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Life's Lottery Review


A choose-your-own-adventure without an adventure. A Fighting Fantasy without the fighting… or the fantasy. Except, that’s not quite true. Kim Newman’s Life’s Lottery is so many things at once that it’s almost impossible to keep track of. Horror story, thriller, kitchen sink drama… what it is depends entirely on you, dear reader.

You are average everyman Keith Marion, and Life’s Lottery will follow you from (pre) birth all the way to your end. Will you be rich and successful? Jobless and miserable? Married? Separated? A ladies man, lothario or, um, rapist and murderer? It all depends on how you play the game.

Where most role-playing novels are fairly linear – a lot of choices, but only one ‘true’ path – no two read-throughs of Life’s Lottery are ever the same. The seemingly smallest decisions will affect the path upon which you are set, dictating whether you’ll be happy, depressed or doomed to die in a multitude of terrible ways. Where some outcomes appear to be completely random (your first choice, for instance, being your favourite of two TV characters) others will be dictated by karma, chance and plain old intelligent choice-making. Look, just because you can have sex with your sister, doesn’t mean that you should.

Just when you think you have a handle on the book, up comes another surprising outcome, ending or event. The first ten or so times you read it, Life’s Lottery seems inexhaustible. It’s more a book of short stories than a role-playing game, each one revealed as you choose your way through school, university and the dating scene. It can be a gritty revenge thriller, steamy sex tale or grisly murder mystery. This can make for uncomfortable reading at times, particularly as your choices lead you into progressively darker territory. Existential, depressing and terrifying, it leaves the reader feeling dirty in a manner I’d not experienced since playing Manhunt on the PS2.

Horror critic, scholar and writer Newman handles the multiple narratives with aplomb, packing the book full of humour, horror and so many geek references that it necessitates a hefty annotations section at the back. Clever, unpredictable and fresh, Life’s Lottery is a great read. How you play it us up to you. Just don’t blame us if it leaves you feeling miserable and dirty afterwards. Karma, as they say, can be a bitch.

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