Monday, September 17, 2012

Choose Yer Aventure: Up In Space

In light of our baby's arrival, artefacts of my own nostalgia (both actual and imagined) have been undergoing a strenuous review, and much is not making the cut, eg. I repackaged over 500 video games formerly in jewel and keep cases into paper sleeves as storage compaction method. More on-point to readers of this blog, I passed along several dozen duplicates from my gamebook collection into a general book sale, where their extraordinary qualities will certainly go unappreciated. Also, I found myself rummaging through the filing cabinet, in search of old magazines, newspapers, and 'zines to expunge, their fleeting relevance forever stripped from them with their temporal context receding into the hazy distance. What did I find there but this curious exhibit, a gamebook-'zine I'd inadvertently collected before I was actively collecting gamebooks at all! I may well have been sitting on this particular volume for a decade without realising what I had, and now that I have recovered it, knowing that I probably have the only remaining copy in existence (of what was assuredly only ever a low-print-run local work that never reached the eyes of the likes of Demian Katz!) has lit a fire under me to share it with the world.
Also, one of my ... numerous submissions to the gamebook death blog I wrote about most recently here has finally washed up online and so what a happy coincidence I have something new to share with this brief wave of new audience.
I managed to locate the author, Caelan Griffiths, and press him for some remarks.
"Wow Rowan, never thought I'd ever hear from some one about that little zine... I am indeed the author, and feel free to share it within the bounds of a creative commons license - no commercial uses.
    Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported
Interesting to see some one interested in Choose Your Own Adventures. I loved climbing a tree in the local park as a kid and reading."
So without any further ado, please allow me to demonstrate...
      You are an astronaut. This is your first mission. Seven years of arduous training in Cape Canaveral, Houston, and West Point. Finally you are in the pilot seat, ready to blast into space.10... It's the countdown... 9... 8... 7... farewell Earth... 6... 5... Ignition of the Engines... 4... 3... you can feel the roar of hydrogen combusting below... 2... 1... Lift Off!
      The pressure builds as the greedy grip of gravity grasps the ship with its omnipresent power. Like a submerged balloon the ship surges through the atmosphere, arcing into the blue sky, trailing plumes of white steam behind it. From your tiny window you can see the light blue atmosphere turn clear and then purple and then black. You cannot see the Earth from your position, but in your mind the ant-like constructions of mission control disappear into the haze of cloud that shrouds the globe from the infinite grandeur of space.
      Now the controls are yours, from your experience in training you remember one button on the console will eject the fuel nacelles. Is it the Green button or this shiny Red one?
* * *
      You seal the lab's airlock door, and press the explosives detonator button. The ship bucks violently as the lab explodes away from the main part of the shuttle. You watch as the force kicks the lab backwards, the ship miniaturizes instantaneously. You observe, horrified, that it seems that the ship itself has been pushed free of the black hole's grip. The gamble has failed: you've blasted the lab in the wrong direction.
* * *
      Your mind awakens, but your body does not respond. The scientists are all around you, crowding in your face and poking and pressing you. Behind their heads a dark red dusk glows, you can see debris and filth everywhere. You assume since they were all asleep through the hole that they've escaped the comatose state that you presently experience. Perhaps it is the affliction that they suffered in reverse, you were awake then and paralysed now, for them vice versa. They disappear from your sight momentarily, yet you can still hear them speak. Dr. Manniocelli suggests they give you a proper burial: no one disagrees. They argue briefly on which salvaged tools to use and they begin excavation.
      They lift your body into the deep hole, you attempt to struggle but there is no response from your linbs.
      They fill the hole. You are buried alive.
      Hours later the science team attempts to sleep. They awaken hearing a strange noise... scratching, scratching. A low reverberation in the ground where they had just buried you!
      scratch... scratch...
