Monday, December 10, 2007

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 72: Choose Your Own Adventure/Find Your Fate/Plot-Your-Own Adventure Books of the 1980s

Early in the 1980s, Bantam Books published a series of childrens' action/fantasy/science fiction novels under the franchise title Choose Your Own Adventure. But these clever little books had a twist: they featured multiple endings, and multiple "paths" for the reader, and in essence told a variety of stories. "You're the star of the story!," crowed the book covers. "Choose from 40 possible endings!"

Choose Your Own Adventure books were perhaps as much a game as a legitimate literary experience, but titles like The Abominable Snowman (28 possible endings!) offered intrepid readers the chance to select at every story juncture a new quantum reality, so-to-speak, by deciding which "action" to take given a scenario. For instance, if you "chose" to go into a dark cave without a flashlight, you would turn to page 68...and promptly fall off the edge of a precipice. Or if you decided to "go back to camp" for your flashlight, you would end on an entirely different path. I remember reading these books during my middle school years and really enjoying them. To my adolescent mind, they were suspenseful in the sense that every action had an impact...sometimes deadly. Because I had a keenly developed sense of the macabre even at that tender age, I would often pick the wrong solution, just so I could experience a terrifying demise.

Not surprisingly, the popular movie/tv genre franchises of the day emulated the Choose Your Own Adventure format. Star Trek and Raiders of the Lost Ark jump to mind. To me, this was true nirvana: the chance to send Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock or Indiana Jones into adventures where I could determine the outcome. Why, that's almost as fun games are today. (Remember, this was twenty-five years ago, okay?)

Simon & Schuster published Star Trek "Plot-Your-Own-Adventure" stories in 1982 under their Wanderer imprint (for $2.95 a pop). "You are in command of your favorite Star Trek II characters," the cover of Distress Call (by William Rotsler) informed us. The plot: "The U.S.S. Enterprise has just received a frantic call for help from the vicinity of the unknown planet of Varda III."

"This is an adventure with as many twist and turns as your imagination allows," suggested the book's rear cover, which was nicely illustrated with images from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Ballantine's "young adult line" offered several "Find Your Fate Adventures" for the character of Indiana Jones (at $1.95 a book) Among the titles were Indiana Jones and the Lost Treasure of Sheba (by Rose Estes), Indiana Jones and the Giants of Silver Tower (by R.L. Stine), Indiana Jones and the Legion of Death (by Richard Wenk), and Indiana Jones and the Cup of the Vampire (by Andrew Helfer). As these books put it: "Right from the start, you are in charge. Depending on the decisions you make, you could wander endlessly through catacombs, meet real-life werewolves, or fight to the death with bloodthirsty bandits. Every thrilling and dangerous step of the way the choices are up to you as... find your fate."

Isn't that just irresistible? I imagine elitists probably scoff at the choose your own adventure-style books, but they left an indelible impact on me, in part because of the sheer ingenuity of their authors. As a wanna-be writer from the second grade on, I found it fascinating (in sixth grade, anyway...), that one story could spawn over a dozen plausible but different outcomes. To me, these books offered a glimpse behind-the-curtain, and I started to understand some of the mechanics of plot development. American literacy rates are in the toilet these days, but Kathryn and I read our one-year-old Joel several books every day (even if it's Jasper the Cat, or Guess How I Much I Love You), and I'm thrilled to see that even at his age, he goes to the book shelf without prompting and picks up books he wants to look at (and then staggers around from room to room, pointing at pictures...). I figure that the Choose Your Own Adventure Books will be perfect for him when he's a little older.

Anyone remember reading these?


  1. Anonymous12:57 PM

    I own a Doctor Who Find-Your-Fate book, featuring the 6th Doctor, that I won in a Creation Con trivia contest back in the 1980s.

    I also remember seeing a Supergirl one, published just around the time of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

    I recall thinking, "Didn't like what happened in Crisis # 7? Now, you, too, can kill Supergirl in this Find-Your-Fate adventure."

    -Dr. Howard Margolin

  2. Anonymous11:20 AM

    My favorite was an actual choose-your-own-adventure brand book called "Space Patrol" - I know I had read it several times over back in the day, hoping I'd choose the correct sequence again to get to my favorite ending.


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