A lot of us look back at the YA Choose Your Own Adventure books with much nostalgia. What kid wouldn’t love to call the shots in their very own fantasy story? Teaching us to accept consequences for our actions and showing us the myriad possibilities of free will, these books had a great impact on the developing imaginations of millions of kids. With Black Mirror's Bandersnatch giving us a dystopian, drug-addled version of the trope and rumors of a Choose Your Own Adventure movie, chances are, we have yet to see the end of the cultural impact of these stories.
Yet, there was an awful lot of not entirely age-appropriate stuff in those books — for instance, the copious number of violent deaths. From being rocketed down a chute into a crocodile’s mouth to suddenly being ripped right off a boat and devoured alive by a giant squid, you were allowed to choose an adventure, but that adventure was usually just a graphic, violent demise.
So in that spirit, we present Choose Your Own Demise, a commemoration of the many deaths we discovered while seeking adventure via the magic of reading. First up: the 1983 classic, Prisoner of the Ant People!
Prisoner of the Ant People features some exciting quotes on the first page from various 10-year-olds, but perhaps the most relevant of them all is from Cody Curran, who writes, “Warning: 99% chance of death. This book might make you cry.” Just to give you a general overview of the tone of this series, that line was considered enough of a selling point to be included on the very first page.
This plot of this book is loosey-goosey, so bear with me. We work for the Zondo Quest Group, which does science and exists mostly to thwart the Evil Power Master from “causing the disintegration of matter.” This seems to mean “destroys literally everything, for kicks.” Said Evil Power Master has allied with the Ant People, who are less like people and more just sometimes bipedal ants. You are forced to attempt to stop this from occurring by a very rude Rendoxoll, an alien (…? Robot…?) and your other rude friend, Flppto, a Martian who has a lot of great quotes such as, “You choose, O Great Human! Martians don’t appreciate choice, you know!” Wow, way to get on my good side with your praiseful words, Flppto. If you do choose (get it?) to read all of Fppto’s quotes as scathing sarcasm, it’s a much better book.
Right off the bat, you’re given the ability to either decline the mission, form a two-person team with Flppto, or all go together, but this supposed “choice” is only our first exercise in coming to understand that free will is a lie. I chose to politely decline the mission because it all sounded like some kind of drama with ants that I didn’t want any part of, but that just meant I got forced to go with the whole crew anyway. Because Rendoxoll did indeed start grinding my nerves right off the bat, I decided to flip back and choose to team-up with Flppto, leaving Rendoxoll at home.
My first terrible demise
In order to go into the ant world or whatever it is we’re doing, Flppto and I have to shrink down to a very small size. Ant-size, one presumes. We encounter one ant who is really stoked on praising the Ant Queen. Typical ants, always so fixated on their Queen. There’s a note left in a room by the Mid-Evil Power Master (the second in command to the Evil Power Master) that pretty much threatens to disintegrate Luzinia, the... ant? (… Princess?). To avoid all that, you must take one of four objects present and leave the room. Why he’s even bothering to give you a chance to escape your doom like that remains a mystery, although one supposes this is why he’s Mid-Evil and not just Evil.
Of the four objects, there is a sword, a rope, a magnifying glass, and a book with blank pages. Because of who I am as a person, I took a chance and picked up the blank book before merrily turning to leave the room with my friend Flppto.
“The empty book seemed full of promise,” the narrator explains, “but it is useless. Its blank pages seem to mock you. Without something to write with, you cannot use the book as a clue to tell others of your plight.”
Damn. Your. Logic.
My second terrible demise
That’s fine, we can do this all afternoon for all I care. My second choice, the magnifying glass, turns out to shoot powerful lasers. I bust right through a wall and take my beef straight to the Evil Power Master himself, which sounds amazing, but we can’t really know how it goes for us because the narrator just says, “Good luck!” and ends the story. The narrator is an analog for a cruel and uncaring god.
The third choice of weapon, rope. Well, it turns out the rope isn’t even a rope, it’s actually just a bunch of ants that devour you alive. WHAT?
