The book's opening is actually pretty long. Which makes sense, given that this is not ghostly amusement part. No, this is 1000x worse. It's...a family vacation. To New York. To visit a natural history museum! THE HORROR! So think might not exactly seem like the traditional setting for a horror story, but believe me, the prospect of being stuck with your little brother for any amount of time is terrifying. His catchphrase is "You're not the boss of me" and his goal in life is to make you miserable. You are responsible for his safety, though, so of course the first thing that happens is he runs off. You follow, find a door that's labeled DO NOT OPEN but hey, it's already open, so what's the harm in going inside? Well, if you're allergic to time science, it could be deadly! Because inside Dr. Peebles, time scientist, is conducting cutting edge work on time travel. And he just so happens to be waiting for his twelve-year-old test subject to arrive. And hey, you're twelve. Would you like to travel time? It's 100% safe. The book does not allow you to say no. It's the first non-choice and literally tells you that you must trust Dr. Peebles and his time machine (for whatever reason built in a museum) with your life. So you agree and...your brother runs into the room and directly into the screaming electric madness of TIME. No problem, right Dr. Peebles?
Well....it turns out that there's a reason why Dr. Peebles is doing science in a history museum. He kinda sucks at his job. There's no way to tell where your brother went. And, what's more (and despite having a fucking TIME MACHINE WATCH strapped to your wrist), if you don't retrieve your brother in two hours he will DIE!!! Somehow. Dr. Peebles isn't really sure. Weren't you supposed to be time traveling? Run along now and make Dr. Peebles proud.
So most time machines have some sort of control about where you go in the entirety of time. Dr. Peebles device? Not so much. It can go forward or backward but it also doesn't work very well. The book if broken down into four sections. First there's the choice of going forward or backward in time. Then, each of those is broken down again. I started with the past, because I hoped the future would be more awesome. Apparently the book anticipated that most people would rather see the future than the past, too, because the past paths are much less robust than the future paths. The past is broken down into 2 main themes—dinosaurs and knights. Which, hey, win-win, right? Sexy knights! Sexy dinosaurs! The past seems amazing!
Only the dinosaur branch is the shortest branch in the book and the least satisfying. A T-Rex shows up within thirty seconds of appearing in this past. I really want to know how everyone in every single time travel story ever that involves dinosaurs drops right into the specific range of a T-Rex. Like, they're alpha predators, so shouldn't they be...rare? But whatever, excitement! You're getting chased by a T-Rex and...your brother is sinking in quick sand. You try to save him and he knocks your fucking time watch into the quicksand. Smooth. You can choose to retrieve it or run away (sadly with your brother). And here is where this branch just fails in every regard. If you try to get your watch back, your only way out, the T-Rex...doesn't even eat you. It burps you to death, so that you fall into the quick sand and suffocate. Seriously, what the fuck?! The least the book could do with a FUCKING T-REX is have it eat you is some properly gory way, maybe burping afterward, expelling a shoe or something in comic fashion. But no.
And let me pause here to gripe a bit about something in this book. Yes, it is for children. But so many of the endings try way too hard not to be graphic. You get eaten by alligators at least twice and are frammilized no less than three times but the book refuses to give the details. It doesn't even tell you what frammilizing means! So one might read this and think lame, this is like PG tops. EXCEPT WHEN YOU EXPLOSIVELY DECOMPRESS BECAUSE THEN YOUR GUTS ARE SPREAD ACROSS AN ENTIRE ROOM! So to say the book is a bit uneven when it comes to its deaths would be something of an understatement. The T-Rex is criminally pathetic and in general the book implies you die in many awesome ways but only ever lets you see it when it's literally the most bloody of all the scenarios.
