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Literature / Full Tilt

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I go places sometimes...
Full Tilt is a 2004 dark fantasy horror novel by Neal Shusterman (author of Unwind).

As Blake, an ordinary teenager, walks through an amusement park, a strangely familiar young woman offers him "an invitation to ride." He's not quite sure what it means, but when his thrill-seeking brother slips into a coma, he's convinced the invitation is to blame. At the specified address, he and his friends Russ and Maggie find a different park, one that doesn't seem to have a name, and doesn't ask for any payment to enter...

Compare Something Wicked This Way Comes, another book about teens being menaced by supernatural forces in a sinister Amusement Park of Doom.

Tropes include:

  • Amusement Park of Doom
  • And I Must Scream: Those who die in the park appear somewhere in the scenery—a cloud, a rock, a billboard. They're sometimes smiling, but their eyes always look scared. In the end, Cassandra's face appears in the wreckage of Blake's car.
    • The Works is a slightly less direct version of this, with human laborers literally merged with the machinery they operate, working for all eternity.
  • Big Brother Instinct: The only reason Blake goes to the park is to rescue his little brother. His love for Quinn overrides his rational fear of going to an unknown place that only gets weirder.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Blake absolutely refuses to go to a mysterious amusement park in the middle of the night. That is screaming red flags. He only goes when Cassandra lures his little brother into the park.
  • Chekhov's Armory: There is a lot of foreshadowing in the third chapter, especially when Blake looks around his room.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Russ seems to be this, although the plot prevents it from becoming clear. He definitely clings to Maggie a little too strongly, and sees Blake as a potential rival for her affections.
  • Dead to Begin With: Blake wonders if this is the case—they only find Cassandra's park after they nearly crash their car, and if Quinn got there through his coma, it's a reasonable assumption the others are comatose or dead as well. When the park is destroyed, they find themselves "waking up" in the car, but it doesn't seem to have been a dream.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Blake successfully defeats Cassandra and tears down the park.
  • Dirty Coward: Russ initially has no idea how to handle the situation—he tries to snark at the bizarre happenings, but he's even more panicked than Blake is. Later, he's willing to betray Blake to escape. When this fails, he tries to simply run for it—which backfires badly.
  • Distressed Dude: Quinn on the King Tut ride gets held hostage when Cassandra drugs him and ties him up on the pretense of being his advisor. Against all odds, Blake rescues him and tells him they need to stick together to get out.
  • Does This Make Me Look Fat?: Maggie's question regarding a funhouse mirror. Gets a Call-Back in the mirror maze.
  • Dumb Jock: Russ.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Parodied. Blake and Quinn have to guide a spaceship through an Asteroid Thicket. To make it harder, the asteroids have been replaced with Pintos, which explode on contact.
  • Final Boss, New Dimension: Technically, all of the rides are new dimensions, but the seventh ride is the only one to take place in space.
  • Gaussian Girl: Blake describes Cassandra as "an impressionist painting in a soft gallery spotlight."
  • Growing Up Sucks: Many of Blake's fears relate to his impending adulthood.
  • Hall of Mirrors: The fourth ride is a maze of grotesquely distorted mirrors. It's possible to step through them, but doing so will warp your shape to match the mirror. There's no exit, but the mirrors start to cancel out as you approach the end—you need to accept temporary mutilation to escape.
  • I Know What You Fear: A good portion of Cassandra's schtick. Interestingly, it's observed early on that she has never felt fear, only watched it from the outside, and she genuinely wants to know exactly how her victims feel. Blake is the first person to scare her.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: This is why Blake both interests and disturbs Cassandra. She tailors each ride to her target's weaknesses, but Blake's too average to have many weaknesses, and too adaptable not to compensate for them. At various points, she taunts him, offers him a job, and begs him to give up.
  • Journey to the Center of the Mind: The seventh ride.
  • Load-Bearing Boss: The park collapses with Cassandra's death.
  • Mercy Rewarded: Quinn first saves a kid who's being attacked by a park worker, then spares the park worker's life. This gets him out of a very ugly situation later.
  • Nightmarish Factory: The Works, where enslaved youths operate the machinery that keeps the park running.
  • Nobody Calls Me "Chicken"!: Blake reacts very, very badly when anyone makes fun of his fear of fast vehicles.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: When it seems Blake and Quinn can escape the park, Blake refuses because he's worried about Maggie and Russ.
  • Not a Game: But Maggie decides to treat it like one, and seems to be enjoying herself. This is why Blake concludes that there's no way she's getting out of the park alive.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: After he rides the Ferris wheel, Russ goes insane and attacks Blake with a wooden pole. When Blake asks Russ what was on the ride, he simply sobs and keeps attacking him. We never do find what was on it, but apparently it was scarring enough that Russ accepted Cassandra's deal for him to kill Blake in exchange for escape from the park.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: From Russ and Maggie's perspective, Blake spends most of the novel OOC—they've never seen him this freaked out before, and they're alarmed that he's now willing to take risks and break rules.
  • Order Versus Chaos: Peculiarly played. Both Blake and Cassandra are an even mix of traits, but Blake is orderly through perfect balance, and Cassandra is chaotic through a lack of cohesion, described as "intense heat encased in intense cold." (Quinn is also portrayed as chaotic, but in a very different way.)
  • Physical God: Cassandra.
    She's the tidal wave that wiped out the Minoans. She's the eruption that leveled Pompeii. Whenever something horrible happens in the world-something senseless-whenever there are no survivors, Cassandra is there.
  • Psychic Powers: Quinn is "out of phase with reality," capable of seeing things that aren't, strictly speaking, there. This is emphatically not a good thing.
  • Reality Is Out to Lunch: Each ride has its own laws of physics.
  • Ridiculously Average Guy: What Blake's "balance" comes down to.
  • Schedule Fanatic: How Blake compensates for his fear of the unexpected. (As he later puts it, "I hadn't lived a real life—I'd just had a model of a life. Everything I did was suspended safely by strings.")
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Blake can't remember the details of the bus accident that nearly killed him as a child. The "final ride" is living through the beginning of the accident over and over, his only possible escape being acceptance of what really happened.
  • Treacherous Advisor: Borderline parodied. In real life, it's theorized that King Tut was murdered by his advisors. When Quinn gets into a ride where he essentially becomes King Tut, Blake mentions this to him—right before finding out that Quinn's advisor is Cassandra.
  • True Final Boss: The eighth ride.
  • Weirdness Censor: Most of the minor characters don't quite get that they're not in a regular amusement park, and that they're going to die if they don't take things seriously.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Blake tells Maggie this constantly, but it never quite sticks.