Just in case you are missing your usual Week In Sex post (which is on temporary leave and will return soon), I thought I'd start this week with a little treat for you: civil rights leader Eldridge Cleaver's Cock Pants. Yes, Cock Pants. Courtesy of the Vintage Ads Journal.
Now that the sex is out of the way, what trip down memory lane do I want to take this week? Well, I thought maybe I'd write a bit about the 40th Anniversary of LSD, but Lukas covered that quite nicely (and gave me a bunch of wonderful MP3s to trip out to). So, I thought maybe I'd go on about the incomparable Florrie Fisher, inspiration for Jerri Blank and all around drug alarmist nutjob. But Brooklyn blogger FourFour beat me to it, and he includes videos, stills, a deconstruction of her PSA scare film "The Trip Back", and downloadable sound bites. All in all, highly recommended.
Then I thought maybe I'd go off about this fantastic Canadian punk rock fashion show video I found on YouTube. But a search for more info on that proved futile (it's hard to do a search for a show called simply "Boogie"), so you'll just have to watch it and enjoy it for what it is. Oh, and this one too.
So, there went all my best bits. And now I am back in geek mode. I feel silly going off about this week's topic so soon after obsessing over Atari, but what the heck? Lately, I just can't stop thinking about Choose Your Own Adventure books.
There's tons about CYOA on the internet: there's a history of the books on Wikipedia, parodies abound (including actual literary ones), and there's even a terrible CYOA dvd series. But I'd like to chime in with a few personal reflections about some of the books that 12-year-old me thought were totally awesome.
Edward Packard wrote his first series, called Adventures Of You, in 1976 and never looked back. He was the most prolific of the CYOA authors, cranking out such gems as The Cave of Time, Your Code Name is Jonah, The Third Planet from Altair, Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey, You Are a Shark, Vampire Invaders, and War with the Mutant Spider Ants. All exciting titles that just make you have to read them.
I remember being enthralled by the absolutely ridiculous story arcs of his books. Packard was obviously a child of the 60s, and his stories were almost shockingly surreal and strange. The Underground Kingdom, for instance, tells a story of the upside down world hanging from the bottom side of the Earth's crust. Say wha? Titles like The Reality Machine can't help but sound trippy, but even seemingly simple stories, like Superbike and Roller Star, would take unexpected turns that could lead you to death...or worse!
CYOA's co-founder R.A. Montgomery's books didn't quite have the same creative edge. I wasn't nearly as engaged by stories like The Lost Jewels of Nabooti, The Abominable Snowman (a rather obvious story which they are still pushing), Lost on the Amazon, or Trouble on Planet Earth. Though it is tough to beat a title like War with the Evil Power Master, he can't quite live up to it (the story is mostly exposition). Montgomery is the force behind bringing back the CYOA series, and many of his titles have been reissued with some text changes (cell phones now make an appearance). Packard seems to be cut out. Kind of a shame, that.
But best of all are the pictures. The CYOA covers were always a thing of stylistic beauty, but let's not forget the interiors. Again, surreal. Not until many years later when I was first exposed to the eerie power of Jack Chick did I again feel so unsettled by a simple line drawing.
Back in elementary school, I would become overwhelmed with excitiement on those days when the Scholastic book club catalogues would be plopped on our desks. I would spend many happy hours circling every darn book in the catalogue, beg my mother to spend her hard earned money ("But mom, they're books! Books for school!"), and then feel like it was Christmas when the packages arrived and were passed out in class. Ah, that new kiddie book smell.
But, as much as I'd like to pretend that I was really into Where the Red Fern Grows or other "quality" kid lit, I was usually making her cough up dough for the latest Twist-A-Plot book. This series was my favorite in sixth grade, but today it seems far inferior indeed. However, one book is near and dear to my heart: Midnight At Monster Mansion. Why? Look at that title! It's really everything you'd want in a silly horror book, and it featured all the great Hollywood monsters. Yes indeed, many a night's sleep was lost by picking the wrong path in that book.
Which reminds me, the young readers version of this series had the title "Pick A Path". How lame sounding is that?
