Be An Interplanetary Spy: Robot World by Seth McEvoy.

Cover of <i>Robot World</i> by Seth McEvoy.

Cover of Robot World by Seth McEvoy.

The competition between interactive fiction and computer games — won long ago by the games, of course — was never more explicit than in the Be an Interplanetary Spy series. Along with the archetypal Choose Your Own Adventure (which I never liked and rarely read) and the Time Machine books (which I did read) they formed a genre that was quite common back in the 80s, and maintains a shadowy existence in school libraries today. Of them all, one could argue that the Spy books offered the most, in that the branching was done via puzzle solving, so the reader succeeded by thinking. Here’s an example:

 

An example of a couple of puzzles.

An example of a couple of puzzles.

 

The books were written by assorted authors, including Seth McEvoy, who has/had a track record as a writer of YA fiction.

Interactive fiction is an implementation of the hyperlink, allowing non-linear but structured access to the book. The think I liked about the Spy books was that notionally there was a way to make sure you made the correct decision at a node. I always felt with the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ and ‘Pick-a-Path’ books that there was never really enough information to make an intelligent choice. I think this says rather more about me as a kid than I’d like it to.

So they occupied an interesting niche in the market. If they have a problem, it is that they are not very re-readable. There’s just not enough story, it’s a mechanical process of ‘set up the puzzle/choose/repercussion’ and go around again, which is not a bad summary of a lot of fiction but usually each phase takes more than a paragraph. SO there’s a a lack of depth and, ultimately, of engagement. I think this is rather often the case for these ‘second person’ narratives that address the reader. If the reader is the protagonist then the narrative cannot grow out of the character because the author does not know them. It can grow out of their superficial characteristics (“You are a spy — you do spy-y things…”) but not out of particulars.

Even so, found second hand for a dollar or so, they remain a useful diversion to give to a kid in the back of the car on a drive.

 

 

Much YA?

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About Darren

I'm a scientist by training, based in Australia.

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