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Retro Book Review: The Race Forever (Choose Your Own Adventure).

raceforever

R.A. Montgomery’s The Race Forever appears to be a pretty simple interactive adventure story for children centered around race car driving, but in reality it’s the embodiment of something Jorge Luis Borges envisioned long ago: an infinite book. Yes, that’s right–at only 116 pages, The Race Forever taps boldly into the infinite, and for that reason is a pretty amazing entry in the CYOA series.

The Race Forever by R.A. Montgomery (illustrated by Ralph Reese)

Published: February 1983

Number in the CYOA Series: 17

The Race Forever is aptly named. You are a race car driver, and you spend the book racing around and around–literally forever. The seventeenth book in the series is only the second, and last, of the Choose Your Own Adventure books to include an “infinite loop”–a choice that cycles back upon itself infinitely, with no end, theoretically entombing the reader to replay the same series of adventures, with slight variations, over and over again forever. For that reason, R.A. Montgomery has created in real life what Jorge Luis Borges envisioned in his 1975 short story “The Book of Sand”: an infinite novel.

The premise is this: “you” are a champion race car driver, and you’ve been chosen to compete in the First African Dual Road Race Rally. This is a marathon of two car races throughout Africa: the speed race, which is exactly what it sounds like–a race through the African bush to see who gets to the finish line first–and the rough road race, a grueling obstacle course which evidently tests which drivers have the stamina and smarts to stay alive and even finish. You have your choice of which race to do first. In that sense, The Race Forever is really two very similar books in one.

Each race begins the same. Your first choice is which car to take. In the speed race, you can choose between a Saab 9000 Turbo or a Lancia Stratos. In the rough road race, your choices are a Toyota Land Cruiser or a Land Rover. Each of these choices introduces you to a different sidekick, your navigator and mechanic for the race. The Lancia gets you Jan, a Dutch person of suspiciously ambiguous gender–yes, we do have gender issues in this book–while the Saab introduces you to Zokil, a competent Russian female mechanic. In the rough road race and choose the Land Rover, you’re paired with Eduardo, whom you evidently know; the choice of the Toyota introduces you to Amos, a Nigerian. Of these sidekicks, Zokil is easily the most memorable, but the symmetry inherent in this very linear progression of choices is pretty neat for one of these books, which can sometimes be structurally sloppy.

The races themselves take you through various adventures and obstacles. The electrical system in the Saab gets fried. Your path through the rough road race is blocked by a train of refugees. Some of your competitors offer you money to throw the race. A rhino charges your car. The obstacles are mildly interesting, but there’s nothing amazingly riveting. The stories have the advantage, at least, of having a clear unified objective and plot arc: win the race (or, in the case of the rough road race, survive it).

Here’s the Borgesian gimmick: if you survive each race, the ending of one race will direct you back to the beginning of the other. Thus, when you finish the speed race (if you finish; you can and do die surprisingly often), the book will tell you to start the rough road race. When you finish the rough road race, you go back to the beginning of the speed race. If you can avoid getting killed, theoretically you can keep playing forever, never reaching an ending. The title is therefore literal: the race forever. Get it? NYUK NYUK NYUK!

This gimmick, the thrill of driving race cars and the unique African scenery–which, surprisingly for an R.A. Montgomery book, never veers into crude stereotype territory–are the book’s main offerings. It’s not that interesting a CYOA adventure, but at least it hangs together pretty well, and some of the choices are interesting. R.A. avoids the tendency he often has to go absolutely off the rails into super outlandish territory. There are no aliens, secret societies dedicated to world peace, or bizarre criminal conspiracies. When R.A. is able to restrain himself, as he did with The Lost Jewels of Nabooti (which also took place primarily in Africa), the results can be pretty good.

This is illustrator Ralph Reese’s second effort in the CYOA series. He doesn’t go quite as hog wild as he did with House of Danger, but then again he doesn’t have sentient chimpanzees with psychic powers to draw! What’s interesting is his portrayal of “you.” You are almost never pictured, but when you are, you’re suited up head to toe in racing gear and helmet, and always shown from behind. The only exception is the illustration on p. 69, which shows you embracing Eduardo. Your gender is (predictably) indeterminate. This is a pretty interesting way to do it.

Another notable milestone: The Race Forever is the first CYOA book to use the logo of the hot air balloon on the cover. This became the emblem of the series, and is evidently based on book #3, By Balloon Across the Sahara, which was so useless a book that I’m not even going to junk up my blog reviewing it.

Overall, this book is a solid, if  not exceptional, entry in the series. It has the advantage of making use of the more esoteric and arcane capabilities of the interactive format. If you’re a fan of these books, it’s worth owning.

Grade: B

Next up: Richard Brightfield’s maiden voyage into the CYOA lagoon produces one of the series’ least likable books. Stay tuned!

3 Comments

  1. You’re killing me Sean! Please tell me you have the entire series ? The illustrations throughout the series are somewhat interesting too. Some of those front covers suck you in to before you have even read a word !

    • I don’t have the entire series. I own 72 of them (73 if you count my second copy of “Prisoner of the Ant People”). The originals are getting harder to find than they were even 10 years ago.

  2. Guest

    You said it, Robert. I love the original cover art for the first 60 or so titles. The replacement cover art isn’t as interesting.

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