The 7 Most F***ed Up Real 'Choose Your Own Adventure' Books
The Choose Your Own Adventure books were a staple of most of our childhoods. Without them, we may have had to pay attention in class and eventually get well-paying but boring jobs as accountants or something. We remember the books as quick, fun, simple reads ... but much like Alf and Fun Dip, revisiting them as an adult leads to some bizarre and unsettling discoveries.
If you want to read about the weirdest CYOA books, scroll to entry #7.
If you don't want to read about the weirdest CYOA books, just sit there quietly and think about math, nerd.
You Are a Shark Who Devours the Alternate Universe Versions of Itself (It's, Uh ... Complicated)
The story opens with our hero hiking alone in the remote mountains of Nepal, an endeavor which, based on the illustrations, he has elected to tackle in a short-sleeve shirt and loafers. Somehow you manage to make it to an ancient temple, then you suddenly lose consciousness and "feel your life slowly slipping away." That's all on the first page, by the way. The rest of the book consists of you inhabiting the bodies of various animals until the temple decides you've learned your lesson and removes the curse that it placed on you because you were arrogant enough to tackle the Himalayas in business casual.
All of the CYOA books were great at creative deaths. They were the Jigsaw Killer of children in the '80s and '90s. But this book took it to another level, with descriptions of your flesh being greedily devoured by killer whales, lions, and sharks. In one ending, you become a pig being raised for its meat. The book is careful to point out that you retain enough human awareness to know of your eventual fate as stacks and stacks of BLTs.
"Which won't be easy, since the thought of you sizzling on the griddle makes you so, so hungry."
Perhaps most unsettling are the shark and octopus storylines: The octopus path ends when a shark doesn't fall for your ink-spewing trick, and it finds your calamari body delicious. Alternately, while inhabiting a shark's body, you can eat an octopus who ineffectively tries to use ink to escape.
Are ... are you eating yourself?
Yes, you're almost certainly eating yourself. That's some serious multiverse-level mind-screwing for a book aimed at 10-year-olds.
Even the shark is kind of fucked up about the whole thing.
Inside UFO 54-40 -- A Hidden Ending You Can Find Only by Cheating
The rules of Choose Your Own Adventure were pretty straightforward: You, as the second-person protagonist of the story, made choices to guide the plot. Making the right choices led you to the best ending, while making the wrong ones led you to one of myriad horrible and agonizing deaths. Sounds fair, if a bit Dante-esque for a children's book, right?
Inside UFO 54-40 does not do "fair."
The story begins when you're abducted from a jetliner by alien creatures who want to cage you in their galactic zoo, but for some reason you're allowed to freely roam the halls of their dongship, the Rakma. Take the wrong path, and you might be sent to "SOMA," a sort of solitary confinement that murders you via prolonged depression.
Even Major Tom thanks the stars he isn't you.
Or get split in half by a transdimensional portal ...
It's like we suspected all along: running sucks.
While the "right" paths allow you to do things like hijack the ship and accidentally crash it into Nebraska, taking those alien bastards straight to Hell with you.
"The aliens posthumously brand you a terrorist and install invasive body scanners in
all their spaceports to prevent this tragedy from occurring again.
You can even escape to be reunited with your parents on Earth, and most of us thought that was the best ending. But all through the book, you're told about a planet called Ultima that's supposed to be some sort of paradise, yet no matter what choices you make, or how many times you cheat back to your finger-place, you just can't get there. That's because, as we mentioned before, Inside UFO 54-40 doesn't play fair. Ultima is in the book, on page 101, but the author included no choice whatsoever that tells you to turn to that page. The only way to find Ultima is to randomly flip through all the pages of the book, otherwise known as breaking the one and only rule of Choose Your Own Adventure.
"So it's like using Apple Maps to go anywhere, then."
So there you go, kids: If you want to truly win in life, you have to ignore all the rules and cheat your way to victory. Then attribute your success to a higher power! Seems to work for the Patriots.
"Thoughts of your life before Ultima leave you feeling deflated."
