The Cave of Time, the very first "official" Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) book written by Edward Packard, published way back in the summer of 1979.
Just take a look at it! It's beautiful!
The artwork on the cover is amazing. If I were still a young lad looking for cool fantasy books in the library or bookshop, I would definitely be interested in this one. There's some majestic wizard looking dude on the cover holding a fancy sword. There's a freakin' T-Rex stomping around with a dark castle in the distance. There's a knights horse running frantically away from a hideous sea beast that looks like it's about to get a spear in the eye from some oriental soldier. This would've blown my mind as a kid. In fact most of the CYOA covers have crazy montages going on.
What I really like about the artwork however, is the consistency. What I mean by this is, take a look at the latest Fighting Fantasy offering "The Gates of Death". While I wasn't a fan of the hideous silver cover anyway, the small piece of artwork we could see looked pretty cool. When you start playing through the book however, you notice that the artwork is in a completely different visual style. With The Cave of Time, it's similar throughout the entire book. It never feels like a mish mash of different artists and writers that have compiled this book together. I know it may seem like a small gripe, but it really does keeps you immersed.
There's something really mythical and legendary about The Cave of Time. It's just a book but at the same time it means so much more. Without these pages we would not have the gamebooks we love and know today. It's almost the holy grail of interactive fiction, like at the end of Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade when he finds that tatty old wooden goblet (and then that nazi dude drinks from the wrong cup and ages horribly).
But this is no tatty goblet, this is one of the finest pieces of interactive fiction I've ever had the pleasure of reading! I absolutely loved every page, so much so that I read through the book about 50 times in total trying to get each ending. (I'm serious too!) It's by no means a lengthy book, cracking in at 115 pages you could find an ending in a few minutes. The real fun comes from backtracking and taking different paths.
I won't ruin the story for anyone but there are a load of references to famous historical people and events, which can feel a bit like a forced history lesson at times, but its rather minor and doesn't really detract away from the feel of the book. My favorite thing is the multiple "Good" endings you can find. All too often with gamebooks you read pages and paragraphs about your impending doom, but The Cave of Time has a nice balance of gruesome and unfair deaths, while allowing you to accomplish some quite interesting conclusions.
For anyone who has not played a CYOA book before, there is no game engine as such. You don't track an inventory and you never really have much more than a couple of choices at the end of each paragraph. No dice are needed, so this makes for a great gamebook adventure to have on the go, perfect for a long bus or train ride where rolling dice and updating character sheets is not ideal.
You do have some combat encounters but they are more along the lines of "Do you fight or flee". There's no statistics for the enemies, its just pure luck as to whether or not you make the right choice.
Some people write off CYOA books as they don't have that Fighting Fantasy/Solo RPG feel to them, I have to agree in a sense, I do prefer gamebooks with an engine behind them and some feel of randomness, I do have a special place in my heart for these gamebook-lite experiences. Just as you have different types of videogames, you can have different types of gamebooks living side by side. My collection is full of all sorts of gamebooks and Solo-RPGs, and CYOA books are more than welcome there!
I'd highly recommend The Cave of Time to anyone, literally anyone who's interested in fantasy or fiction in any shape or form. This could be the gateway drug to more hardcore gaming experiences like DnD or the Lone Wolf / Fighting Fantasy gamebook style.
Just don't upset the old man if you find him!!
Choose Your Own Adventure - #1 The Cave of Time