Arts book review

Choose your own adventure, college edition

Weinersmith’s Trial of the Clones offers a variety of characters, story paths, and humor

Trial of the Clone

By Zach Weinersmith


October 2012

Many of us have fond memories of time we spent in our younger years thumbing through choose-your-own-adventure books. These novels, now known as gamebooks, were exciting because the reader was responsible for the choices the character made and could spend time exploring different choices and story paths. Zach Weinersmith, creator of popular web comic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (SMBC), recreates and innovates upon this magic for an older (though not necessarily more mature) audience in the spacefaring adventure Trial of the Clone.

Weinersmith uses role-playing elements to make an interactive game book that gives each read-through a very unique feel. Once the hilariously sad history of my unattractive clone character was laid out, I entered the Silene Monastery, a Jedi Temple-esque building where monks spend time “amusing tourists and smoking slightly different cultivars of marijuana.” Soon prompted to choose a character class, I showed my MIT pride by shunning the fighter and medic classes for the engineer class. As an engineer, I would receive bonuses to certain stats and have abilities that let me advance down different story paths. I was given an Alpha Ray gun that I used to subdue some kids and their overbearing mothers and steal their attention-enhancing drugs. By the end of Trial of the Clone, I had an entire sheet of paper filled with my stat progression, character-defining aspects, and inventory of usable items. Later, going through the book as a fighter, I had to prove my worthiness to my peers by drinking beer and beheading fellow warriors with my Plasmaster.

Upon graduating the Monastery, I arrived at the end of the first act and gained two points to my Wits stat for being an engineer. The book is broken into five such acts. I would need to win battles of brains, brawn, and likability in order to progress through the story; dying would reset me to the start of my current act. Physical fights consisted of trading blows with opponents like soldiers or exotic monsters, while a battle of wits or charisma might involve repairing a spaceship or trying to talk someone out of killing you.

The book really shines by presenting a huge variety of humorous situations for the character to encounter; one minute my character was the subject of a government lab experiment and the next, I was in a temple fighting a statue of Jesus Christ riding a lizard. However, the difficulty did become an issue at times. I attempted multiple times to get through Act 3 as an engineer, but my low fighting ability served me poorly in the numerous battles and I gave up. Going back through Trial of the Clone as a bloodthirsty fighter was easier, as physical conflicts ended quickly and most fights of wits and charisma could be won with luck (the book augments fights with stat bonuses that are determined by flipping to a random page). I felt like these battles of wits and charisma, as well as the inventory and character aspects, ended up underdeveloped.

Fans of SMBC will find plenty to love in the humor of Trial of the Clone. Dirty jokes about penis size and pornography are interspersed with more intellectual jabs at academia and popular culture. That said, the book’s main source of humor might be the shame it heaps upon the main character. Despite your choice-making abilities, you are unable to prevent the protagonist from producing countless bad puns and soiling himself constantly.

Trial of the Clone began as a Kickstarter campaign that was made successful by Weinersmith’s huge fan base. Weinersmith proves he’s worthy of such support by crafting a funny, spontaneous, and culturally offensive adventure that changes every time you read it. If you want to read a new, interactive spin on the choose-your-own adventure story, or just enjoy Weinersmith’s style of humor, I would recommend picking this one up.