        Au Complet
* * *
      This is the famous Beta/Gamma Centauri System. Nebulous clouds of scintillating space dust envelop the ship. Immediately the scientists and researchers -- that is to say, Dr. Cannes, the physiology expert, Dr. Lisa Mannocelli, the plant biologist and Benjamin Netanyafat, cosmologist and astronomer, Dr. Bob Neusent, geologist and palaeontologist, and Dave Thomas, owner and founder of Wendy's -- rush to their stations. They begin gathering and recording huge quantities of data for the inquisitive millions back home.
      The first "day", as it could be described, is hectic for you. You manoeuvre through asteroid fields, planet atmospheres, gas clouds and comet paths. The harrowing twenty-hour day ends as Dave Thomas, who doubles as co-pilot, replaces you at the helm. (He has had a 7-hour nap.) Gratefully, you hit the astronaut's sack, a tube of material that has straps and clips to anchor you when you sleep in zero gravity. Quickly sleep sets in... you dream very little. (Mostly of the fact that joysticks are inherently phallic, which corresponds with the modern phallocentric character of technology. However, in a vagina-friendly universe, there would be joycaves, which would be operated much more sensitively.)
      Suddenly the angry screaming of a red alarm awakens you. You twist in the cabin convulsively to free yourself from the sleeping bag and to take a good look around you. With the agility you worked for in training, you spring into the pilot's cabin. Oh no! Dave Thomas is asleep at the wheel! You quickly take his pulse, noting that Dave sleeps with his eyes open. He seems all right, no signs of stress or illness.
      Abruptly the alarm ceases its wailing tirade; strangely none of the other crewmembers have come to investigate.
      The control panels indicates that you should be in the middle of a star! The sensors read an intensity of light that should be accompanied by the intense heat of a sun, yet through the porthold you see only brilliant white light, no crackling bubbly heat.
      You bounce through the doorway in the science lab to report the phenomenon to the science team. Dr. Neusent is holding a test tube of space dust to his eye silently and Dr. Mannocelli is gazing intently into a microscope. You observe Dr. Netanyafat at his telescope station and Dr. Cannes grasping a catheter tube. All are silent. In fact the whole lab is strangely quiet. Only the beeps and hum of equipment can be heard.
      You tap Dr. Neusent on the shoulder. He remains fixed in poosition as his body itself slowly drifts away from you. You realise that none of the doctors are responsive: they are immobile. Dave Thomas wasn't sleeping, and neither are the science crew. They are mesmerized, hypnotized somehow! They are caught in a catatonic state that you had missed in your sleep.With amazing speed you strap all the crewmembers into their stations. The adrenaline flows trhough your body as you flip into the cockpit. The light is gone from outside and now there is a deeper forboding darkness. Frantically your mind somersaults to draw a conclusion. Faintly you can remember a long-ago training scenario: the Black hole Exercise...
      • Do you attempt to jettison the lab as a lifeboat? Go to 3.
      • Do you try to reverse the engines to pull away? Go to 18.
* * *
      Good job! You've successfully engaged the self-destruct system. Unfortunately this is not a Hollywood production and you do not have 30 seconds to save yourself and a busty and/or muscle-bound crewmember. With a vast fiery incineration your particles are spread over a radius of ten kilometres. Not only have you killed the 5 other crewmembers, but your mishandling has destroyed a project worth 500 billion dollars and you've set the Space Program back 5 years. Not to mention the debris field, which in 2010 will puncture a Microsoft manned spacecraft jeopardizing their inaugural flight, and destroying their hopes of putting Bill Gates into space... Don't ask this author why the Red button is so close to the Green one, maybe engineers should pay less tuition, thus allowing qualified low-income students into the program rather than privileged mediocre ones.
* * *
      Congratulations! The huge red towers that contain the hydrogen fuel for blasting into the atmosphere have been ejected and will eventually contribute enormously in the problem of atmospheric pollution. Your craft speeds toward the moon. You pilot the shuttle in an orbit around the planet to use the lunar gravity as a slingshot. Once, twice you whip around the small planet[oid]. The ship soon exceeds 11000 kph. Adjusting slightly the angle of the trajectory, you aim for the sun, and the shuttle rips itself from the gravity of the moon and hurtles toward the Helios.
