Monday, January 14, 2013

 

Micro Adventure #2: Jungle Quest

High levels of energy emissions have been detected from deep in the jungles of Africa.  A deadly weapon left behind by an ancient, highly advanced civilization has been awakened, and it has the potential to destroy the world.  It's a race between ACT and BRUTE to see who will gain control of it first, and who will decide the fate of humanity.

Like many of these sorts of "novelty" series, Micro Adventure was a collaborative effort by various authors, but unlike many of them, they have a continuity, with returning characters and situations.  Although they fit together pretty well, you can tell that some authors had different ideas about where they wanted to take the concept.

I have to say that this book shocked me as a child because of the jarring tonal shift in comparison to the first book.  Sure, the first book had action and espionage and danger.  Lives were in the balance and people got hurt, as sometimes happens in adventure stories, even the ones written for children.  But it's not like anyone died or anything.

Spoilers!  People die in this one.

Compared to the whiz-bang futuristic fun of Space Attack, Jungle Quest gives us a much darker atmosphere.  The jungle itself is characterized as a genuinely menacing place, and the ACT agents find themselves subjected to all of your typical jungle terrors -- snakes, quicksand, and so on -- before they even find a BRUTE agent.  On top of that, Orion is dying.  It seems that the space radiation he encountered in his last adventure made him sensitive to the Devorim Force, a special kind of radiation that's being generated by the power source that he's seeking.  So the closer he gets, the more he suffers. This really made me uncomfortable as a kid; I really got into second-person fiction at the time, even though "bad endings" literally terrified me.  The book seemed to have a really oppressive atmosphere, and I was glad to be done with it and get out of it.

Which isn't to say that it's a bad story!  The Big Reveal is something that I never saw coming, and yet, they drop little bits of foreshadowing all the way through the book.  Looking back, it makes complete sense.  Even as a kid, I appreciated the fact that the darker atmosphere made for a more mature, realistic story.  The first actual fatality was sort of a "shit just got real" moment for me.  This wasn't just a goofy Saturday morning cartoon anymore, and BRUTE weren't just the big-mouthed villains making empty threats about world domination.  I felt more for the characters and the situation because there was actually something at stake.

Unfortunately, there is one moment that kiiiinda makes me wince.  At one point, Orion is kidnapped by a native tribe, and their characterization is... unflattering.  When the chief discovers his computer, his first impulse is to try to eat it.  Things go badly until Orion introduces him to the uncanny magic of ASCII art, at which point he is instantly befriended and given a roadmap that will take him directly to the power source he's looking for.  I wouldn't say it comes across as necessarily hateful or anything, just... kind of facile and maybe a little insensitive.  I guess the book gets points for not making the tribe out to be the single-minded irrational murderers that they are in some adventure fiction, but... eh.

Memorable characters?  There's Erda, the wisecracking ex-hippy who specializes in environmental studies.  He provides a welcome bit of comic relief for this more intense story.  And there's Olano, your guide.  He's not an ACT agent -- he was born in Africa to a native tribe, but he left them to pursue an education in America.  Although he fits a lot of the typical Native Guide clich├ęs, he also struck me as being a likable character in his own right.

Pretty early on, they hang a lampshade on the fact that a computer expert is kind of an odd choice for a jungle expedition.  There aren't any BRUTE mainframes to hack into or malfunctioning devices to fix; most of the computer activities in this one are basically just flashy special effects where the only interactive element is to key in the numbers that the book gives you.  There's a sort of game at the end, but without whipping out your calculator and doing a little trig, it basically amounts to a guessing game -- but with infinite guesses, there's really nothing at stake.  Still, when you're a kid, sometimes just making something show up on the screen is cool enough, and the manual at the back explains how it all works so that you can adapt some of the ideas.  And at least they didn't go the stupid route and try to shoehorn in a scene where Orion plugs his computer into the perfectly compatible serial port of the ancient civilization's death machine and reprograms it in BASIC.

A good story, but not one of my favorites.  It gave the series a kick of verisimilitude that would inform the tone of later books, but the harsher setting and the dull computer activities take a lot of the fun out of it.

Next time: Million Dollar Gamble.


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