Introcomp 2014 – Bridges and Balloons

Bridges and Balloons, by Molly Geene, is a gentle choice-based kid-lit piece about mice who set out on a journey to make a wine delivery in time for Carnival. The story is narrated by the ship’s captain, Sir Philip Geoffrey Mousekin, to his daughter Sara; the journey is commissioned by the stuffy and fretting Humphrey Wilson Crumbleton, who tags along as an obnoxious passenger and convenient foil.

The intro is quite short, and cuts out immediately after what seems like the first major choice. There’s a vaguely-steampunky flavour about the thing – aristocratic-sounding British names, at least one mention of dirigibles – but it’s not all that prominent. There’s some suggestion that the small animals form a wainscot society, since the reason for the journey is that canaries can’t safely make the delivery without being captured and put in cages.

The writing aims for a flourishy old-fashioned style, and doesn’t quite nail it; the effect is that the opening dialogue feels a little slow-moving. With fully successful flourishy writing, I don’t mind that things are proceeding a little slowly, because every sentence is a source of at least mild amusement; here, I think some trimming is required.

The motivation for the plot is about deadlines, shipments, the local economy, and wine, none of which seem like the sort of things that smallish children understand or care about all that much. This doesn’t feel like a story for adults that’s dressed up as a children’s story, but I’m not quite sure about the age it’s aimed at: the level of threat and conflict is really quite low compared to the language level. Possibly it’s intended to be read aloud.

Also – and this might not be something that its target audience would pick up on – I found the dynamic between Mousekin and Crumbleton so simple that I doubted it, particularly since Mousekin is the first-person narrator. Mousekin depicts himself as a dashing, charming, heroic do-gooder, and the fussy, demanding, constantly risible Crumbleton makes too straightforward a contrast.

Do I want to continue playing this? If the prose clicked I would probably be happy to go along with the plot and characters, but without that it’s a bit too light and simple to hold my interest.

Great Evil: There are no testers credited, and a goodly number of typos scattered throughout the thing.

If I’m going to be really wishful-thinking, I suppose the greatest issue is that this is aiming to be a straightforward children’s piece, for an age range at which books are almost always illustrated. (I was put in mind, for some reason, of Graham Oakley’s The Church Mice series, and then quickly transferred to looking up his Henry’s Quest, one of the finest works of children’s post-apocalyptic fiction ever. The moral being, if you’re going to write British-flavoured children’s fiction it is very important to retain or be a quirky illustrator with an eye for amusing little details and a penchant for the grim and grotesque.) But even admitting the impracticality of illustration, the colouring and layout – orange on black? – seem kind of at odds with the content.

Little Evil: Moderate to low. The tone, genre and general arc of the thing seem pretty well laid-out: magical journey, adventures along the way. The main thing missing is that we don’t really see how choices are going to work: since the game cuts out immediately after the first significant choice, it’s not clear how broad-branching the narrative is going to be, whether state-tracking plays a part, and so on.

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