the Little Red Reviewer

Life’s Lottery, by Kim Newman

Posted on: August 5, 2014

lifes lotteryLife’s Lottery, by Kim Newman

published April 2014

Where I got it: purchased new













The story contained in Life’s Lottery is different every time you read it.  And I don’t mean that in the sense that you’ve grown as a person between readings, or you notice new details every time, or you relate and/or sympathize with a different character each time. I mean that the story is completely different every time you read it, because this is a grown-up choose your own adventure book.


You remember the old Choose Your Own Adventure books from when you were a kid, right? Most of ones I read that that D&D Quest feel to them, with magic swords and caves to explore and dragons. I usually got eaten by the dragon.  hmmm… maybe that’s why I never wanted to play D&D when my friends offered? I was still having nightmares of losing the magic sword, falling from the cliff, and getting eaten by dragons.


There are no tunnels or caves or dragons in Kim Newmans newest novel. This is a very different kind of choose your own adventure story. Written in 2nd person, Life Lottery’s pushes the reader into the mindset of the main protagonist, Keith Marion. We meet Keith before he’s born, so it’s easy for the reader to insert themselves into Keith’s persona.  Don’t tell infant Keith, but we all know life isn’t all fun and games, and Newman starts the narrative out rather darkly, giving the reader almost too many opportunities to “go to 0”: to die (and start over, making better decisions next time).

Keith grows up, goes to school, makes friends, turns out to be a rather intelligent fellow. This is where the important choices begin. Pass your exams and leave your friends behind while you go to a better school? Do you join your friends in bullying someone, or help the kid out? Do you go to the party, or stay home? Do you date the safe girl, or the girl who is a little crazy?  Some decisions sound a little mundane, and others obviously more important, but they’ll all change what Keith, and by extension the reader, experiences.  I’’s not Keith doing all these things, it’s you doing them. Keith has no idea that if you opt to go to the party you should flip to section 88, and if you opt to stay home you should flip to section 80. It’s not him turning the pages, it’s you.


The first time I lived as Keith, I wanted to have an cool, epic adventure. I forced him to make risky decisions, I made him do things that I’d never do, things I thought a “cool” character would do. I assumed he’d turn out to be some kind of hero, that doing all this stupid stuff wouldn’t affect him that much in the long run, that everything would be fine. Boy was I wrong!  His life went from bad to worse, and it was all my fault!  Next time through I was quite the goody two shoes about the whole thing, keeping him on the straight and narrow. Still, his life wasn’t as good as it couldn’t been.  A few more times through, always trying to make different, if not better decisions. It started to feel like there were parallel universes of Keiths, that every time I made a decision for him, there was a Keith that took one path, and another Keith that took the other path, each one living a full life.


But every Keith, and every reader eventually must face the darkness behind the choices, and if you don’t go looking for it, it comes looking for you. There is something supernatural lurking just beneath the surface, and the more of Keith’s lives you live, the more of it you’ll see. Maybe one of these days, it’ll stop chasing you. Maybe you’ll just get tired, and stop running. That dark thread of the “go to 0” train of thought keeps returning.  There is often no “right” answer, because life is just like that, this isn’t a kid’s adventure book, you know! Every time your particular story ends, you’ll want to know what if you’d done just one thing differently? What if?


I found this book at the bookstore in the science fiction and fantasy section, and I imagine it was shelved there because that’s where the rest of Newman’s books are usually shelved. There is that little sliver of the supernatural, but for the most part, this is just a dark and grim adult choose your own adventure book that borders on horror.  There are no spaceships, no dragons, no quests, no emperors or aliens or artifacts or wormholes. It’s just life, and everything life can throw at a person. I’ve actually been looking for titles just like this lately, the ones that just skim the surface of the speculative, to lend to friends who only read contemporary fiction and thrillers. Something just like Life’s Lottery could be their gateway book to speculative fiction.

And really, for mainstream fiction readers, or speculative fiction readers, is there anything better than a book that is truly a completely different story every time you open the cover?



9 Responses to "Life’s Lottery, by Kim Newman"

I would always keep book marks and attempt to make the longest choose your own adventure book possible. Which inevitably would be about six pages.


sometimes I’d read all the last pages, to see the dozen or so different endings.

I want to lend this book out to a friend who I know would like it, but I’m not done playing with it yet! It’s like a rubic’s cube.


This sounds very intriguing. I like the idea that the choices have consequences and are not just different versions.


This sounds really fun.


There were no Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was a kid. If I wanted an adventure, I simply made it up in my head, I didn’t need someone to spoon feed it to me.


oh Richard, you almost sound like a crankypants. 😉


who, me? Still, it’s true.


This sounds brilliant. I would love this and must go and look it up! Kind of like sliding doors – or even the fantasy games like Oblivion where you’re given a choice and that dictates your next move.
Lynn 😀


I just love the sound of this one! Off to see whether the library has it…


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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