Thursday, March 14, 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure - The Lost Jewels of Nabooti (Real Review, Scathing)

It's a little hard to be completely honest when critiquing this book, since it was written by series co-founder R.A. Montgomery. On the one hand, Choose Your Own Adventure was easily the most well-known and one of the most influential of the various skeins of interactive book out there back in the 80’s (and even late 70’s). Who knows what other such book series and solo RPG material we may have never seen without him and the boom for this kind of literature CYOA’s popularity helped to create.

On the other hand, we have the books he himself wrote for the series, and to be totally frank, he was easily one of the worst contributing authors the series had during its early days.

Which isn’t to say all of his output was crap. Later he managed to turn out mostly decent if not exactly memorable books, and two of my favorite books to carry the Choose Your Own Adventure brand have his name on them. There’s The Race Forever, and Prisoner of the Ant People (though the same can’t be said for its sequel [?], War with the Evil Power Master).

The problem with most of Montgomery’s books were dominated by lots of meandering nonsense and short, abrupt endings. Somehow the former missed it, and it was less noticeable/obnoxious in a story where you’re a member of an interplanetary scientific task force that shrinks to less than an inch tall and meets talking ants. Not so much when you’re trying to penetrate an international conspiracy.

The plot gets going when you receive a message from your cousins that their father’s gone missing while searching for the Jewels of Nabooti, sources of awesomely vague magical powers. Since these jewels have the power to steer the course of human civilization, and you apparently have no trouble believing in magic rocks, you immediately accept their request to pick up your uncle’s trail.

And I mean that about believing in the magic rocks, because you’re most assuredly not looking for your uncle, but the jewels. And you may or may not be an adventurer yourself like your uncle. Because while the book makes no attempt at all to say so one way or the other, yet at two different points you’re given the option of calling in help from adventuring/secret agent-types. Not that the book does much to explain who these people are and how you know them, let alone what help they can provide. Two of these worthies, Anson and Ramsey, are in fact named after the author’s sons. Maybe so he could show them how they were in a book…a book where they’re already the main character. You never actually see them anyway.

Look, I know I complained about the Zork books and how stupid it was they’d actually build the option not to go on the adventure into the book. But I also complained about how the author would just plunk you into the thick of things without adequately explaining who I’m supposed to be (why do two suburban kids turn into people who have relatives in a fantasy kingdom?) and/or why they should feel like going on the adventure’s a good idea. They’re a daring adventurer-type who’s been doing this for a while, or simply they were in the right place at the right time to inherit the quest and feel a duty to carry it out (whether that be for morality or the promise of a rich reward) are (usually) acceptable.

In this case, why the hell would the person I’m supposed to be the one to go on a chase around the world where there’s every chance terrorists will try to kill me? The only indications my experiences suit me are those times you think about calling in some friends in the biz, and I had to explore pretty thoroughly to find those. I’d say the author got better about it, but he was actually better about it in books that came out before this. I found it baffling the things a seemingly ordinary student was asked to contend with, even in pursuit of magical rocks. I wonder if maybe the author started thinking along the same lines as I did, as out of thirty-eight possible endings, seven are some form of you decide you’re in over your head, give up and say to hell with the spirit rocks.

This isn't a dead end! Ask who bought them!

Which flows into the author’s wordiness when it comes to dialogue. Characters are fond of big gobs of exposition or a bunch of unnecessarily extravagant sentences when a few concise ones might’ve freed up some space to allow for more dialogue from other characters, and given them a chance to feel less like cardboard cutouts. I mean, look at this…

Oh, if only the inanity ended there. At one point, a character asks if you find the jewels in your pocket. You’re given a yes-or-no choice of whether you do or not. No coin flipping, no what time of the day are you reading this book, nothing. You decide that you find them or not. 

In one particularly silly ending you look out over a city at night and realize the jewels are wherever you look for them. What the heck?! At least I could sort of understand the ending where it turns out the jewels are actually important people in the fight for world peace.
Yes, it's "too bad" you died two different, horrible ways.

And then there’s the one with the obscure literary reference.

We have an awkward setup, nonexistent characterization, awful writing, and  limp endings. If not the worst CYOA book ever (and there’s not as much competition as you might think), it’s easily the worst of the series’ first five years.

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