Thursday, October 20, 2011

Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Grows Up

Remember reading those old “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” stories when you were a kid? With opening sentences like “You are a deep sea explorer searching for the famed lost city of Atlantis” or “You stand on the deck of the RMS Titanic, the brand new White Star ocean liner,” you knew immediately that there was adventure in store. And then there’s the added thrill of getting to decide what happens next: “If you choose to return to the island, go to page 12. If you decide to follow Jenny into the abyss, go to page 38.” The adventures were straightforward, the choices were good or bad—ah, how simple life was. But now that you’re an adult, choosing your own storybook adventure is more complex, sassier, sexier, gorier, and helluva lot more interesting.

Pretty Little Mistakes: A Do-Over Novel by Heather McElhatton, 2007, Harper Books (Interactive Books/ Fiction).

Ah, high school graduation, that time when “the real world” seems to contain every and any possibility. This hopeful moment is where Pretty Little Mistakes begins. A few key life choices can result in your shacking up with a handsome Italian, blown to bits by a pipe bomb when you’re working as a doctor in Africa, running away to join the circus, or pecked to deaths by ducks when you become a meth addict after flunking out of college. The choices here will lead you all over the world and into a variety of professionals ranging from sex-phone operator to scholar. You’ll get married, impregnated, and divorced (not always in that order). You’ll be a rousing success and a miserable failure. The possibilities are endless. And if you don’t like where life leads you, you can always go back and start over. After all, everyone deserves a do-over.

You Are a Miserable Excuse for a Hero! by Bob Powers, 2008, St. Martin’s Griffin Press (Interactive Books/ Humorous Fiction).

You’re a loser. You’re a thirtysomething wannabe actor, working as waiter, and the girl you went out with last night has been kidnapped. Her kidnappers call you in the morning, waking you up and demanding fifty thousand dollars for her safe return. You don’t have fifty thousand dollars. You don’t even know if you like this girl all that much. But you could be a hero…or you could get drunk and go back to sleep. There are happy endings here, where you got to grad school and raise a family and make a life for yourself surrounded by loved ones. There are also really sucky endings, with torture and murder and unwanted pregnancy. But most of all, there’s plenty of sarcasm, dark humor, and utter nonsense. It’s everything your average childhood “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” story is not, and that’s what makes You Are a Miserable Excuse for a Hero! so addictively entertaining.

Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure by Emma Campbell Webster, 2007, Riverhead Books (Interactive Books/ Historical Fiction).

If you love Jane Austen, if you’ve read all her novels, watched the BBC Pride and Prejudice until you know it by heart, if you long to go to Lyme to see the spot where Louisa Musgrove fell, then Lost in Austen is the book for you. As Elizabeth Bennett, you have intelligence and wit and some portion of beauty, but not a lick of money. You wish to marry for love; your meddling mother wants you to marry for money. As you make choices that may lead to dashing Mr. Darcy or to drippy Mr. Collins (and every other Austen hero from steadfast Captain Wentworth to caddish Willoughby) you gain or lose points for Accomplishments, Connections, and Fortune that will attract or repel possible suitors. There’s a delightfully wicked sense of humor at play as well, with plenty of sass and tongue-in-cheek criticism. Austen fans will happily get lost over and over again.

Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? by Max Brallier, 2011, Gallery Books (Interactive Books/ Horror).

How many times have you found yourself hollering at the idiot characters in horror movies as they insist on finding the source of that creepy noise when they should be running for their lives? Well, here’s your chance to set things right. You’re a young businessman in the city when all hell breaks loose and zombies take over Manhattan. You’re first choice: get to your apartment, catch the next taxi, or take the subway out of town. These three paths lead to such life-and-death decisions like: Ax or shotgun? Run or stand your ground? Save the girl or save your ass? Sometimes you end up just another zombie, stumbling around and moaning for brains. Sometimes you’re the big hero, guns blazing as you lead crowds of grateful schoolchildren to safety. It’s action-packed, gory as all get out, and every bit as much fun as the best zombie horror flicks on the big screen.

The Raging Tide, or The Black Doll’s Imbroglio by Edward Gorey, 1987, Beaufort Books (Interactive Books/ Picture Books/ Humorous Fiction).

Edward Gorey is well-known for his grown-up picture books and his macabre sense of humor. In The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an entire alphabet of small children meets their makers in all manner of devilishly entertaining ways. In The Doubtful Guest, an surprise visitor makes himself quite content in the midst of a household that’s too polite to tell him to go away. And in The Raging Tide, Skrump, Naeelah, Figbash, and Hooglyboo engage in nonsense, guided by your very own expertise. If you think it is clever when Hooglyboo crams Figbash into a vase, turn to page 11. If all this seems “too terrible to contemplate,” turn to page 29. You may also, on another page, choose to visit the Dogear Wryde Topiary Gardens (page 26) or tour the Villa Amnesia (page 23). Nonsense indeed, but in the grand tradition of Edward Gorey, it’s nonsense that you can’t get enough of.

Meanwhile: Pick Any Path—3,856 Story Possibilities by Jason Shiga, 2010, Amulet Books (Interactive Books/ Graphic Novels/ Children’s Science Fiction).

On the first page of this intricate, creative comic book, you’re a little cartoon boy in an ice cream shop deciding between chocolate and vanilla. If you choose chocolate, you follow a brown tube-like line that leads up and around to a tab on a different page. The vanilla line leads you straight off one page and onto another. You continue to follow these lines up, down, right, left, backwards, and forwards as you jump from page to page and wind your way through panels that feature a mad scientist, parallel universes, quantum mechanics, and a giant squid. Sometimes, you save the world. Sometimes, you destroy all life on the planet. Either way, you learn about math and science and—believe it or not—have a whale of a time doing it. Ostensibly for children, Meanwhile will captivate readers of every age with its mind-bending tricks, wily ways, and unexpected endings.

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