Australian activist Peter Lalor must survive his wartime injury and make something of himself with the help of magical household items.
This entry looks so reminiscent of Paul Struth's work that I thought he had returned using a pen name. We have a historical piece with a disabled protagonist, some supernaturalism, long sentences, a love interest with strong body language, use of dashes with spaces plus occasional slip-ups of using en instead of em, and use of bold, caps lock, colons, and italics in the instructions. Also like Struth, Banks's section flow has some rustiness with odd time jumps, forced vagueness, and story lacunae—all forgivable thanks to good writing.
In a reversal of the pattern I've noticed this year, the bulk of Banks's errors appear in the rules section leaving the rest of the work tidy. I believe semicolons must link independent clauses, unlike here: “You might prefer a different path; a different story and a different life.” And something went wrong here: “You have helped Australian [sic] become independent of Great Britain.” This sounds vague: “There are three 'good' endings, two of which can be achieved in various ways.” It implies one of the good endings remains unachievable.
Deeper in, I found only a few problems. All of section 63 fails to mention the woman's name and simply calls her “she.” The same occurs on 5. In “the dead lay in slag-heap piles,” lay should become lied in this past-tense story...I think. “All things considered, it was better than ever” combines two clichés. And consider this oversized sentence wherein I italicized the overused phrases:
“A funny feeling made me head right back to Bakery Hill, where I bought up most of the old claims there and spent my days wandering the tunnels remembering all the time I’d spent digging them out such a long time ago.”
Time appearing twice suggests some redundancy. But the wordier example bellow crams about 14 nouns into one sentence.
“Someone had discarded a sword nearby and I used it to lever up a crucial slab that shifted another, and another – allowing me to crawl inside the pile of timber before releasing the sword so the slabs fell back into place with a knocking that I could only hope was drowned out by the cries of the dying.”
Apart from those mild concerns, I feel a great relief in reading entire pages of clean prose. The difference feels huge, with sentences standing as they should and meaning what they intended. Most words appear properly hyphenated when necessary. Banks's writing has that subtle poetry I think every fiction writer needs, and it far exceeds the quality of most other entries this year. Starting with a great opening line, “I saw the flag fall,” most sentences go on to deliver wit such as “so thirsty I didn’t feel hungry.”
Seeing no major writing problems, I'll move on to mechanics. I like the stat tallying, but the Poor Health stat makes me imagine a stat called Not Money. A player must work hard to take damage in this game, which feels like a false threat. Peter's stats had barely budged after completing most of the goals, leaving me to wonder if I wrote five blank lines after each stat for nothing. Likewise, the ending on 29 can occur a few sections after starting. So some players will have jotted down data only to scratch it all out too soon. The small character sheet does help mitigate this, though.
I didn't get much magical use out of the items, either. They worked more like codewords. Though I encourage the use of items as codeword replacements, a promise of power gets made and mostly broken here.
Regarding aesthetics, I appreciate how Banks didn't pad this entry out to 100 like Lloyd did by chaining sections. The game uses pages for sections which, consequently, show too much empty space. Pages 11, 23, 42, and 52, for example, each have a mere if/then statement in a white ocean. Players can go from 63 to 33 where Stephen Cummins abruptly appears like an established character. He only gets previously mentioned in a choice, and players may skim the choices they don't use. Section 3 has an “Easter egg,” for cheaters I presume, which contains an interesting idea for a pure story mode. It also contains an aspersion, though, against the actual Peter Lalor.
Late game, the story becomes Progressive Quest, where players can choose game over by not letting women vote. A game of politics sounds interesting, but here it gets a one-sided presentation that vilifies the player for not siding with the writer's views. The moral grandstanding may tire the jaded who've seen similar themes pushed for decades by an increasingly untrustworthy mainstream media.
Overall, Banks's entry has the great writing of Struth but underused systems. I think it would do extremely well if further developed to 100 sections.