Snowbooks, £40.00, ISBN 978-1-909679-38-2
Popular Culture, 2014
Jonathan Green, whose gamebooks were regularly trashed by yours truly, pieced together You are the Hero as a labor of love. He claims in the introduction that the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks changed his life and inspired him to write, which is actually frightening considering the general quality of those gamebooks compared to some of the better ones out there. With this being the modern age, though, it was naturally up to the general people out there to fund the production of this book. I didn’t contribute to the Kickstarter fund, so I ended up paying a cheaper price – yes, really – for this hardcover edition. I know, I’m such a cheapskate.
Anyway, You are the Hero is, as its subtitle says, a history of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, going back all the way to the inception of the line to the constant revival efforts that seem to take place every few years. I happened to chance upon a radio interview with Ian Livingstone, who created the line along with Steve Jackson, so much of the information here is old news to me, but it is a fascinating read. Mr Livingstone and Mr Jackson were both tabletop gamers who helped to bring Gary Gygax’s early version of the Dungeons & Dragons game into the UK, and along the way, they came up with role-playing gamebooks that incorporated dice-rolling and inventory keeping into the usual Choose Your Own Adventure system of interactive books of those days. Spicing up the walls of text are images of various original letters, notes, and sketches courtesy of their owners.
The book also covers the illustrators, the spin-offs, and even the relevance of gamebooks in the days of interactive apps. However, the spotlight is firmly on the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, with anecdotes and insights by the various contributors and illustrators giving a nice behind-the-scenes look into those gamebooks. Not to be snotty or anything, but many of the behind-the-scenes chatter are far more interesting than the gamebooks themselves! For someone like me, You are the Hero offers the added bonus of spreading good nostalgic vibes as I turn the pages. Yes, most of those gamebooks are pretty lackluster, but I had plenty of fun nonetheless playing them when they were big back in the 1980s, and reading this book brings back some fond memories. Oh, those were the days. I also realize that there are still many gamebooks – especially the spin-offs – that I never got my hands on, ugh. Oh well, maybe one day, if I get lucky in some used bookstore.
If there is one reason to buy this book, however, it is the illustrations. So many of the gorgeous artwork, colored as well as black and white, are collected here, which is excellent considering how some of them first appeared in gamebooks that have since long gone out of print. This book is a feast for the eyes because of these illustrations and artworks, although it’s a shame that the pubic hair monsters from Forest of Doom are conspicuously absent here.
Yes, this book is not cheap, but it’s not that overpriced either. At least, I feel that it is worth every penny. On the other hand, if you have no clue what I have been babbling about in the past few paragraphs, then the topic of this book is probably not something you’d be interested in. For the handful of gamebook enthusiasts out there, though, You are the Hero may just be the perfect passport for a lovely nostalgic trip into a beloved era in the past.