      Behind you, you can hear Dr. Philip Cannes, a famous physiologist and medical doctor, inventor of the Cannes process, as he vomits into the small, clear plastic bag designed for precisely that purpose. Had you turned around you would've seen him tie it off with a small piece of plastic, place it into a small venting compartment and press the yellow touch pad that releases the jetsam into space. (Yet another small token of welcome to any sentient alien race wishing to make contact with our species.)
      Zip! Your ship whizzes around the Sun repeatedly, faster and faster. Soon the force of acceleration is so great that everyone is stuck to his or her seat. Imperceptibly you shift the joystick to the right and up slightly. The shuttle is flung into space, out of the solar system in a flash, and far into the cosmos to destinations yet unexplored.
      • Do you venture to the right of the Beta/Gamma Centauri System? Choose 5.
      • Do you wish to explore the regions of space near the Antares Star Clump? Choose 19.
* * *
* * *
      Your ship's engines roar as you attempt to reverse the pull of the black hole. The engines burn hotter and hotter, still nothing is happening. The temperature gauge on the control panel is in the danger zone. You will not pull out in time.
* * *
      The ship turns left, its nose dipping ever so slightly, the Antares System in full view. It is a shining and nebulous system full of colour and sparkle. But suddenly the image of this shining world distorts, bending and wobbling like the melting film in an overheating film projector. The ship shudders and shakes as the speedometer needle breaks at the maximum. There is no sign of the scientists yet, could they all be asleep? The ship hurtles forward violently and in the porthole you can see a huge black spot eclipsing the image of Antares: a black hole!
      Egad!  Black hole
      • Wanna attempt to jettison the lab as a lifeboat? Go to 3.
      • Or put the gearshift into reverse? Go to 18.

* * *
      The journey through the black hole is blurred and then black in your mind: you must have lost consciousness. You awaken, sore, lying in a windowless, rectangular room. The room is wallpapered with a curious yellow pattern, undulating and ugly. Your muscles are sore, you cannot force yourself to your feet. Or is that what the voice of Dr. Neusent said in your head? Yup, in fact all the scientists are holding a conference in your mind, even the onboard computer beeps occasionally. They cannot decide, they argue incessantly. You push onto your hands and knees. Slowly with one shoulder on the wall to support you, you crawl along the floor following the pattern with your eyes to block the rise and fall of voices within your cranium.
* * *
      The black hole shrinks you to a singularity. Beyond this point the mass grows again, reality re-builds itself in reciprocal. For the religious this could be called Hell. You are re-formed onto a shuttle like the one you piloted previously. You guide this ship safely to reciprocal Earth.You mingle with friends you thought you'd never see again. Your life continues in earnest, the voyage earns much publicity, so you write a book: everything seems fine, life is prosperous and happy. Your rationality is regarded very highly, you speak on daytime television in place of "Bible Times Daily."
      However, friends and acquaintances seem different, people who were gentle and kind on the other side are prone to cruel and violent outbusts, some share it with you in private tantrums, others publicly mock and berate strangers. You are never targeted.
      Still the surpassing violence causes great unease in you, life is fearful and you suffer paranoiac tendencies...
      You die alone, from old age, the last years mostly filled with terror.
* * *
* * *
      You awaken, remembering unsettling dreams, you find yourself changed into a monstrous vermin. Pitifully helpless on your back you attempt to roll over, no success. You wave your multitude of spiny legs in the air wildly, but you can find no purchase in the space above you. So this is the life of a beetle! Indeed black holes can be literary experiences.
      How Kafka-esque!
        The End
* * *
      You awaken, startled. Instinctively you grasp for the controls, but find none where once they were. You glance down to observe a very strange, but ergonomically inset control. It appears to be a.... "joycave"?
* * *
* * *
      You, the reader and main character, must have somehow outsmarted the author, me and escaped my story. But now you are stuck in reality. And because you were formerly a fictional character, like Cinderella, Go-bots or Samwise Gamgee, you have only a tenuous bearing on the workings of this reality. Good luck.
        Your former reality, the book, is ended, for I, the author, have ended it.
* * *