hyperspace

Hyperspace is one of the great triumphs of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. It is the one that, above all others, pushes the boundaries of the interactive concept to their farthest limit, and it’s definitely the most “meta” of all the books. It’s also a fascinating, quirky and memorable adventure story in its own right. Thirty years after it came out, it remains perhaps one of the freshest and most timeless of the stories. It’s a winner all the way around!

Hyperspace by Edward Packard (illustrated by Anthony Kramer)

Published: June 1983

Number in the CYOA Series: 21

All the CYOA books begin with a “WARNING!!!!!” telling you that you can’t read the book from beginning to end. This one, however, contains no less than three warnings–first the usual one, then a second one, with Edward Packard’s signature, telling you to expect really odd things because Hyperspace is different even than other CYOA books. “What seems to be real may be only a story, and what seems to be a story may be real.” The third warning explains what “hyperspace” is: shorthand for some other plane of existence, where universes co-exist equally and even the laws of nature may be different.

This is all preliminary stuff, but right away I’m hooked. The book is here promising a journey beyond the usual parameters of a Choose Your Own Adventure book, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Now, the story! You have a new neighbor who’s just moved in. Professor Karl Zinka, who illustrator Anthony Kramer draws like a very typical “nutty professor” down to the Van Dyke beard, introduces himself to you. When you ask him what he does, he says “My work is hard to describe.” Instead of attempting, he gives you a book, titled (appropriately enough) Hyperspace.

Your first choice is whether to go home and read the book, or stay and talk to him. This is a very interesting choice: you can go into the book-within-a-book, or stay in the “outer” story. (Oh, you know the two will intersect eventually, right?) Even now Packard is establishing the structure of Hyperspace as sort of those Russian nesting dolls, or Chinese boxes.

The real meat of the story is this: Zinka has built a machine, called a hypolaser, that he says can penetrate hyperspace…for real. It looks like a Van Der Graff generator (is that what they’re called?) and has a red lever and a green lever. There are various choices centering around this. The Professor pulls the lever and vanishes; do you pull it too, or pull the other one? Basically the story fragments here, but the various threads all come back around.

If you read the book, you find the Hyperspace book-within-a-book is…you guessed it!…a Choose Your Own Adventure story. The story itself, which involves you flying through space dodging some flying saucers, isn’t that important. What’s important is the metafictional concept: you’re reading an interactive book, in which you choose to read another interactive book. If you turn to the right page suddenly your reading of the book is interrupted by the Professor calling you and saying that something has gone terribly wrong with his hypolaser. Do you go rescue him, or do you call the police?

What’s great about Hyperspace is the various tangents it spins off into with almost geometrical precision. The tangents, though, often converge, which is what’s cool about it. In one plot you meet an alternate “you” from an alternate universe; but you may have crossed universes, so you’re not sure who’s indigenous to this universe or not. In another plot, Zinka finds that hyperspace causes levitation, and he gives you a bottle of the stuff. Do you open it? All the choices here are really interesting and they take a lot of thought to figure out.

Far and away the best plot, though–and one of the high points of the entire series–is when Hyperspace becomes literally self-referential. In one alternate universe you meet Dr. Nera Vivaldi, the best recurring character in the series (you saw her in The Third Planet From Altair and Survival at Sea), and she is aware that she’s a fictional character in an interactive book. Then you get to meet the author of the book-within-a-book-within-a-book, Edward Packard himself!

The metafictional possibilities here are legion. Is this all just happening in your head? Is it happening in Packard’s head? Does reality depend on which universe you happen to be in at the time? Hyperspace toys with all of these concepts, but it never breaks stride. All throughout it’s fast-paced, interesting and above all fun.

The metafictional concept is really awesome. With as conservative as these books sometimes play it–to the point of not fully using, on some occasions, the interactive nature of the books to their full extent–I’m surprised Mr. Packard decided to go there. Surprised, but delighted.

As a kid this book fired my imagination like almost nothing else. If you’ve read any of my Giamotti books, you know they’re all about alternate universes, what is real and what isn’t, fictional characters who are aware they’re fictional, and the layering of realities on top of each other like Chinese boxes. Hyperspace is one of the direct inspirations for these ideas. For that reason alone, it’s one of my most cherished books.

And it’s fun! It’s just plain fun. You can tell this book was probably a blast to write (and to illustrate). It has a light-hearted vibe to it that adds levity to what could be a confusing and daunting subject. It’s boldly daring in execution, but never veers into outlandishness the way, say, House of Danger does. For $1.95 (that was the cover price back in 1983), you definitely get a lot for your money.

I can’t think of anything I dislike about this book. It is a triumph. It’s right up there with The Third Planet From Altair. It’s books like these that make you glad to be a kid–or an adult reliving some of the favorite moments of childhood.

Hyperspace rules. Pure and simple.

Grade: A plus

Next up: get ready to journey into the heart of darkness with R.A. Montgomery as you get lost on the Amazon.