Sep 172018

Back in the 1980’s, I devoured interactive fiction books. The granddaddy of them all was the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure series with its non-linear stories and rather murderous outcomes. A lot of series tried to cash in with different gimmicks and I love them all for their many, many flaws.

One of my favorites was the Be An Interplanetary Spy series. You played a spy for an agency that came across the ultimate law enforcement organization in the universe. While you sometimes pretended to be someone else and infiltrated somewhere, more times than not you were just a hero chasing down a bad guy. It was less Tinker, Tailor, Alien, Spy and more like Spock Bond, Agent of GOOD.

The science fiction angle was different from more interactive fiction but what really set the Spy series apart was the reliance on art. Most interactive books might have a picture every couple of pages but the Spy series was illustrated like a comic book. There is a lot of art crammed into these books and they help create the really trippy and fun worlds that they were depicting.

Now, because of the heavy amounts of art, the book relied on visual puzzles as your main obstacle. These puzzles were often pattern or shape recognition based, where you might get an outline of a power cell and then be asked which of the two slots fits your odd-shaped cell. Other puzzles would give you a sequence and then ask for the next number, shape or direction in the sequence.

The amusing thing is that you got a puzzle for just about anything you would do. There you are, a top spy for a secret organization and to turn on the engine to your own damn space ship, you needed to solve a five-shape progression puzzle.  Want to turn on the food machine to eat? Find the panel that has the same symbol for your species or else you will eat poison alien food. Want to tie your own fucking shoes? Well, I hope you are ready to solve a connection puzzle where you hit all six stress points with the least amount of lines.

You might think I am kidding but I am not. There are puzzles for everything and because the books are linear, you either solve the puzzle or you DIE. That means the books are actually quite long as you will go through every single puzzle to reach the end.

And let me tell you, as a pre-teen, these puzzles were brutal. Being a goody-two-shoes, it never occurred to me that there were only ever two answers for each puzzle and if I randomly picked one and if killed me, I could just go back and take the other choice. No, my Lawful Good ass would break out the scratch paper and work these puzzles like the fate o0f the universe depended on it.

Which is why a few years later when I was taking intelligence tests for high school, I used to get perfect scores on them. They were mostly the same kinds of puzzles, or in many cases, EASIER versions of the puzzles I solved as an Interplanetary Spy. One year I got a perfect score and the school made me take the test again because they thought it was a fluke.

I’ve been collecting these books on ebay and I have been surprised at how affordable they are. For a little over 10 dollars, I have been able to play my favorite Spy missions again as well as quite a few new ones.  The stories are gloriously goofy where every alien race has puzzle based technology and there are a lot more evil robots. I will say, these books have so many great sci-fi ideas crammed into them that if you are a gamer or writer, you are bound to get at least a dozen unique ideas for your own projects.

There are eleven books in the series and they were also recently reprinted. I suggest you try at least one of them for their silly fun.

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