Thursday, 28 January 2021

Future Events Such As These

After my initial purchase of some of the pseudonymous Jak Shadow's F.E.A.R Adventures on eBay, I might not have bothered getting any of the rest of the series if not for a sale at Brown's Books (an event which has form for getting me to buy gamebooks I hadn't been intending to acquire). Not searching for a gamebook on eBay is easy, but ignoring one that's on the shelf in front of me when it's part of an incomplete set in my collection and significantly reduced proved more of a challenge. So I bought The Space Plague, played it once, failed almost immediately (as I recall), and shelved it, never to attempt it again. Until now...

The basic premise remains as ludicrous as ever: I'm a child, recruited into F.E.A.R., the top secret agency dedicated to protecting humanity from the evil schemes of time-travelling alien villain Triton, because Triton has already captured all the agents who realise what a stupid idea that is. The specific plot for this book is that in 600 years' time, humanity will establish a colony named Rosetta on a planet close to Triton's home world (stated to be 'halfway across the galaxy' and 'beyond the planet Jupiter', which is a bit like saying that somewhere is both 'thousands of miles from here' and 'further away than the bathroom'). In retaliation, Triton will bombard the colony with rockets carrying a disease (possibly harvested from ancient Egypt), in the hope that it will infect all humanity. I'd rant about future humanity's apparent inability to contain the outbreak, but recent events have demonstrated that element of the plot to be all too plausible.

After literally days of hard work, contemporary scientists have come up with a cure for the plague (okay, I can go back to mocking the book for its absurdity now), and I have been chosen to go forward in time six centuries and deliver the cure to Rosetta. A plane is being readied to take me to the European Spaceport in South America (the what where?) so I can hop onto a rocket that's about to make an emergency flight, then use the F.E.A.R. time machine to get to a space city that'll be in orbit in the early 27th century. I presume that some form of interstellar travel will follow, but my superiors have yet to brief me on that part of the journey. You know, like when you're about to take a holiday abroad, and everyone is so focused on telling you how to get past the front door of your home that they never mention how you're going to travel the rest of the way.

I get inoculated against the plague and proceed to the European Spaceport without incident. Before boarding the rocket I receive a test tube of the plague cure, a plastic card that doubles as future-passport and credit card, the chip locator that will enable me to banish Triton from that time when I locate him, and one other item of equipment. As in the likes of The Spy Master, I must choose from a list of three objects: this time the selection comprises a universal translator, an oxygen mask, and a pair of magnetic boots. I'm limited to just one of them because there's not room to take more - I mean, it's not as if I could, say, carry the translator while wearing the mask and boots, right?

I pick the translator and board the rocket. It takes off, and at the appropriate point I enter the time machine and am projected into the future. The area in which I arrive is not unpopulated, but everyone there is too busy following signs to Departures to notice me appearing out of nowhere. My reactions are a little odd: I casually note the presence of a levitating creature with eight eyes and an elephantine trunk, and a family of giant slugs, but am amazed when I look out of a window and discover that the space city is as big as a city. In space.

Aware that I need to find a way to travel to Rosetta, I stroll over to the nearby space map, which displays planets and space stations like a bus map shows stops. No need to worry that space travel involves more dimensions than driving along roads: I'm sure 'the furthest planet away from Earth that a colony can settle on' is too short a distance from here to be affected by such trivial matters. The map indicates that an extension of the Hammersmith & City line runs between Jupiter and Rosetta, but the service only runs once a month.

A scruffy-looking man joins me and 'casually' comments that Rosetta is out of bounds because of the plague. I failed The Emerald Pirate as a consequence of talking to someone who turned out to be one of Triton's agents, so rather than risk a similar occurrence, I opt not to get drawn into conversation, and head off to Galactic Departures, hoping I haven't just missed the Rosetta service.

The xenophobia kicks in when I reach Galactic Departures. There are lots of aliens there. One of them is the same species as Triton, and while the chip locator indicates that this one is a completely different individual, I still think that he could be one of Triton's agents. I notice other aliens looking in my direction: they could be working for him, too. And whoever (or whatever) is reading this blog right now - perhaps they're spying on me at Triton's behest! I'm onto you all, you treacherous BEMs! Ahahaha!

Rather than run and hide, I head for the ticket desk, but to get there I must pass through a security gate. The guard on it has two heads, one atop the other like the movie Zaphod Beeblebrox (though as this book and the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy both came out in 2005, it's possible that 'Jak Shadow' had the idea independently). The guard singles me out from the other would-be passengers and starts to wave a wand around.

It is at this point that I make the mistake of trying to behave like a rational being. The book offers the choice of trying to hide the plague cure behind my back or leaving it in my pocket. Figuring that removing something from my pocket (and it's previously been established that I put the test tube into a top pocket of my jumpsuit, so there's no way of doing it discreetly) and making a blatant attempt at concealing it might look ever so slightly suspicious, I do nothing to attract attention, so the guard finds the cure and promptly has me arrested.

These books always wimp out of having anything bad happen to the viewpoint character, so as soon as I'm thrown into a cell, the time machine is activated to bring me back to the present day. And as the security guard and his colleagues didn't bother to confiscate the item they arrested me for carrying, there's nothing to stop me from jumping back into the time machine and having another go at taking the cure to Rosetta.

Well, nothing apart from the fact that I'd rather get on with washing the dishes than spend any more time reading this twaddle.