We probably should have grabbed the sword from the beginning. The sword almost cuts our whole entire arm off by suddenly flying down a long corridor and just stabbing the Hell out of the Evil Power Master. Everything works out, and you live to eat Flaming Hot Cheetos in front of the TV another day.
So, well, I guess that’s the end of the book.
Third time’s a fail
God, fine, I’ll team up with Rendoxoll. There’s a weird inner monologue where we regard Flppto’s “nicely shaped head” and laugh inwardly about his outrageous claims to be able to “hear atoms clanging together.” That zany Flppto, describing his experience that I could never hope to understand. He’d better get ready to be completely mocked and dismissed by me, his only friend in all the cosmos.
There is a series of choices we can make where we ignore all of Rendoxoll’s suggestions and act entirely in our own self-interest, which sounds like the option that is the most my speed. It leads to us letting a random character named Logo die a terrible death within earshot (I don’t know him). After that, we go to spy on some ants. The ants warn us that humans are soon to perish, and we, a typical jerk, ask why they haven’t tried communicating with humanity before. The ant we’re carrying on a conversation with sighs with disgust and tells us that humans do not even understand how to listen. In fact, we’re barely even listening now because he’s literally warning us that we’re about to get imprisoned for life and we’re still talking about a team-up.
Or, as the narrator says, “maybe they’ll treat you like an equal, but maybe they won’t! Who knows?” Wow, I guess that really is the eternal question, isn’t it? Anyway, that counts as a death.
Exhausted. Doomed. Owned again by the ants.
There are many different horrifying ways to die even when we do listen to Rendoxoll’s terrible advice. One way, we slam shut a door and then just die alone in a room, which is full of ghosts. No explanation. It’s just full of ghosts. Another way, the ants carry us to their queen and she calls us “lesser beings” and tells them to send us to a slave colony. I get it, but humans absolutely can’t manage the amount of work ants can do so this plan is incredibly inefficient. You should probably just kill us, honestly. I don’t know if she knows how truly correct she is about that “lesser being” crack, but we’ll legit be dead in five days or less if you try to work us even a fraction as hard as you would work an ant, so you might as well save yourself the cost of shipping and handling.
No word on what Flppto was doing this whole time we were being owned by the ants beside being the worst sidekick ever and not using his incredible telepathic powers to, I don’t know, escape from the ant people?
Learning the errors of our ways
So, I’ll save Logo. I always like him, anyway. Well, it turns out Logo isn’t even a prisoner of the ants, he actually controls them via synth music. Rendoxoll makes about a million unnecessarily snarky comments, but we figure out this Logo guy has been in cahoots with the Evil Power Master all along, who everyone keeps talking about but who I have still yet to meet. Logo! How could you?
He goes running up to an orange control panel, and it starts glowing purple. He starts laughing maniacally. The sound effect of the disintegrator turning on is described thusly: MMM_MMM_MMM_MMM_MM. ZURCHHH. Sound it out. It’s worth it!
Logo is a complete jerk! He just disintegrates everyone for no reason. What’s worse, he yells, “Hooray for the Evil Power Master!” which are the greatest last words I have ever heard. He stole my life. He stole… the scene.
A good day… to cry
One thing I forgot about is that this book starts with the premise that we’re out looking for another group of explorers that went missing years before, and that plotline does not get resolved. Before we even shrank, we pretty much just assumed they were already dead, so hopefully that’s true because we did not look for them even a little bit.
In conclusion, I’m not really sure how to end this book without dying via ants, and I barely even got to hang out with the Evil Power Master, whose perspective becomes increasingly more relatable as the book goes along. I ignored Rendoxoll, I listened to Rendoxoll, I slammed the door on Rendoxoll, but no matter what I did I just couldn’t quit Rendoxoll. Which is interesting, because Rendoxoll really doesn’t do anything or add to the story in any way. He just says vaguely insulting things like “You are intelligent… for a human.” Flppto and Rendoxoll are both terrible friends. Also, I hate the Ant People.