What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower: Being An Adventure Of Your Own ChoosingOctober 10th, 2011
The Choose Your Own Adventure series comprised a large portion of my childhood reading. There was nothing more exciting than having the fate of say, James Bond, within your page-flipping fingers, and I have found myself longing for adult versions of the reading game. Thankfully, I’m not alone and several clever and fun Choose Your Own Adventure riffs have trickled throughout the years, like Emma Webster’s Lost in Austen, and Margaret Killjoy’s What Lies Beneath The Clock Tower: A Steampunk Adventure of Your Own Choosing, out through Combustion Books.
Clock Tower smartly revamps the make your own adventure recipe with a fantasy base flavored with a pinch of Steampunk and a splash of politics. The plot is this: lead the foppish, British rake Gregory from decadent indolence in fin-de-siècle France to “the depths of the undercity” where Gregory is involved in warfare between “colonialist gnomes” and “indigenous goblins.” There’s action and absinthe, difference engines and monsters, romance and of course, zeppelins.
It is a fun read, not only engaging, but also enlightening. It is a story about class warfare, capitalism, oppression, revolution, and most of all free will.
Naturally, I died within the first few pages, and doing only what an avid CYOA reader would do, began cheating until I successfully completed the book. It sounds pitiful, but it was actually more fun that way because I began to see exactly how Clock Tower is different than your typical CYOA. I remember the CYOA as having one arc unifying the whole, and any diverging path led to failure and end game. While you as a reader choose pivotal actions of the character, the choice is not a free one, but rather a fork in the road of the already pre-determined story. The odds are 50/50; right or wrong.
Killjoy revamps this medium and exploits it to its full potential by blurring the 50/50 pre-determined Fate of the hero into a multi-faced sport of free will. Clock Tower has several subplots you can follow, and more than one path to doom or glory. Granted a lot of the choices end in demise, but death isn’t necessarily the sad ending it connotes. You can choose to die a coward, or a hero. Or, if you do successfully complete the story, it isn’t necessarily by honest means. Every decision has consequence and an attached moral when read closely.
This nuance of Clock Tower is not surprising giving its author is a passionate advocate for political and philosophical discourse within genre literature. Margaret Killjoy’s literary career has been devoted to promoting his DIY political and philosophical ideas in such publications as STEAMpunk magazine, which he founded and is now being run out of the UK, through the collective Indy press Combustion Books, his blog Anarchist Fiction.net, and his newest magazine Graceless: A Journal of the Radical Gothic (just to name a few of his projects).
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