Hostage! -- You Willingly Become a Terrorist
In Hostage! a vicious drug cartel led by "Marcos" invades Washington, D.C., takes your class hostage, and herds you all into the Biological Research Center -- a place where the deadliest viruses in the world are studied within walking distance of the White House -- in an elaborate plan to steal an apocalyptic virus. And somehow all of this is not capped off by "... next time on Homeland."
Once captured, you have two main options: You can give the terrorists your limited cooperation, while really sneaking information to the president so that Army Rangers can storm the institute, shoot the bad guys, and rescue your classmates along with their raging new cases of PTSD. Or you can give Marcos your wholehearted cooperation and spend the rest of the book as a full-blown terrorist.
Because nothing says "evil genius" like dealing drugs to a planet full of dead people.
If you choose the latter, it's off to terrorism school with you, young man.
Later, Miss Peters would use the "hey, you take sub jobs when you can get them" defense.
Unfortunately, your bomb-making class gets cut short when helicopters rain fiery death all over it. But at least you died how you lived: making transparently terrible decisions.
Space and Beyond -- A CYOA Apparently Ghost-Written by Stanley Kubrick
This book kicks off when you're born on a spaceship traveling at 62 times the speed of light, which causes you to grow into an 18-year-old in just three days and two hours, because the theory of time dilation states that shut up, you bought this book from a catalog with a maze on the back.
"Can I choose a galaxy that wasn't named during Drunken Scrabble?"
There's no time to explore the implications of hyper-aging (does your mind age as well, or is this a Big scenario in outer space? If it's not a Big scenario in outer space, are we free to write that screenplay?) because you're immediately booted off the ship to zoom around from planet to planet, with 44 bizarre endings that are a combination of 2001: A Space Odyssey and a bleak Matthew McConaughey rant. You can fly your spaceship into a black hole and live there with the black hole people, or you can fly your ship at beyond full speed and merge with the undying void of space somehow.
The grim reality of ludicrous speed.
You can become a space pirate, but then all your riches are rendered pointless when the universe abolishes money.
"Thanks, Galactic Obama."
Some of the endings just give up on the story -- and apparently life -- altogether:
A dozen cyanide pills later, Captain Planet painfully gurgled, "The power ... is out,"
before slipping away forever.
But then there's the one. The one that will haunt our nightmares until our dying day. We're talking, of course, about the planet of old babies.
"When I was your age" stories lose their punch when you were their age 30 seconds ago.
Trouble on Planet Earth Is Like Two Dozen Wildly Different Books in One
This book opens with the entirety of the world's oil disappearing, which the CIA addresses by waiting for two kids who've Scooby'd a few mysteries to show up and take care of the situation for them. One of those kids is you, and the other is your brother, Ned, who is psychic because "he can feel the knowledge." Yes, that is the only explanation you will ever get.
It turns out the solution to the mystery is depressingly simple: Terrorists stole every last drop of the world's oil and stashed it in some empty tanks they had lying around.
Now Shell and BP can charge exorbitantly high gas prices because they want to,
not because they have to.
Dang. You got the good ending on the first try, and it kind of sucks. Welp, time to flip back and explore all the wacky deaths ...
Only once you start taking the other paths do you realize that with each one the very premise of the story changes completely. Now the terrorists are only making it seem like there's no oil by messing with dial readings at every oil field on the planet. Or the Earth is sick and the missing oil is really just a symptom, indicating that the planet is about to projectile puke us all out into the cosmos.
Man, Carnival is going to suck this year.
Or the oil is being stolen by egg-shaped orange and red creatures with laser straws. Or the alien Zermacroyd takes you to Space Court where you lose the case and learn that Earth's oil will be redistributed to needier planets, because races who've mastered interstellar travel still rely on fossil fuels.
An Eastern European nation accepted one barrel too many of nuclear waste and the radiation ate through to the Earth's core. Or maybe your brother can solve the oil crisis by buying a small magic box that steals oil from the past and streams it into the deserts of Saudi Arabia.