Short lived, indeed, these books were pretty much all based on television shows. But what shows! YOU are Magnum, P.I. YOU are a member of The A-Team (in the decidedly modern title "Defense Against Terror"). YOU are on The Love Boat with Captain Stubing and Charo. Um, that's about as far as they got with that idea.
Plot It Yourself may have petered out, but this series totally rocked the cross-promotions. Hmm, what could your fate be? How about becoming Indiana Jones or James Bond or Doctor Who? How about fighting Cobra with G.I. Joe, or changing shape like the awesome Transfomers? Or, best of all, how about rocking out with Jem and the Holograms and battling The Misfits?
The choices and plotting in this series were generally not very inspired. But what did I care? I just wanted to meet the Ape Slaves of Howling Island, battle Christopher Walken, and, you know, be Jem. Unfortunately the Transformers books are for really young readers (boo!), and the Doctor Who series doesn't actually let you be the Doctor, though it isn't the Tom Baker era, but that later Doctor with the Harpo hair, so who cares.
I had these as a kid but couldn't really read them. Why? Because the only computer I had was a rather tempermental piece of crap with a tape cassette drive that I just couldn't make work. That's right, you needed to program your computer to read along with Micro Adventures. This was another one of those Scholastic titles, with rather uncreative titles like Robot Race, Jungle Quest, Time Trap, and Mindbenders, which I assume is about, erm, bending minds or something.
Here's an exciting page from Space Attack (click to enlarge). If you can pull out that old Apple IIe and program in a little BASIC, let me know what happens. Did you get that stupid door open, or did you die and get sucked into the cold darkness of space? Unfortunately, the books in this series read straight through, with brief intermissions of computer fun, so I already know what happens. You live. You always live. Damn.
And now I will take a controversial stand and say quite simply that this is the masterpiece series of all CYOA inspired books. That's because this series was created by TSR, the brains behind Dungeons & Dragons. Already well versed in role play, they were ahead of the game and ready to take it to the next level. Fantastic adventures, adult situations, fighting with weapons, strange new creatures, and horrible screaming death await you.
True, they are no Lord of the Rings, as these tales are quickly read with more than the occasional grammatical error, but for pure choosin' action they just can't be beat. Plus, there's just something about that fantasy world that just works so well in the CYOA context. Even the titles are awesome: Dungeon of Dread, Pillars of Pentegarn, Revolt of the Dwarves, Raid on Nightmare Castle, Blade of the Young Samurai, Song of the Dark Druid. These are books designed to make your child into a raging black metal lover.
My junior high school mascot was the Dragon. I loved it so much that I really threw myself into school activities because it allowed me to draw dragons, make dragon buttons, wear t-shirts with dragons on them. I was voted Most School Spirit in 9th grade - but I didn't give a crud about the school. I just liked dragons! At the same time I had an incredible crush on my literature teacher, Mrs. Kurtz, who was one of those nurturing, motherly homeroom types. She was really into positive affirmations and simply adored anything with rainbows on it. So I would hit the Hallmark store and bring her all sorts of rainbow crap in order to win her favor: stickers, erasers, stuffed freaking rainbows. And then I found this book, which deftly combined my dorky passions with my male hormones.
What was the plot? I don't remember. Let's check the back of the book:
You have been tricked! Forced into a duel of wizards at the mysterious Rainbow Castle, you are magically separated from your teacher and grandfather, Pentegarn, who battles for his life against three evil wizards. You must get back to him! The paths you may take are many and the choices are yours! Will you be thrust into Limbo and be forced to explore the misty cloud castle and meet giant Rainbow Dragons? Will you go into the dungeons and fight the strange monsters of the lower regions? Or will you venture up into the highest towers of the Rainbow Castle and be forced to overcome the magical traps that the evil wizards have set for you and your friends?
Hmm...you know, I just realized that soon after I gave her this book, that teacher changed schools, never to be seen in our classroom again.
Special thanks to Demian's Gamebook Page, which proved to be an invaluable resource for images, titles, and plots. Check out his rather giant list of all the CYOA style books, which includes way more than I had room (or knowledge) to mention here.