on 22 November 2010
I stumbled upon Life's Lottery while trying to track down a 'choose your own adventure' book, and this seemed like an interesting one.
The stories are quite varied, and through your decisions (even ones that seem inconspicuous) you decide where your character will go, how he will act and treat others. The more you read, the more invested you become in the characters. Because you can explore multiple storylines, different aspects of characters manifest every time. The side character whose name you can barely remember can be the most important person to you the next time you read.
Although Keith Marion ends up in many situations that excessive or a bit violent, the different paces afforded by different storylines means that there's always something for the reader to enjoy, whether they're picking the choices they themselves would pick, trying out things they wouldn't do in real life, or reading everything to learn as much about the story as possible.
on 11 July 2007
it's always gratifying when you see a book by an author as compelling as kim - who nonetheless remains a cultish figure - for sale dirt cheap at one of your ten a penny, one in every feckin shopping centre bookstores. so much so that i was compelled to buy my girlfriend a copy, which she has since lent to a friend of hers. even more gratifying is that they really enjoy it and have had conversations about what's happened to them. at the same time though it can be somewhat disconcerting; try walking into someone's house to see them telling other people what disturbing event has just happened to them when you've no idea before if they're talking about fantasy, or reality.
anyway being a fan of mr newman's work and a devotee of roleplaying books (fighting fantasy, lone wolf) in my formative years i knew more or less what to expect. you, the reader, are keith marion. you make choices for him and live (or, more often than not, die) accordingly. a small incident can have a dramatic effect while something in theory more life altering proves to be anything but. such is life i guess. since this is kim newman a mundane existance is in most cases off teh cards (though the phrase 'and so on' means your life follows a certain pattern indicated by what's just been described, be it happy or otherwise). instead incest, murder, rape, shadowy business practices, lust and revenge loom large. not only this but several characters from other newman novels or short stories make brief (or otherwise) appearances, the most obvious being shadowy business/ media mogul/ entity derek leech and rob 'monster' hackwill. all superbly written of course
maybe it's because i'm used to wondering where the road not travels leads but assuming i get to heaven (and assuming too it exists) something i want to do is see what would have happened in my life if i'd done different. or maybe i'll be so happy the path not chosen won't matter. or maybe it's only a novel and it hasn't had any effect on me...
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 9 July 2003
I tell you what makes this book unique. In a normal novel, you get to know characters as you make your way through the story. But in Life's Lottery, you only really get to know the characters when you've read through every possible branch of the decision tree and can see all the different ways they would develop if different things happened in their lives.
It means that this isn't really a book to dip into occasionally while on the loo - you'd be missing out on so much that way. After a few reads through to different endings you come to the conclusion that you need to follow through every possible thread, however sad that sounds.
It also makes me wonder how well I know my friends. I've only seen them live the one life in this universe. I haven't seen what they would make of their lives had things turned out differently.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 July 2003
A fantastically exciting book/concept, as soon as you think you know what it is Life's Lottery shows another side.
How many novels start with a contemplation of choice & chance on the first page, and potentially kill you twice on the second? Not enough, because it's gripping stuff. It may start strongly, but, amazingly, it improves as the story(s) develop and the genres shift widely.
The density of plot lines means that absorbing the full picture will take several weeks (unless it keeps you up all night every night as it did me).
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 17 May 2002
This book depressed and frightened me like no other, I felt it was judging my own life, and the judgement was not good.
Having read many of the paths, I don't really think the book is a guide to life, it often contradicts itself. Strive for success and you often end up a burnt out predator, don't bother trying and you become a lonely, uninvolved zombie. Money doesn't lead to happiness, neither does poverty. The book seems to condemn the ordinary lives most of us lead, but the extraordinary ones you encounter are usually filled with horror. I find the narrative often cold rather than compassionate, uncertain about what happiness is, accurate in its portrayals of misery.
This book isn't usually about normal life or the ordinary choices we make at all, it features lots of genre work from horror, detective stories and science fiction, but the book is most compelling and disturbing when commenting on society.
Many of the choices one makes seem to stretch into unlikely scenarios. In one situation, after a girl smashes a glass on your head, if you have the temerity to fight back you eventually become a murderer or rapist of women! In another passage, you have the opportunity to take advantage of a drunken girl. If you do the right thing, it leads to a life of happiness and success! There are big, big gaps, and the book has to rely on your choices effecting your longer life, when it can be argued that our life is full of infinite tiny choices, we can always change our minds, we can always change our behaviour, but the book seems to suggest that certain (fairly minor) actions set you on a path for life, which I disagree with.
While I'm sure Newman does mean some of what he says about life in this book, it's important to remember the actual narrator is Derek Leech, the demonic character from The Quorum, and the book is riddled with horror and fear. If Newman really means what he writes in Life's Lottery, I'd perhaps suggest to him that sometimes a life is a life, our ordinary lives are always worth living, the tiniest, even dullest things hold a universe of infinite joy. Your life doesn't have to play out like a movie to be worthwhile. We can make mistaks and make amends, we can start afresh.
Life's Lottery mad me face up to my own life, and painted a rather unpleasant picture. In some ways I am grateful, but in other ways it doesn't pay to focus on the negative, like Life's Lottery seems to. It is certainly a book that can bring out the self-doubt and dissatisfaction you may have with your own life, so use it carefully. It is also quite a strange book, morally. Sometimes when you do the right thing, the path condemns you for taking the easy, safe route, yet if you behave in an evil manner, you often end up evil. Strangely neutral when you commit some crimes, the narrative becomes extremely judgemental for other indiscressions. Consistency isn't a strong point of the narrative, that's for sure....
on 25 October 2001
You are Keith Marion as life starts. Every few pages you must make a choice. At this point the story splits as you're referred to new chapters depending on which you've chosen.
This style of book is generally applied to sci-fi/ fantasy games /stories but what makes this book so good is that the choices are ones that we've all faced:
From schooldays, do you join a gang? Who do you ask out?
In later life, do you commit fraud? Will you try and get away with murder?
Yes, you have faced all these options, it just depends whether you choose them or not. The fun is in choosing one route and then comparing this route to alternatives that can lead to different and unexpected outcomes.
The writing is witty and childhood sections with TV and game references induce nostalgia. Certain routes lead into different genres: sci-fi /horror /whodunit styles and bleaker outcomes outnumber happy endings. But, hey, that's life and it wouldn't be so interesting otherwise.
Generally storylines continue until you die (Go To 0) or reach some happy/sad equilibrium (And So On).
The book works really well at this level but what adds further depth is a darker undercurrent:
The reality or validity of storylines is questioned. A few times its possible to loop back or hop over into different alternatives. Keith muses about "what might have happened if" and when stressed, or on drugs, or in dreams etc, you sometimes glimpse beyond the fabric of that particular storyline to a nightmare reality you're desperate to avoid.
Lurking in amongst the referenced chapters, are those that you won't reach by following the choices in the main text. This is a further story offering some explanation -whether you search to find these fragments is your own choice.
This is a very good book and given that early stages seem autobiographical I was only disappointed not to find a later scenario where Keith has a choice about whether or not to write a role playing book... and so on.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 December 2000
I found this book incredibly moving, but perhaps that's because I'm from Bridgwater - the town which inspired the Sedgwater of the book - and so every page had a special resonance for me. Anyone who wants to understand growing up in a small town in the West Country should read this. A little self-indulgent, perhaps, but excellent nonetheless.