Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Micro Adventure #5: Mindbenders

Something's fishy at the tropical island resort of Corona.  Celebrities and politicians have been returning from their trips making odd and uncharacteristic decisions, almost as if they've been brainwashed.  The bad news is, an international energy summit is being held there in just a few days.  If the world leaders return from it with their brains scrambled, it could lead to World War III.

I didn't originally read the Micro Adventure books in sequence.  The three that I found at the used book store were numbers 1, 4, and 5.  Of those three, I read this one first.  This is partly because I didn't expect there to be a proper sequence of events -- and indeed, most books in the series stand alone pretty well -- but mostly because I didn't quite understand the premise at first.  I read "Includes 7 Exciting Programs For Your Computer!" on the front, and I thought I could just pull them straight out, as one scrapes the cream filling off an Oreo.

But of those first three, this one was my favorite, and years later, I still have fond memories of it.  I fell in love at once with the setting of Corona, with its automated services and beautiful scenery.  It's kind of interesting to see some of the ideas that have come true since this book was written -- automated check-in, key cards that tie to your room account, and so on.  In fact, the resort seems kind of ordinary nowadays, but back in the 80s, a lot of this stuff seemed like sci-fi magic.

This book was written by Ruth Glick and Eileen Buckholtz, the pair who wrote fully four of the series's ten books, including #1, so their ideas have made quite the largest mark on the series.  And just like in #1, gosh are there some goofy bits in this story.  The story opens with Orion taking some well-deserved R&R, on a plane flight to a tropical resort, all paid for by ACT.  But... where are his parents?  Orion's still a kid.  How did he explain all of this to them?  ACT is supposed to be a secret organization.  On top of that, instead of the usual "decode a secret message, get a lift from Hot Wheels" opening, ACT decides that simplest, most effective, and cleanest way to get the attention of Senator Macklin, the man organizing the international energy summit, is to stage a hijacking.  And that's just the first two chapters!

But if it's goofy, it's lovably goofy.  Glick and Buckholtz stress the "citizen heroes" motif more than perhaps some other authors in the series, and they pull some rather eccentric choices for ACT agents.  For one, the leader of the team for this mission is Marlow, and he's a magician.  That's right, he thwarts the villains with stage illusions.  That is awesome.  And making a return appearance is the Chameleon, and his shape-shifting abilities are more fantastic than ever -- at one point, he takes on the role of a scientist, which actually gives him scientific knowledge that allows them to move forward with the mission.  Actually, it's unclear if he just happens to be a PhD who's gone into acting with a side of international espionage, but I like my explanation better.

While we're on the subject of the Chameleon, there seems to have been a shift in him since Million Dollar Gamble.  In that book, he was afraid to hold a gun because he was worried he'd shoot his foot off.  Here, he's shooting up guards (with tranq darts, to be fair) and lamenting the ACT code that prohibits unnecessary violence.  Not that this stops you from committing murder later in the book, although the "no body no death" rule may apply here.

There's a lot of the usual hacking elements in this one -- find a password here, reprogram something there.  But the one that really sticks out is the endgame, Shark Attack.  It's an honest-to-goodness ASCII graphics shooting game.  It's so long and complicated that, rather than give a main program listing and refer to modifications for other systems, they actually have a separate listing for every single supported system at the back of the book.  The problem is, of course, that it runs much too quickly to be playable on modern hardware, but I'll fix it one of these days.

One of these days.

This is still one of my favorites.  I still really love the setting, and if it's campy, at least it's in a fun way.

Next time: Robot Race.


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