But back to the T-Rex. You run, you escape, and you circle back around to try and get your time watch. And at this point the book just fucking gives up. Maybe this branch was written last and cut for time considerations (or maybe it was actually super violent and got censored or something) because faced with the loss of your time watch a nearby volcano erupts, spewing a giant rock that doesn't crush you to death but lands in the quick sand and jettisons your time watch (miraculously undamaged) through the air to land at your feet. Yeah. Sure. Whatever. And then the dinosaur branch JUST FUCKING ENDS. Wanted to see ANY DINOSAUR OTHER THAN A T-REX? GO WATCH JURASSIC PARK! Otherwise, content yourself to being shunted back to a different path.
The knight branch is a bit more interesting but the book thwarts your every attempt to make out with any of the hot knights. They apparently would rather jump into alligator-filled motes than have a little fun under the apple trees. Fine. Cool. The progress through this branch is full of ridiculousness, though. First, there is a lizard named Wizard who is owned by a wizard named...you know, the book never really says. Gary? He's got Goosebumps trivia for everyone to enjoy. So maybe he is the great wizard Alex Trebek? In any case, there's also an evil lion who manages to tie your brother up in less than a minute and then grabs you because LIONS HAVE HANDS IN THE PAST!!! I am so glad that they somehow un-evolved hands because lions with hands are nothing I want to share a planet with. There would be no place safe and no safe place to hide. After foiling said lion, though, you finally catch up to your brother only to find that...he's been made prince on account of having been adopted by a not-at-all-sketchy king. And your brother, little shit that he is, immediately orders you boiled to death in oil. FFS.
There's really no "good" ending in any of the past portions of the book. I only mean "good" as in "you succeed in your mission and return to the present with your annoying brother and normalcy is restored. Usual time travel rules. The knight path does have two of the best endings of the book, though. In one, you simply leave your brother in the past to die because HE TRIED TO HAVE YOU BOILED TO DEATH IN OIL. So yeah, fuck that kid. In the other EVEN BETTER ending, you end up becoming king and just...decide to stay in the past. And instead of giving your brother the time machine to return, you just have him taken away. To die. Because time travel is weird. But fuck it LONG LIVE THE KING!!!
Mostly the past exists to eventually push you into the future, though. And in the future, like the past, there are two branches. The first is...one day in the future, where you find you and the rest of your family, including your little brother, walking down the street and then witness them get hit by a truck. Pause there. You witness yourself and your entire family get run down by a truck. And you barely blink an eye. You just decide to go back in time to stop them or the truck from being in that intersection at that particular moment. What follows is...well, it's just boring. They cut out dinosaurs so that you could run to a fucking truck company to try and distract a driver so that he won't future murder your family? Like, how are you and your brother even in this future? Doesn't that mean you've already survived this and have the knowledge about the truck? What the fuck is this book even trying to do with this? I have no idea but I guess there are some actual endings in this branch that allow you to restore the status quo. It's weird and unsatisfying but whatever, onto the future where ROBOTS ARE IDIOTS BUT RULE THE WORLD!!!
So yeah, the last and most elaborate of the branches is the future where robots are in control and you are immediately captured and sentenced because you're a human. It's...a weird vision of the future, mostly because the robots don't seem to be good at anything. They...just sort of move around inventing words and fucking with humans. Also learning valuable life lessons at zoos about not pointing at the exhibits because they have feelings too. Or...something like that. To be honest, most of it's pretty meh until you meet Jarmal, leader of THE RESISTANCE! You'd figure that resisting robots who are constantly outsmarted by a twelve-year-old would be easy, AND YOU'RE RIGHT! You are seduced into the resistance by Jarmal and together you work to take down the robots because Jarmal apparently sent your brother somewhere for "safety reasons" that I assume are just that Jarmal would have killed him if he had to deal with him any more. Readers, I want to run away with Jarmal.
