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Item - Meanwhile...


(reissue)
Series: Miscellaneous Works by Jason Shiga
Author: Shiga, Jason
Illustrator: Shiga, Jason
Date: February 17, 2010
ISBN: 0810984237 / 9780810984233
Length: 69 (self-published edition), 80 (mass market edition)
Number of Endings: 10
Cover Text: Chocolate or Vanilla? This simple choice is all it takes to get started with Meanwhile, the wildly inventive creation of comics mastermind Jason Shiga, of whom Scott McCloud said “Crazy + Genius = Shiga.” Jimmy, whose every move is under your control, finds himself in a mad scientist’s lab, where he’s given a choice between three amazing objects: a mind-reading device, a time-travel machine, or the Killitron 3000 (which is as ominous as it sounds). Down each of these paths there are puzzles, mysterious clues, and shocking revelations. It’s up to the reader to lead Jimmy to success or disaster. Meanwhile is a wholly original story of invention, discovery, and saving the world, told through a system of tabs that take you forward, backward, upside down, and right side up again. Each read creates a new adventure!
User Summary: A bad decision while purchasing ice cream can lead to all manner of adventures with weird scientific inventions.
Demian's Thoughts: This is Shiga's most substantial interactive comic so far, and like his other works it includes a novel choice-making mechanism. The panels of the story are connected by a sort of pipeline which occasionally branches. Some of these branches actually head off the page, connecting to tabs that protrude from other pages earlier or later in the book. This prompts the reader to turn the page and continue the story. I've never seen anything else quiet like this, and it obviously took a lot of work to cut out all of the tabs properly! The content is as satisfying as the form, with interesting wacky sci-fi concepts, occasional humor, and genuinely challenging gameplay. Actually, the gameplay is so challenging that it may frustrate some players (I certainly couldn't figure out all of its secrets), but this shouldn't discourage you from giving it a try!

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duck2ducks's Thoughts: THIS IS THE CRAZIEST CHOOSE-YOUR-OWN-WHATEVER YOU WILL EVER READ.

Jason Shiga is a genius and a madman. Branching-plot comics have been done before from time to time, but never to any great success and with no real innovation. Here, the innovation is in the reading experience itself: Instead of reading one page, then turning to a different page - as in most CYOA-type books - it's the comics panels themselves that twist and turn, with the reader's direction of flow guided by a series of pipes. When choices diverge, two or more of the pipes will lead away from the deciding panel, and the pipes follow on to other pages via a series of die-cut tabs on the page edges. As a lifelong fan of all forms of interactive fiction, I've seen most ways that branching stories can be told ... but this? This is New.

All that would amount to little more than a well-done gimmick, however, if the work itself weren't just as impressive. Fortunately, Shiga doesn't disappoint. His art is cartoony yet expressive; simple but effective. And the story? The story, in the book's biggest surprise, is just as insane as the format. The casual reader will immediately come across the eccentric scientist and his three inventions - a time machine, a mind-reading helmet, and a universal doomsday device - and it should be pretty apparent with a few moments' thought as to how those three machines could be used in different sequences and different combinations to wildly alarming effect. However, it really takes a dedicated reader willing to put a couple of hours in - or extremely good luck - to discover the ultimate ending (different from the "Ultima ending," itself a knowing reference to the classic CYOA Inside UFO 54-40), in which it's revealed that everything you've experienced in every iteration of the book up to that point has been far more connected than you ever could have imagined. Suffice it to say that as I grew closer and closer to that final end, my jaw hung closer and closer to the floor.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Read it now; you won't be disappointed.

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Guillermo's Thoughts: Meanwhile by Jason Shiga is one of the greatest accomplishments in gamebook history so far. It would be an exaggeration to claim - as another reviewer has done - that other interactive comic books before it were devoid of "real innovation" (the excellent 2000 AD: Diceman series is an example of a comic book that broke a lot of new ground in terms of interactive design). However, Meanwhile does indeed take interactive fiction to a whole new level. This is the story of a kid that, after stumbling upon a scientist's lab by chance, gets drawn into a series of events that present a Borges-like puzzle. It is up to the reader to help the protagonist solve the time and memory paradoxes presented by the author. Since the problem laid out is highly complex, the reader is likely to stumble upon many failure endings before finding the only path that reveals all the intricacies of the plot. In the end, however, all the endings come together to make the reader reflect on the meaning of concepts such as time, space, and human existence. This book is a definite must-read.

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KenJenningsJeopardy74's Thoughts: Jason Shiga might be the most innovative thinker in gamebook history. His system of using tubes to branch out into many, many more storylines than any other interactive book I've seen could have revolutionized the gamebook industry, were it not for the extreme complexity of its design. From the introductory note to Meanwhile: "Meanwhile began as a series of seven increasingly complex flowcharts. Because of asymmetries in the branching, a special notation had to be invented for the final three charts. Once the outline of the story was structured, a computer algorithm was written to determine the most efficient method to transfer it to book form. However, the problem proved to be NP-complete. With the use of a V-opt heuristic algorithm running for 12 hours on an SGI machine, the solution was finally cracked in spring of 2000. It was another six months before layouts were finished, again with the aide of homebrew computer algorithms. After a year of prep work, production began on the book, which was completed one year later." Holy cats. I suspect most authors on reasonably steady mental ground would be horrified at the prospect of replicating the ridiculously intricate work done by Jason Shiga to produce Meanwhile, so while the story is highly intriguing for its unique structure and style, I doubt its ability to revolutionize gamebook creation.

A trip to the ice cream shop leads you into a world of crazy after you choose the chocolate ice cream (a pick of vanilla brings a swift conclusion to your adventure). Making a pit stop at a stranger's house afterward to use his bathroom, you soon discover the man who let you in is no ordinary individual. Professor K is a scientist with more than a hundred patented inventions (or so he claims) to his name, and he offers to let you test his newest inventions: a time machine, a device that enables sharing of memories, and something called a killitron. Your choice could have you winding back and back and back again in perpetual circles, or end in a messy death for you and others, unless you can figure out how to flawlessly layer the sequence of events so all untenable damage you inflict can be neutralized by using the time machine.

Just don't take lightly the sensitive technology Professor K has placed at your disposal. Carelessness could usher in an apocalypse, or warp the narrative of your own or others' personal history. Professor K has deliberately concealed the access codes and secret signals that control the more dangerous features of his gadgets, but outsmarting him to take possession of them could be your only chance to save yourself. It feels like anything can happen in this story, and according to the book's cover, that's just about true. "Pick any path. 3,856 story possibilities", it says, leaving other interactive books quantum leaps behind.

Ultimately, it's hard to imagine an author not outwitting himself on at least a few points in a book as ambitious as Meanwhile, and that does appear to happen in these pages. I can't say it does for certain, because I may simply not be bright enough to make all the proper connections that would let every lightbulb in the string go on and illuminate it to full capacity. A grand, wonderful idea Meanwhile is, but it's too much for my brain's circuitry to handle. For the ingenious design of its decision-making system, however, I have to give the book its due, and I'd like to read more from Jason Shiga. For gamebook fans who relish a stiff cerebral challenge and won't get too frustrated by a lot of repetitive looping, Meanwhile could be exactly what you want. Give it a go, why don't you?

More reviews by KenJenningsJeopardy74

Special Thanks:Thanks to duck2ducks for the reissue cover image and details.
Users Who Own This Item: Gamebook, jeremydouglass, katzcollection ('zine version and reissue), knginatl ('10 HB), matthaeus (2010 Edition), qazplm (reissue), zat (2010 edition)

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