The Hawaiian Computer Mystery (1985)

OK, stick with me here. I bet you’re looking at The Hawaiian Computer Mystery (1985) and thinking, “well, that looks like a crummy pick-your-path book.” And you aren’t wrong! But you’re also not correct, either.

First off, the whole Making Choices series is built around teaching Christian lessons through their narratives, with characters who tend to exclaim things like “Lord Jesus, save me!” Even setting that to one side, this book has a deep commitment to aw-shucks corniness that I find hard to bear. What is sort of mystifying about the book, though, is that, Tardis-like, it seems to have an improbable number of storylines packed into its 150 pages.

Core concept: you won a videogame design contest and your prize is a trip to Hawaii and, maybe, a contract with the competition-organizing company. As soon as you arrive, however, a number of seemingly disparate mysteries try to intrude on your vacation. There’s a volcano and monsters in the volcano and spies and rival programmers and a haunted house and a giant bird and an angry whale and just a constant succession of new branches in the story. Amusingly, you can avoid all of them and focus on learning to surf at the beach in a sequence that is long enough to actually feel like a genuine ending rather than a time wasting gag. The substance of all of these various stories is questionable, but their construction is super interesting. I can’t think of an American gamebook with such a quirky and complex structure. Shame your character spends so much time praying, though.

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