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Item - Planet of Terror

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Series: Nightmares! — no. 1
Author: Wulffson, Don
Illustrators: Michaels, Serge (cover)
Yamamoto, Neal (interior)
Date: 1995
ISBN: 0843138602 / 9780843138603
Length: 126 pages
Number of Endings: 24
LC Cataloging in Publication Summary: The reader's choices determine the outcome of a young person's nightmare which requires that he or she either escape from danger or fight the Molers who conquered earth in the war of 2051.
Demian's Thoughts:

In terms of gameplay, this book isn't very interesting. The choices tend to lead to arbitrary death, and there's very little strategy involved. Still, this isn't a bad book. It takes itself quite seriously most of the time (unlike most interactive horror stories of its era) and has some fairly disturbing moments. The setting is also fairly effectively described. Of course, this praise doesn't mean the book is particularly original; it has just as derivative a story as most gamebooks do.

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KenJenningsJeopardy74's Thoughts:

While not completely in a category by itself, Nightmares! How Will Yours End? is unlike most gamebook series I've read, if Planet of Terror is an accurate representation of the whole. Everything is coming up roses for you after you win an essay contest. The prize is a vacation to Washington, D.C. for you and your dad, and by the end of the first day you've already seen many of the capital's sights. Back in your room at the Hotel Santa Maria, you settle in with a science fiction book called Forgotten Tomorrows, but quickly nod off. You're engulfed in a nightmare in which your hotel room has become a dystopian sci-fi scene, but the terror turns real when you are awoken by a boy and girl a few years older than you. What you dreamed is real, and the two kids--Kirby Kim and Gwendolyn Stacy--urge you to escape with them. The streets outside your hotel are ravaged by fires and riddled with bullets. Kirby and Gwendolyn break the news that you've been abducted into the year 2076 by an alien race called the Molers, who took over planet Earth in 2051. Most humans are dead or enslaved, so the Molers have resorted to reaching back into the past to kidnap and eat kids; you are the latest victim. There is, however, a human resistance movement--the People's Militia--in D.C., one strong enough that the Molers are considering retreating and destroying the city. At the moment, danger waits around every corner; can you and your friends stay alive?

Joining the rebels seems a good idea, if you can find them without attracting attention from the Molers. But the People's Militia have to be cautious; the Molers are known for infiltrating the human rebels with hyperrealistic cyborgs. As you sneak through the burned-out buildings and alleys of D.C. with Kirby and Gwendolyn, you may meet a woman who has invented a desistor, capable of freezing all movement of anything you point it at. Are you savvy enough to use this technology without exterminating yourself or the city? If you don't meet the woman, you might take to the old subway tunnels to hide from the Molers, but danger is present even here. Above ground, D.C.'s streets are fraught with futuristic peril. Brainflies and pit rats are bad, but the most ghastly parasite is the skin worm, responsible for one of the more gruesome death endings in this book. Depending on your choices, you may reach one of several endings in which you awaken to find your adventure with Kirby and Gwendolyn is a nightmare or delusion, but this isn't always the case; often your flight from the Molers is all too real.

If you'd rather escape D.C. and leave the People's Militia to fend for themselves, you can hardly be blamed for thinking that way. You, Kirby, and Gwendolyn could cut across the nearby swampland in hopes of making it over the Potomac River, but mini monsters in these parts can kill you in horrible ways, such as nerve snakes that invade your brain. You might come upon a crashed bus in the swamp or a man cooking food by himself, but be wary of indulging your curiosity in this hellish future. If you make it across the Potomac you'll be in the city of Seneca, Virginia, which the Molers once used as a base of research and education but have since abandoned. Do you dare investigate the place, which holds secrets that may change the course of your future? Maybe you'd rather try the science lab nearby; it, too, carries immediate threats to life and limb but may offer opportunity to return to your own time. If you decide to evacuate through the D.C. sewer system instead of the swamp, you have a different set of challenges to overcome, including realistic holograms that could lure you to your death. But you may also find a way back to your dad, or awaken from your nightmare to realize the entire imagined sequence of the past few days is part of a special project you volunteered for. How will your story conclude? There are many possibilities.

The concept for Planet of Terror has all kinds of potential, but the book is disappointing. Others have pointed out that the information section at the beginning--Setting, Cast of Characters, etc.--is a waste of time, and that's true. Not only would it be better to introduce such information within the narrative, but author Don L. Wulffson does just that, creating a redundancy. The story has virtually no internal consistency--Kirby and/or Gwendolyn can turn out to be good or bad, and the whole adventure may or not not be a dream--but worse, the book lacks any point. You can't beat the Molers; the best to hope for is that you make it back to your own time, or wake up to find your terrifying day is nothing more than a nightmare. Because Planet of Terror has exciting moments, I don't consider it a total failure, but I hope for something better from the next installment in the series, Cave of Fear.

More reviews by KenJenningsJeopardy74

Stockton's Thoughts:

I thought this was an interesting variation on the typical formula. The point is not to get out alive, but to see how many different ways you can die. Although this certainly isn't a literary classic, the writing is still better than in many other gamebooks.

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