This is the first Choose Your Own Adventure book review I’ve done since November. My apologies for the long lapse! I’m hoping to get back into the series which has been a staple on this blog for a long time. I just wish that my return to form could have been with a better entry in the series. Despite its promise, War With The Evil Power Master, in a word, sucks.

War With The Evil Power Master by R.A. Montgomery (illustrated by Paul Abrams)

Published: October 1984

Number in the CYOA Series: 37

The first time you look at this book you know what you’re in for. It’s obviously going to be a space adventure, what with rocket ships zooming in a multitude of directions and a cover illustration that involves a ray-gun battle with aliens. The central element of both the title and the cover illustration, however, is the villain. As drawn here the Evil Power Master looks a little like a gene splice between Bela Lugosi in the 1930s Dracula, Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon and the Count from Sesame Street. You obviously know this is going to be a villiain-centric adventure.

The problem with War With The Evil Power Master, then, is pretty easy to diagnose: the villain, around whom the entire story revolves, is a thudding disappointment. Not only is the EPM (I’ll coin that acronym to avoid having to spell it out every time) a limp, two-dimensional and extremely colorless adversary, I’ll go so far as to say he is the worst CYOA villain since the infamous Dr. Ptah in Secret of the Pyramids. He’s just not interesting at all. The EPM speaks IN BOOMING CAPITALS EVERYWHERE HE IS QUOTED, MUCH LIKE THE U-TY IN INSIDE UFO-54-40, but capital quotations do not an ominous villain make. And in a book centered totally around war with the villain, this makes a really forgettable book.

War With The EPM seems to be set sometime in the distant future where Earth is part of a galactic federation containing thousands of inhabited planets. “You” are the administrator of the Lacoonian System Rapid Force, whose main purpose appears to be to run around the universe chasing the EPM. Your assistant and ally is a Martian named Flppto. Yes, that’s right, Flppto. The supporting character’s name resembles the sound your butt makes when you sit down heavily in a vinyl-upholstered recliner. Not an auspicious beginning.

Anyway, on page one, you hand Flppto an urgent message that just announces the EPM has destroyed planets Haemog and Arouth. (Those names sound like Lord of the Rings characters, particularly dwarves. “I am Haemog, son of Gimli!” Anyway, I digress). Your first choice is whether to rush to the sector where the EPM did his last dastardly deed–as if he’s going to be hanging around there waiting for you to catch him–or call a meeting of the galactic congress to plot a response. All right; not bad for openers.

The exposition is very short, which is typical for a CYOA book, but here it really hurts the story. R.A. Montgomery gives us a bare half a paragraph explaining who the EPM is and what he wants. Evidently he’s upset that his planet didn’t get included into the Lacoonian System, so in true sore loser fashion he’s going around trying to kill everybody. The EPM has shape-shifting abilities and can appear as anything (or anyone). It’s not really clear what he is; Montgomery describes him as a “negative life force.”

There is room for potential here. An omnipotent enemy that can disguise itself as anything? Okay, that’s a great idea. It’s a shame that it’s almost totally wasted. The adventure is limp and disjointed. You rush from this planet to that one, hoping to find the EPM’s secret base. The choices are standard issue: do you take this ship or that one, do you take Flppto with you or some robot, do you decide to do X or is X too dangerous, etc., etc. As with the last CYOA book I reviewed negatively, Vampire Express, the reader has very little investment in any particular choice because we’re never shown what the stakes are. We have to catch the EPM because, well, he’s eeeeeevil! Okay…but if he’s sore about not joining Lacoonia or whatever it’s called, what skin is it off the reader’s nose?

Another problem is that the space elements are very tired. R.A. Montgomery mostly rehashes well-worn ideas from all manner of previous sci-fi adventures. Flppto the Martian, who is analytical and unemotional, is obviously modeled after Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock. The device of the “teletransporter” is so similar to the Star Trek transporter that you just wait for a character to say “Beam me up, Scotty.” There are some cold Star Wars leftovers, and some retreads of previous space-themed CYOA books. But the world R.A. Montgomery creates is not compelling, much less convincing. I found myself not giving a damn whether the EPM blew up Lacoonia, or even wishing openly he would so something interesting would happen. As it is, the EPM just isn’t very interesting. No personality, no danger, no quirks. He’s about as exciting as a birthday party clown, and not nearly as menacing.

One good element is the illustrations, by Paul Abrams, which you will notice instantly are far more comic-booky than any other CYOA book in the series so far. In fact Paul Abrams was trained as a comics illustrator. In the 1990s he went on to draw for Lightning Comics which put out the Bloodfire series. His drawings here are kinetic and full of action, as much as can be expected from a book where the action described is strangely muted.

Aside from the illustrations, this one is just phoned in. It’s not worth your time.

Grade: D plus

Next up: the first of the Jay Leibold books, Sabotage, takes us to war-torn Europe in World War II.