Sunday, June 9, 2013

Choose Your Own Adventure #3: By Balloon to the Sahara

It looks like the theme of traveling into a travel no-go zone via less than optimal means is going to continue, building off my previous adventures in Africa where snitching was rewarded and heartless worst aid was not. This time around it's all about a balloon and, judging by the cover, just about every bizarre non-sequitur that could be shoe-horned in. I mean, look at this nonsense. We've got the titular balloon, a big-eared martian holding a bag labeled "salt," a North African whose appearance suggests Pancho Villa more than a Berber tribesman, a submarine, and a dog that looks like the non-union version of Snoopy.

Author D. Terman is the only guy not named "Packard" or "Montgomery" to write a single-digit CYOA. Unless he actually is one or both of those guys, which is pretty likely, actually. The world's best Choose Your Own Adventure site is little help on this front and further muddies the waters by declaring this book is "average...with no terribly notable features." I don't even want to know what kind of upbringing causes a person to regard salt-bag aliens as relatively ordinary.

Anyway, this book gets right into the story with a bare minimum of set-up. I'm in Paris with my friends. We decide to rent a hot-air balloon. There's a dog. That's the entire back-story. D. Terman, if you are a real person, I salute you. Later in the series we get page after boring page of largely irrelevant details and lame attempts at useless garbage like "description" and "characterization." Here, it's right to the balloony goodness. Which, by the way, is currently floating toward a storm. Fortunately I have an advanced degree in sugar gliders.

  It would be hard to make an ironic comment if something bad happened.

This time the "low = crash = bad" formula is only somewhat effective. We do make it past the storm, but instead of reaching the Alps we're over the Mediterranean Sea, floating toward Africa and the Sahara desert. I guess this would have been a bigger shock if it wasn't for massive spoilers in the title, but the author promises us "cities in white with minarets, cool oases with date palms (trees, not the lonely Friday night version I'm assuming) and Arabs in flowing white robes." Sure, there will also be inhospitable wasteland, starvation and/or dehydration and a lack of cell phone coverage, but I'm already convinced. Desert it is. 

"Please keep your "grassland" propaganda to yourself, we find it offensive."

Drifting over the desert we take note of the sand, the caravans, the oases and so on while largely ignoring what a terrible idea this actually is. Then, a flying saucer, just chilling there in the open, right on top of the sun's anvil, acting all natural. Should we make contact with the UFO people? My friend Peter is worried we might get probed or worse, but honestly who would pass up a chance like this? Odds are good they're the friendly, wussy E.T. types and not the violent, imperialistic Will Smith movie ones. Pull the cord, head on down.

Seems credible.

Wackiness ensues as the creatures from the cover assume our dog is our leader, complete with bowing to him and the like. See, this is why mastering practical interstellar flight is considered "book learnin'" and not "street smarts." Next thing we know we're in the saucer getting knocked out by "red mist." Well, let's just get the inevitable body cavity violations and mutant cross-breeding experiments over with.

What actually happens is arguably even more ridiculous. The visitors need ordinary table salt to fuel their "space-time" machine, but can't seem to figure out how to get it from "fierce desert men" that are guarding a warehouse full of this White Gold. Apparently just taking their green asses to a "Denny's" and loading up all the shakers, which are not guarded by fierce men, desert or otherwise, is not an option.

I'm pretty sure assault shakers have extra handles and large capacity salt magazines.

They ask for my help, because a child is sure to succeed where advanced extraterrestrial intelligence failed. I'm all "no." The leader is all "kill them." Apparently the promise to go "in peace" was an incorrect attempt to say "in pieces" which you have to concede alters the meaning considerably. So we get "blated" and die a horrible, meaningless death because the spacemen couldn't figure out that they could use the "blat" guns on the "fierce desert men" and didn't study their Rosetta Stone program hard enough. The (BLAT) End, as the book puts it.

This one was a bit of a mess. I think there was some good ideas here but the decision to be straight-to-the-point cuts both ways. What could have been cool and atmospheric is largely forgettable and cliched as a result. In fairness the horrible "wacky space invaders" plot killed any good will the book might have otherwise garnered and I can only assume some of the other directions would have been better. Either way, it's a fast read and that's always the highest praise any writer can hope for, possibly second only to "I liked the ending."

I did not like the ending.


Aaron Zehner's first novel The Foolchild Invention is available in e-book format at and Barnes & Noble.

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