Thursday, 19 February 2009

A childhood memory that RMIT made me recall and re-read

As a child, virtually my only reading apart from nonfiction was Choose Your Own Adventure and Time Machine books. When I realised the stories were childish and ridiculous, I moved on quite literally and forgot about them.

However, when I had to review books I had read for an RMIT course titled Recreational Literature for Young People, I have had to recollect these books. In the case of Time Machine, I remembered the first few so well I could map them for Demian Katz without re-buying them, but re-reading them did show I had forgotten much. The work I enjoyed so much that I have tried to recall what I still regard as a childish obsession, especially as sites like Wikipedia give me a job to do in the process.

A few days ago I discovered Demian had collaborated on a list of the Top 20 CYOA adventures. I will list them below:

20. Your Code Name is Jonah (1980): This Cold War tale of secret agents has you right in the mix as American and Russian spooks try to unlock the mysteries of a secret whale song. Next find out what's cooler than the soothing mating calls of whales being associated with espionage.

19. The Cave of Time (1979): This first book in the series takes you on a time travel epic from the Ice Age to 3700 A.D., courtesy of series creator Edward Packard. Next find out what's cooler than battling dinosaurs, then later partying with robots.

18. The Abominable Snowman (1982): Frequent series contributor R.A. Montgomery penned this story about your search for the elusive Yeti. Next find out what's cooler than trouncing around Nepal looking for hairy snowbeasts.

17. The Deadly Shadow (1985): In this espionage yarn, you must track a dangerous man named Dimitrius, who has the ability to become a shadow thanks to sinister Russian experiments. Next find out what's cooler than Reagan-era Cold War propaganda for kids.

16. Trouble on Planet Earth (1984): This story has you investigating why aliens may or may not be stealing the world's oil supply. Most fans of the series describe the plot as completely incoherent. Next find out what's cooler than stories that are so bad they're good.

15. Inside UFO 54-40 (1982): In this adventure, you need to escape from aliens who are trying to put you in their zoo. Next find out what's cooler than subtly teaching kids that zoos are oppressive hellholes.

14. The Forbidden Castle (1982): This is a sequel to "The Cave of Time," where must solve a riddle in medieval Europe to find a secret, dare we say, forbidden castle. Next find out what's cooler than slaying dragons, while spending your downtime with the local peasant girls.

13. Prisoner of the Ant People (1983): Here's the deal: You're part of the Zondo Quest Group II looking to destroy the Evil Power Master. Fortunately, you've got a buddy that's like R2D2. Next find out what's cooler than battling huge killer anthropomorphic ants.

12. The Magic of the Unicorn (1985): You've got to find a way to purify your village's water in the year 1507, and since Britain hasn't been invented, it's going to take a horse with a horn to do it. Technically nothing is cooler than a unicorn.

11. The Horror of High Ridge (1983): This story has you and your pals Ricardo and Lisa coming face to face with the ghosts of the clashing Indians and settlers of High Ridge. Next find out what's cooler than children's books that recall bloody land disputes.

10. The Mystery of Chimney Rock (1980): A common adventure-spurring device - a trip to see family - leads you to an investigation of a haunted house occupied by a deceased woman's mysterious cat. Next find out what's cooler than demonic house pets.

9. Mystery of the Maya (1981): Even though you're a kid, you're tasked with determining what wiped out the Mayan civilization. Next find out what's cooler than Guns, Germs, and Steel for kids.

8. Supercomputer (1984): You win a contest and get to hang with a computer (though it's more of a robot), but its incredible power is also incredibly dangerous in that incredibly dated 1980s sort of way. Next find out what's cooler than pretending you're Matthew Broderick in "War Games."

7. Survival at Sea (1982): In this story, you're asked by series regular, Dr. Vivaldi, to investigate the sighting of a dinosaur out in the ocean. Next find out what's cooler than a Loch Ness monster that's got the good sense to not live in a lake.

6. Rock and Roll Mystery (1987): The hippest installment of the series has you trying to rescue abducted members of your rock band, who strangely aren't involved with drugs or obsessive groupies. Next find out what's cooler than rocking in a turtleneck.

5. Outlaws of Sherwood Forest (1985): At summer camp, you find a ring that transports you to Robin Hood times. At one point, you come across a version of yourself that has made different choices. Next find out what's cooler than a CYOA that seems to have been written by Charlie Kaufman.

4. Deadwood City (1980): This Wild West yarn has you mosey into the town of Deadwood City looking for a job, before things start getting interesting. Next find out what's cooler than a good old adventure in the Wild West, free of sketchy brothel encounters.

3. You Are a Shark (1985): During a hike, you come across a forbidden temple, are turned into an animal, and must survive several reincarnations to get to the end. Next find out what's cooler than book titles that get straight to the point.

2. Mountain Survival (1984) This one's plain and simple: You've survived your plane crashing into a mountain; now don't get eaten by a bear or freeze to death. Lastly find out what's cooler than a book that allows you to put all that mandatory reading of Jack London to good use.

1. Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey? (1981) In this mystery, you go to the house of a rich man and soon become involved in a suspected murder case filled with a lot of ins and outs and what-have-yous. Basically, it's "The Big Lebowski" for 10-year-olds, and seriously, what's cooler than that?

Of this Top 20, I as a child read #18, #17, #14, #9, #8, #7 and #2. It is true though that even as an extremely immature child I was repelled by some of the books here, but I was certainly fascinated by Survival at Sea and Mountain Survival, re-reading both many times and enjoying them. As an immature child I felt I learned something from them, too.

I find it odd that Escape was not included, nor was anything by Jay Leibold like Grand Canyon Odyssey (I'm sure it's cooler to meet up with John Wesley Powell or Don Pizzaro or an Indian medicine woman than some of the adventures here). The other major writer unrepresented was Louise Munro Foley, whose Danger At Anchor Mine certainly betters #10 and #4 for an adventure in a remote area (northern Ontario). Moreover, from the perspective of this writer it must be cool to search an old gold mine. Again, Richard Brightfield's The Secret Treasure of Tibet could easily have been among the top few. Its complex tale involves the protagonist as a private investigator seeking a remote monastery where monks levitate but being simultaneously targeted by a violent gang who wants that monastery's gold. These two stories interact with an anthropologist called Sylvia Morrison who specialises in the protagonist's research topic. As a Himalayan tale it betters those included, whilst the side of the book about battling criminal art dealers is unrepresented in this selection.

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