Friday, April 27, 2012

#0053: Escape From the Carnival of Horrors

Book reviews are something of an oddity here on this blog, because the focus of each entry primarily revolves around my (rarely) hilarious and (hardly) witty observations on the abnormalities of each of my toys from yesteryear. The thing about books, you see, is that it’s all right there in writing, quite literally.

Then, you throw an extra monkey wrench into the works when you add the ‘choose your own adventure’ element. As a kid, I loved these things, just absolutely loved them. The concept that, through your own decision-making, you could influence the progress of the story, was a revolution like no other.

Of course, either to help up the ante, or because I was a sick fuck who liked the concept of being beheaded on occasion, I preferred the ones that had a horrific element to them. For you see, the stakes should be high; if you choose unwisely, you will die a horrible death! …And if you were anything like me, you would return to the previous page and choose the alternative route!

Perhaps it defeated the purpose, but I felt some odd sense of accomplishment as I progressed deeper into the plotline, and I needed to press on as far as possible. Also, I historically made a lot of really stupid decisions in the early stages of the book, and would frequently die within five pages. I was like the Kenny McCormick of the gamebook world.

Also, did you know that there are erotic gamebooks out there? A choose your own adventure of intercourse? Apparently so, according to Wikipedia. I wonder how that would work, exactly?

Do you have sex with Jennifer? Turn to page 96.
Do you have sex with Amy? Turn to page 50.

Page 50: Amy is a prostitute. You get gonorrhea. GAME OVER.

If you read both pages at once, it’s kinda like having a threesome.

…Right. So my gamebook series of choice was the significantly less sexy Give Yourself Goosebumps. R.L. Stine was basically required reading of any literate kid in the 90s, and though I didn’t really get into the primary Goosebumps books, I made it my duty, nay, my very cause to amass as many of the GYGs as I could. And, to my credit, I did admirably, collecting all but two of them. If two out of three ain’t bad, forty-eight out of fifty must be downright okay.

It puts a mild strain on my heart to part with the very first of the series, a book I remember receiving from book club all those years ago, but a new generation must be blessed. The children of today need to know about how they’re going to get eaten by a swamp monster or turned into a human volleyball or forever condemned to bounce on a trampoline.

The children of today must Escape from the Carnival of Horrors, known to some as Fenway Park.

The premise? Late one night you decide to join your friends Brad and Patty to check out the fairgrounds as they’re being set up for the annual carnival. Brad is a sulky loser. In my mind, Patty is Patti Mayonnaise from Doug.

This year, they’re going for a macabre look; creepy and dangerous, like the east side of the French District. The carnival manager, Big Al, invites you in to test out some of the rides. Me personally, I’d decline this offer: riding roller coasters under construction in the dead of night? Come on, how stupid could you be? But you, as the protagonist dubbed ‘you’, decide otherwise.

I haven’t read this book since about the dawning of the new millennium (sounds like a really long time when you phrase it that way), so I don’t really remember which paths to take. Follow me as I delve deep into the eerie world of a pretty, shiny book!

It begins with Patty demanding we go to Bennet’s Field, and I warily reply that I have a nine o’clock curfew. Brad calls me a pussy, and I ask him what does he expect from a mid-20s guy who apparently lives with his mom.

When we arrive, Patty decides we should jump the fence. I attempt to avoid entering the fairgrounds and go home instead, but unfortunately, the book forces me onward. Holy shit, R.L. Stine introduced me to peer pressure. What a revelation!

Despite the curious way all of the rides spring to life upon our arrival, we do what all mischievous kids would do: fiddle with shit. And possibly spray paint ‘lush’ on one of the walls. Our fun is cut short when we happen upon Big (Gay?) Al, a man with ‘coal-black eyes and a thick mustache to match’. He questions our presence, looking like he’s about to give us the business, but then decides that we should stick around and check some shit out. Yeah, he’s potentially evil, but it’s just as likely he’s just bored and can’t be fucked ejecting us.

Shall I try out the rides? Or head over to the midway to investigate the freak show? I’m gonna go with the rides. Those freaks are employees like everyone else, and probably don’t appreciate late-night intruders prodding them for shits and giggles. Plus, that Tod Browning movie from the 1930s indicated that freaks are best not messed with.

We climb aboard the Space Coaster, an astronaut-themed ride that I can’t help but associate with Futurama’s moon theme park. That’s the second Billy West-related reference in only eight paragraphs. Clearly, I need to get away from the television for a little bit. The ride flips around at a break-neck pace before taking us through a darkened tunnel. Then it stops. And maintenance takes twenty minutes to fix it. Ugh, what a buzz kill.

Actually, Brad and Patty’s sections of the ride appear to have detached, leaving me all by my lonesome. I would break out my 3DS, but this is 1995 and I didn’t even own a Game Boy at the time. Overtaken by boredom, I hop out of the car. I amble towards a dimly lit tunnel with shit dripping from the ceiling, and get molested by a dwarf with scraggly red hair and a toothless smile.

He offers to lead me out of here, but I’m hesitant. As the book says, ‘Is he part of the ride? He looks really evil.’

However, I just can’t resist that grin. He seems like a nice fella, I’m gonna follow that strange little man to the ends of the earth! He takes me to a pair of doors. One is red, and has a sign that says ‘DANGER’. The other is blue, and is signed as ‘BIG DANGER’. I choose the blue one, because it makes me think of Sonic the Hedgehog, and that puts me at ease. It leads to something called the ‘Doom Slide’, which I assume is the preferred method of commute for Victor von Doom.

After climbing a long steel ramp, I’m standing atop the Doom Slide. Which is a misnomer, because there’s ten of the damned things, which would suggest pluralizing is necessary. But enough about grammar. It seems somehow familiar, and then it dawns upon me; ‘It was in a GOOSEBUMPS book that you read!’.

If I choose the wrong slide, I’ll be left to plummet for all eternity. And this is unfortunate, because despite what my fictional self claims, I never read the damned Goosebumps book in question, leaving me with a significant chance of choosing the Doom Slide. I don’t want to slide forever! I’m not even particularly fond of sliding for five minutes.

In the end, I choose slide 4, because it feels lucky!

And it is. As it so happens, I did not end up on the Doom Slide. Instead, I land headfirst in the grass. Ouch. Should have chosen the Doom Slide.

Finally, I’m reunited with Brad and Patty. Patty advises that we should squeeze through a barbed-wire fence guarded by security to escape. And after following strange dwarves and being threatened by excessive slides, this sounds par for the course. After fleeing from a giant snake and subduing an alligator by showing it affection, we bump into Big Al.

That prick! His silly carnival could have caused us grievous harm! I’ll sue, dammit! But first, I’ll obediently follow him to ‘The Final Challenge’. Because I’m really bloody tired.

We enter a tent. The people come in droves, chanting ‘FI-NAL, F-INAL’, ‘SUD-DEN DEATH, SUD-DEN DEATH’ and ‘WE LIKE ROY, WE LIKE ROY’.

I’m fitted with some snazzy studded sneakers and a metallic helmet, and then pulled over by the force of a giant magnetic wheel. It spins and spins, and puts me onto a page of my choosing. I select page 124, because like slide 4, it feels lucky!

And it isn’t. I pass out, and wake up between Brad and Patty, forevermore attached as the Amazing Siamese Triplets. Well, shit. That was unfortunate. I could have been killed by an alligator, or been fairly bored on a slide until the end of time, but instead, I’m now stuck to two really annoying people.

I told you, man… those freaks will get you every time!

Final result: 28 pages.

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