Life’s Lottery by Kim Newman


Boot Boys of the Wolf ReichThis book is a little different from my usual review books. It’s an adults’ Choose Your Own Adventure book! I really enjoyed reading these as a kid and, of course, spent a good deal of time cheating and remaking choices for a better outcome. Those were mostly sci-fi based and not grounded in reality. For those not familiar with the concept, you’re essentially presented with two options, if you choose option A, turn to section 29 , if you choose  option B, turn to section 94 – that kind of thing.

You are Keith Marion, born in England, and pretty much from then on you’re presented with choice after choice which direct the outcomes of your life. It is a fascinating experience as you go through the book, with seemingly minor decisions having large repercussions. You see the ripples your decisions make throughout the rest of your life. When you do make what appears to be a bad decision, it is genuinely gutting, and as you read, you feel the regret we all feel about such mistakes in real life. In some ways it’s sort of like starring in your own reality TV show. It’s so well written that during events like rough break ups, you really feel it. Emotions triggered by real life experiences and your own personal history come to the surface. Kim Newman’s writing style is intelligent and witty, and it’s impossible not to get drawn in. The mundane is made interesting as you live somebody else’s life for them. Then there are the other occasions where no matter what decision you make, you end up on the same path – fate laid out on the page. Unavoidable.

The characters you meet in the book are well-developed, from life long adversary Robert Hackwith, to other classmates from school and your younger brother, James. Of course, your character is largely governed by your decisions. Time is measured from childhood in the 60s through the historic events, politics and social movements that you live through, and entertainingly, who the current lead actor in Doctor Who happens to be. Growing up in England myself through some of those decades meant that the references resonated with me and conjured nostalgic images, especially the end of the Thatcher era and the Poll Tax riots. However, those readers who have not grown up in England won’t find that that detracts from the story. The author has included a handy annotated glossary in the back of the book to explain the references that might not be clear to a U.S. audience.

Due to the nature of the book, it really stands up to repeated readings as you explore where different options might take you. Therefore, a plot synopsis isn’t really applicable for this book, but there are twists – huge twists – that I won’t spoil. In my initial reading I ended up as a murderer who got away with it, but I never found happiness. There really isn’t much in the way of horror in this book, although there is plenty of death and some murder, with the worst fates awaiting those who did the worst at life’s lottery. This is a fun read that is a much different reading experience from the norm. I recommend it.



Book Cover Blurb:

A role-playing novel that reveals how small decisions can have monumental consequences. If you choose the right possibilities you may live a long happy life, or be immensely rich, or powerful, or win the lottery. If you make other choices you may become a murderer, die young, make every mistake possible, or make no impression on life at all. The choice is yours.