Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Choose your own scares with Bus Station: Unbound by Jenn Ashworth and Richard Hirst

Bus Station Unbound by Jenn Ashworth and Richard Hirst Bus Station: Unbound (23 February 2015) by Jenn Ashworth and Richard Hirst

This isn't really a review. To what extent can you actually review a 'choose your own adventure' book anyway? The nature of Bus Station: Unbound puts me in a curious position: I've read the book four times, but I can't tell you how it ends. Not because I wasn't paying attention or because I don't want to spoil it, but because each time, the ending was different. Not just the ending: almost everything was different, other than the first few pages. The plot is dependent on the options you select, and the chain of possibilities in Bus Station: Unbound is a long and labyrinthine one.

Here's what I can tell you. The setting is Preston bus station, an imposing brutalist building that, in the hands of the authors, becomes a deeply sinister - and possibly inescapable - place. The protagonist (you) is a young woman who's returned to Preston after a period of time away, a failed attempt at escape, and is estranged from her family; but her (your) character is as enigmatic and slippery as the story itself. For example, there are frequent references to a tragedy that occurred in the town some years ago, claiming the lives of a group of children that included the protagonist's brother - but even after several reads through, I'm still not sure of the circumstances surrounding this. This sort of mystery will keep you wanting to go back to the book to try and uncover more details and answers.

While hints of weirdness (though not necessarily explicit horror) pervade the unpredictable atmosphere, the nature of the book means it's hard to say much else. Similarly, it isn't really possible to give away any spoilers unless I tell you exactly which choices I made at every turn - but just in case, I won't tell you about the endings I got on each try. What I will say is that the length of the story can vary from a short story to a long novella depending on your choices. And a hint, one the book itself actually gives you at certain points: 'educating yourself' is a safer way to negotiate this strange world than simply trying to explore.

Bus Station: Unbound is available to read online here. It's actually free to access, but the publisher asks that you make a donation through PayPal. As much as I love getting things for free, I think this is fair enough given the effort that must have been involved in actually, practically making it work - the publishers have said on Twitter that it has something close to 3 million possible permutations (!!!) (I went with £4, around the price it was originally slated to retail for on Kindle, which has proved undoable due to the complexity of the interlinked setup.)

If you like weird fiction, ghost stories and subtle horror, independent publishing collective Curious Tales should definitely be on your radar. This innovative, interactive novel is the second thing I've read from them - following the ghost story collection Poor Souls' Light - and I found it just as unique and interesting. It definitely offers something quite different from your usual reading experience.

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  1. It's basically a labyrinthine gothic horror set in an iconic modernist masterpiece

  2. This sounds brilliant - I've never heard of it before. You've convinced me to click through and pay up the £4 straight away!