Anyway, you dramatically destroy the robots power plant and then it's off to fun and sun with Jarmal...except that the book won't let you stay. Despite the fact that this is a future you helped to save, and despite that Jarmal is everything you ever wanted, you have to go and rescue your brother, which means going to a space station full of killer hydroponic plants (why?!) and explosive decompression (which is not how that works at all but oh well I guess?). After a teary farewell, it's rockets to space to navigate yet more idiot robots. Oh, and trying to get some helpful hints from Dr. Peebles (hint: THAT IS NEVER A GOOD IDEA). And, of course, buried in the miles of death and defeat is that one ending that rings to me as the most "true," where you return with your brother back to the present.
And okay CONSPIRACY TIME! I say that the far-future option of the story is the "right" ending, but the more I think about it the more I believe that unless you go through the branch one day in the future, any "good" ending will last all of one day, when you (fresh off your time adventures) and your family (mostly ignorant of what the fuck just happened) will be walking across a street and run down by a truck. Which means that even if you save the future from evil robots, chances are that you'll just end up dead the very next day when you become an unfortunate victim of inattentive driving. The only way to avoid this is to have gone through the MOST BORING OF ALL PATHS in the book in order to prevent this from happening. It's the only way that makes sense, given that you and your brother are both killed by that truck. It means you've already saved him from time only to die the next day, because what Dr. Peebles doesn't tell you is that time is cruel and fucking around with it alerts Death that you need to be dealt with (Final Destination style). So...good luck with that, I guess.
But yeah, there you have it. Except now let's break it down WITH SCIENCE (by which I mean, with ratings).
On the "Would I write fanfiction scale of greatness": 4/5 (yes, yes I would. Because, you see, the ending that you truly deserve is not to live the rest of your life with your terrible younger brother OR to die in a truck accident in one day. It's to be with Jarmal and help humanity rebuild in the wake of robot rule. Which means that when you're on the space station using their see-through-time device to communicate with Dr. Peebles, you accidentally see that you're going to die when you get back to your time. And...you get an idea. Instead of working to stop that future from happening, you see it as a sign. That restoring the status quo is stupid. Instead, you're going to get back to the past and lock Dr. Peebles in a closet or something and take his Time Watch with you. And when the truck is barrelling down on you and your family, you'll just slip away into the future, to Jarmal. No time paradox, because the world of the "present" thinks you're dead. Just a bright future with Jarmal, with the best The End imaginable.)
On the "Is this actually good scale of more trying to be objective": 2/5 (It has a time scientist named Dr. Peebles. Who works in a museum. Who uses children in his experiments. It also teases dinosaurs only to pull them away after just a taste. This is not a very coherent story, and it's certainly not a horror story. It's a time travel story, which is weird and rather fun at times but makes your younger brother the most annoying fuck and in so doing makes your sole motivation for saving him not wanting to get blamed for his death. When seriously, what parent would blame you and not DR. PEEBLES, who didn't lock his door and allowed a small child to get lost in the time stream and is probably as much a scientist as Dr, Phil. It's just...you never even want to save him. He never redeems himself. He's just awful. And as such the book really fails when it comes to stakes.)
On the "Yeah but this is Goosebumps scale of relative wonderment": 2/5 (Again, it falls down pretty hard when it comes to the horror expected of the series, and it also puts way to much focus on the boring branches. It's not the worst of the books, certainly, but it doesn't really live up to the first of the Give Yourself Goosebumps books, which fit very well into the series as a whole. Here everything seems a bit forced. It's an excuse to do a wilder time travel story, which the series never really did, but again, that's not exactly the best of things. Still, it doesn't shy away from weird, and the knight and robot-future branches are pretty fun, so it's not the worst thing out there.)
Okay, that's all for now. For patrons, check back in early next month for the next regular installment, featuring Goosebumps #6: LET'S GET INVISIBLE. For everyone else, thank you so much for stopping in. If you liked what you read, please consider becoming a patron. If you just want more free stuff, keep your eyes on Quick Sip Reviews and spread the world, because at my next goal I will review and live tweet my drunken thoughts on the next Give Yourself Goosebumps, TRAPPED IN BAT WING HALL. Cheers!