drink it down and come away feeling sick and weak. I decide I'll have to find something "better" than the brackish fluids and fine French cuisine the beach is offering, so I blunder around until encountering a "tiger without stripes." Revised edition, full of incredible new descriptive prose. I'm given a choice between "standing still" and "climbing a tree." Not to be That Guy, but both those options would get you killed in real life. You're supposed to make tons of noise and puff yourself up, right? I've seen those animal attack VHS tapes, I know what I'm talking about.

I do the freeze and the not-tiger walks off like the giant pussy (cat) that it is. I take a few steps forward to celebrate this victory and oh noes! Quicksand! Yeah, really. Once again, the correct course of action (just swim your way out) is not even on the table and I split the difference and try to walk my way out of this very muddy water. An ending that's less than two full lines informs me I die instead, or as the top-quality new prose puts it: "Glug, glug, glug." Yeah.

Just getting that glug on.

I gave the Which Way version a pass because it was a straight-up reprint of something that sat in a drawer for years because publishers didn't think any of this was a good idea and what people really want are political lectures from angry outsiders. This new version doesn't get the same mercies, obviously. Trying to pass this effort off as a revision and a special moment falls flat when the changes are minimal and the same poorly researched dangers remain. This is also the second time quicksand has killed me in an Edward Packard book, which is about two times too many. You could just tread water and/or swim out! This really bothers me and rightly so.

More like "Attention Suckers!"

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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