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Choose Your Own Adventure (1979-1998)
Choose Your Own Adventure Box Set (73-77) (Collection)
Bolle, Frank (interior)
0553269046 / 9780553269048
113 pages |
|Number of Endings:||
|User Summary:||The year is 1860, and you are visiting your uncle in the Wild West.|
With this book, the series has dropped the dumb "more than x endings" banner used on the back cover of the August, 1987 releases and gone back to actually listing the exact number of endings on the outside of the book. Definitely a good move. Also good is the fact that the cover illustrator is now credited on the back of the title page -- the past few volumes don't seem to mention cover illustrators anywhere, yet I suspect that few, if any, have covers done by the same artists that worked on the interiors. These external factors aside, the most interesting thing about this book is the fact that it's the winner of a writing contest for readers of the series -- it was written by a high school student. It's a pretty impressive accomplishment, actually, as its writing is just as good as anything previously seen in the series. The only things which suggest its non-professional origins are shorter-than-average sections and an overly familiar story and setting. Of course, since these traits are shown by many professional entries in the series, I can't put too much weight on them. Anyway, I'm no fan of Westerns, but this is a decent and fast-paced entry in the series. It's certainly good enough to make me wish that I could have seen some of the other contest entries.
I'd have never guessed Longhorn Territory was written by a seventeen-year-old. Winner of the Choose Your Own Adventure writing contest, Marc Newman—a high school student from Otsego, Michigan—transports us to the American West of 1860 in this gamebook first published in 1987. You live and attend school on the East Coast, but are traveling by stagecoach to spend summer with your uncle Matt, sheriff of a New Mexico town called San Talpa. Upon arrival, you notice a DEPUTY WANTED sign outside the jailhouse. You ask Matt to consider you for the job, but he's hesitant. Law and order in the West isn't as chaotic as an outsider might believe, but dangerous characters pop up now and then. Before Matt can decide, you observe a RIDER WANTED sign by the Pony Express office. Protecting mail shipments could be exciting, though the job has its hazards. Which career do you want to try?
Riding for the Pony Express takes courage and dedication. Mr. Tucker warns you that riders are occasionally killed by bandits, and you'll be expected to start at five o'clock every morning. He sets you up on a route that takes you hundreds of miles out and back from San Talpa. The work is surprisingly tedious until the day a pair of armed outlaws corner you in the wilderness as you ride. You can fight back or try to outwit them, but is a load of mail worth risking your life? You might capture the bandits for a hefty reward or lose the mail shipment and never see the bad guys again, but no ending leads to your death. After a full summer on the circuit, you'll always be able to say you delivered mail for the short-lived but iconic Pony Express.
The Pony Express section of the book is short; most of Longhorn Territory is devoted to your choosing to be Matt's deputy. A few weeks of training convince him you've got the goods to be a junior lawman. At first the work is mostly jailhouse chores, but it picks up when Matt offers to take you on a patrol of San Talpa's outlying territory. You both stay overnight at the DL Ranch, sleeping under the stars with a group of affable cowboys, but things turn serious when the ranch owner, Jack Miller, reports that his best longhorn cattle were stolen last night. You could volunteer to ask around at ranches in the vicinity while Matt tracks the thieves; a wealthy rancher named Henry Parker seems to know more than he's letting on, but be cautious about investigating him, or you'll be abducted. Recovering Jack Miller's stolen cattle will go a long way toward proving yourself to Matt, but boldness and sensibility need to commingle in your decisions or the thieves will get away. Being a deputy in the Wild West isn't easy.
Electing to stay in San Talpa as acting sheriff instead of joining Matt when he rides out to check on the ranches leads to a variety of adventures. The morning Matt leaves, word comes in that the notorious Burrows Gang was sighted en route to San Talpa. They have a reputation as serial highway robbers. You ride your horse at top speed to head off an incoming stagecoach carrying a huge payroll before the Burrows Gang can rob it. That was quick thinking, but now the criminals are on the alert. When Matt returns, the two of you can hunt for the bandits' hideout or set a trap for the Burrows Gang. The trap requires you to be cool under pressure, but trusting Matt to fill his part of the bargain and bring the outlaws to justice usually works out well. Proactively searching for the gang takes you to an abandoned mineshaft on the mountainside, a dark, scary hole in the rocks. Do you dare enter the yawning blackness in pursuit of the Burrows Gang?
If the infamous outlaws elude you, it's not a calamity. You may have further opportunity to make your mark as San Talpa's deputy. Your skills improve over weeks of training; you are becoming an excellent pistol shot and horse rider. You're not afraid to take a jaunt all alone to Fort Carson, but it will be more action-packed than expected. A casual visit to the trading post puts you at odds with a group of vigilantes wanting to hang a man they insist is a horse thief. It's your job to intercede, arrest the man, and escort him to San Talpa to stand trial, but do you have the gumption to stand against the vigilantes? Is this a test of bravery, or common sense? If you went for a refreshing swim in the mountains rather than visiting the trading post, you end up at the mercy of Morgan Coltrain, an escaped felon. He isn't afraid to swipe your horse, but in town you'll find an ally in a steely-eyed bounty hunter named Jed, who helps you track Coltrain to Alkali City. Whether you or Jed take the lead, you'll have your chance to get squared away with Coltrain. If you forged straight ahead to Fort Carson without stopping at the trading post or for a swim, you encounter violence by Indians against settlers. Seeing what they do to defenseless women and children haunts you, but staying calm may provide an avenue to lead the Indians and settlers into peace negotiations. If you act with consistent wisdom as deputy, Matt has a special honor planned before you board the stagecoach to go back East. You'll treasure your tenure as a lawman for the rest of your life.
Longhorn Territory is a sandbox of sorts. As deputy you face ethical and strategic dilemmas that don't have obvious answers, but if you come up short, will you learn from what happened to strengthen your moral character? It's not easy to stand for what's right in the real world, but practicing to do so in a simulation will help you find your way when the choices you make actually count. Considering that, Longhorn Territory barely misses being a transcendent piece of Western literature. A more immersive writing style, deeper moral concepts, or another emotionally resonant ending or two are all it needed to make the leap to greatness on the same level as Edward Packard's Deadwood City. Frank Bolle's illustrations are phenomenal, maybe the best I've seen from him; their detail and scope remind me of the legendary Robert Lawson. I wonder if Marc Newman ever wrote another published book. Online I've seen a few credited to his name, but it's hard to know whether the author is the same Marc Newman. Ultimately, Longhorn Territory leaves part of its potential unfulfilled, but it's better than your average Choose Your Own Adventure.
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