Friday, December 19, 2014

Choose It or Lose It

I've recently been going on a nostalgia trip through my library.  This past summer and fall, I re-read my entire collection of Choose Your Own Adventure books from my childhood.  A sad synchronicity with this journey down memory lane occurred last month:

R.A. Montgomery, 78, Dies; Published Choose Your Own Adventure Series

From the picture in the article above, I see at least 10 titles that I own.   I first got into Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was around 9 or 10 years old, so sometime in 1982 or 1983.  The first one I bought was the 14th book in the series, "The Forbidden Castle."  In that story, you journey into the Cave of Time, which takes you back to the Middle Ages where you encounter a couple of knights who reveal a riddle about a forbidden castle.  You spend the rest of the story either trying to solve the riddle or trying to avoid it, depending on your choices.

The excitement of being able to choose different story lines within the same book got me hooked on this series.  I particularly liked the element of time travel and was curious to read the first book in the series, "The Cave of Time."  This was one of my favorite books in the series, where different corridors in the cave would lead you to different time periods.  Apparently, it was a favorite among many of the fans.  Not only was "The Forbidden Castle" an unofficial sequel, but when the series became so popular that they got up to 50 titles, they decided to make the 50th book "Return to the Cave of Time."

Looking back on the series with the passage of 30+ years in some cases, I became aware of a barely perceptible shift in the narrative tone from the first book to the 50th that coincided with the shift in the political tone in America during that period of time.  "The Cave of Time" was written, or at least the first edition was published, in 1979.  While there are 40 possible endings, there were a couple that stood out for their presentation of a hopeful future.  One occurs in which you encounter a girl named Louisa from the year 2022.  She tells you that since 1997, they've allowed no new roads to be built, only bike trails.  The country she describes is filled with bike trails that run through forests and plains instead of alongside buses and trucks.  There's even hostels for bikers paid for by taxes on gasoline.  When you eventually get back to your time (1979), you both see a billboard that says, "CADILLAC - the Car of the Year, every Year!"  Louisa's response is, "What's a Cadillac?"  The second story line illustrating a future scenario occurs in the year 3742.  Through the Cave of Time, you have entered a society that is a sort of paradise.  Computers do everything for humans, so there is no need to work and the world is at peace.  You spend all your time in your beautiful bedroom with a choice of over 10,000 movies.  (Netflix Utopia?)  But when you venture out of your place for human interaction, none of the people you meet are very interesting.  You settle into your new life watching the greatest movies of all time with the awareness of one slightly disturbing thing: no one has made any new movies in the last 300 years.

The 50th book, "Return to the Cave of Time", was initially published in November 1985.  I believe I received a copy for Christmas that year.  It was "morning in America", the first year of the second term for President Reagan.  I've written before about the probability of an October Surprise that decided the 1980 election, but aside from the issue of Iran, voters were at a crossroads with an even bigger issue in terms of our overall well-being: the Carbon Crisis.  The two choices, Reagan and Carter, represented diametrically opposed viewpoints where energy and the environment were concerned.  This opposition was brilliantly expressed in a satirical manner by The Onion:

Campaign '80
Which message will resonate with voters?
"Let's talk better mileage"
- Jimmy Carter
"Kill the Bastards"
- Ronald Reagan
Responding to a question about America's reliance on fuel from OPEC nations, President Carter said "We have an opportunity to use American technology and know-how to develop our own alternate, renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, freeing us from reliance on foreign oil. This is sound policy, not just for America, but for Planet Earth". 

Republican challenger Ronald Reagan said "Mr Carter is missing one very important point. That is, if American is to continue to prosper in the 1980s and beyond, we must join together and kill the bastards. Kill them! Kill them!"

Since it was clear by 1985 which message resonated with voters, Edward Packard, who wrote all the Cave of Time books in the Choose Your Own Adventure series, reflected the diminished importance of protecting the environment in favor of consuming our way to prosperity with increased reliance on the Military-Industrial Complex in one of the future scenarios of "Return to the Cave of Time."  To describe this scenario as dystopic is an understatement.  You are on a planet Earth filled with the grey clouds of a greenhouse effect gone wild.  There is so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that the oxygen content is only 2.3 percent.  You must wear an oxygen-generating helmet at all times.  What little hope exists for the planet consists of a team of alien custodians from a group called the Planetary Council who have improved the planet's environment tenfold "during the past few hundred thousand years" by their own account.  You might even get to witness their most recent accomplishment: rain, albeit in a slicker, greasier form.  The smartest choice, at this point, is to return to the Cave of Time and hope to escape to a time before the planet went to hell in a hand-basket.

After revisiting the halcyon days of childhood, I couldn't help wondering if there were books being written today in that style, but for adults who grew up on the Choose Your Own Adventure thrill.  I believe that I have found a book that not only captures that style, wit and adventure, along with a knowing wink to the adults who know where it's coming from, but also appeals to my own political interests of investigating conspiracy.  It is a Lose Your Own Adventure book, a parody of the original from a smart-ass company that calls itself Despair, Inc.

Lose Your Own Adventure #1 | by Despair, Inc.
It was supposed to be a happy occasion- a visit to your hometown by the President of the United States. But no sooner had he arrived than he was gunned down in cold blood! You're a brilliant kid detective on your toughest case ever! Your Dad, the Chief of Police, has a suspect in custody, a Marxist named Lee Harvey Oswald. But is he really the assassin? You're not so sure- since the deeper you look, the more it seems like everyone from the Mafia, the Cubans, and the Military-Industrial Complex wanted him dead! And they might not be finished!
How will you fail to solve this mystery? If you question the suspect in custody, turn to page 4. If you investigate the crime scene first, turn to page 12. Or if you follow-up on a tip from the mysterious Dr. Vivalzi, turn to page 21.
Retro-Sized Edition
4.1875" x 7"
$12Buy 3+ save 33%, 6+ save 40%, 10+ save 50%
Deluxe-Sized Edition
5.38" x 9" | 25% Bigger!
$18Buy 3+ save 33%, 6+ save 40%, 10+ save 50%
Product Details
Author: Justin Sewell
Publication date: 7/21/13
Pages: 190
Over 30 unique endings!
Over 70 retro Illustrations!
Rave Reviews!

Hint to my relatives reading this: my birthday is coming soon and though I haven't read this yet, I think it would make a perfect gift for me!  To everyone else reading this, I wish you a happy holiday season.  I recommend celebrating it by seeing The Interview, which someone told me was a great film and that Seth Rogen and James Flacco are a couple of great guys.  'Tis the season!