Every one of those increasingly psychotic endings is really in the book, leading us to believe that either they crowdsourced the ghostwriting for this CYOA and blindly mashed all the results together, or R.A. Montgomery is really the pen name of Blacktooth Rick, the crazy hobo that lives in a newspaper house down by the Taco Depot.
Project UFO -- A CYOA Book About What It's Like to Go Insane
Ever since you were 5 years old, you've been hearing voices. Your parents have tried to get you help, but your experience with doctors has taught you to distrust adults. Is this the medical case file for a mentally ill teen? Nope, it's the start of Project UFO, and the voices in your head aren't madness -- they're just how the alien Freedo tells you that sinister forces from Calax III are after you.
In one branch, your special powers lead to you being recruited by "The Center for Galactic Research" -- at least, that's the story you're told as you're taken out of school and moved to Colorado to be greeted by nice people in white coats.
"Welcome to the team! Your official uniform is a white jacket with a preponderance of buckles."
But as these nice people escort you into the institution, you realize they might secretly be the evil aliens from Calax III that off-brand corn chip warned you about earlier! If you choose to escape, you find a payphone to call your parents. But you can't use it because it's being occupied by a guy with no face.
Cellphones, smartwatches, Skype, FaceTime, instant-messaging, and social media
were all invented so this exact crap never happens again.
Mr. Faceless turns into a blob and flies you through space, but you soon hear a voice that offers to rescue you. If you follow the voice, you can be pureed in an alien food processor ...
"Shit, there's hair in my smoothie."
And meet an alien who takes the form of your third-grade friend Aldo Archibald Fitmouse. Together, you wander into a giant forest of metal trees to avoid the evil Lepodoptro. You can drink potions that give you super speed ...
Or maybe he offers you a drink of super-speed; we may have misread.
Or trick Lepo into being attacked by swarms of metal bees.
If you choose the wrong page, you get a sci-fi My Girl ending.
Or even grow into a giant, towering above the mushroom forest. After presumably squashing Lepo under your size 112 Nikes, you and Aldo make a pact to get together for more space adventures in the future.
And to finally show Mario how this shit is done.
Of course, all that starts if you listen to the voices in your head. If you ignore the voices, you stop hearing them entirely and are found wandering outside the institution. The end.
That's right: It's a Choose Your Own Adventure book all about a teenager suffering a major psychotic break. That's some deep shit you probably weren't prepared for when you picked up that book with a rad spaceship and a denim-jacketed Goonie-reject on the cover.
Hyperspace is like Inception and Adaptation Made a Baby
Hyperspace begins with Professor Karl Zinka moving into your neighborhood and passing out books on hyperspace to kids wandering by his house. With your friendship thus soundly established, the Professor calls you for help after he tries to enter hyperspace, but instead the hyperspace enters him (hopefully after some nice hyper-foreplay). If you alert the authorities, the universe is destroyed. The right course of action, obviously, is to run blindly into the strange old man's house and be prepared for wild, secret adventures.
In the trippiest branch of the ensuing story, you learn that you are a character in a dream, and that if the bald, middle-aged coma patient dreaming about you wakes up, you'll cease to exist.
Which is probably a better fate than being a young boy stuck in an old man's dream.
If you decide to accept your fate and allow the dreaming man to awaken, you find yourself meeting the protagonist from another Choose Your Own Adventure book, as well as Edward Packard, the author of the very book you're reading, who apparently wasn't on great terms with the illustrator.
"I must go now. My hunchback people need me."
We don't know what that means -- maybe it's a bit of Charlie Kaufman-esque meta-genius, or Stephen King-style self reference, or just plain madness -- but we know that it's some shit we can barely handle right now, and have no idea how we just glibly accepted it as children without the proper philosophical or herbal support.
And thus we end on the most ridiculous premise of all: Packard not being stoned enough to imagine ridiculous bullshit.
Gavin knows Apple's early years were so rough, someone tried to eat the logo. He has a Twitter @gavinjamieson.
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