By Balloon to the Sahara by Douglas Terman
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
In By Balloon to the Sahara the plan is that you, your friends Peter and Sarah, and your dog Harry are going to take a balloon ride to France, but uh-oh, here comes a storm!
In my first adventure, that brewin' storm was fierce enough to force us into making the drastic decision of cutting into the balloon to get it to land asap. We crash-landed in the sea and got picked up by a submarine on the hunt for whalers. We joined and sunk many ships. What struck me as peculiar was that at one point I was given the usual two choices, but one of them went like this: "If you decide to fire the torpedo and sink the ship, turn to page 46 or 47." I've never seen that before in a Choose Your Own Adventure Book. (It's always been: If you choose this, turn to page X. Or if you choose that, turn to page Y. It's never: if you choose this, turn to X or Y. That's crazytown!) What it amounted to was a 50/50 chance between the same ending, one leaving me satisfied, the other leaving me wondering if I'd done the right thing. Odd, quite odd.
On my 2nd attempt, I decided we'd ride out the storm. We came upon some aliens wearing spacesuits that looked like futuristic beer barrels. We decided we didn't want to hang out with them, so we took them up on their offer to leave in peace…OOPS! They meant we'd "leave in pieces" WAH Wah waaahhh…..Laser blatted!(sic)
On the next adventure we landed on the North African coast, got chased in a cave by a stereotypical Arab horse-riding and scimitar-wielding nomadic tribe (probably meant to be Berbers, but there's no time for polite ethnic distinction here!), we found a scientist in a secret underground lair, who forced us to drink a potion that turned us invisible. We used our invisibility to escape, get home, sneak into movie theaters and sporting events for free and to become super sleuth police detectives!
I redid this cave scenario a few times, because there were three mysterious doors down there to choose from. Each led to many varied and whack-a-doodle adventures. In fact, this whole book is quite silly. D.Terman's writing is a bit cheeky: "But if the lure of the Sahara is too strong to stop your flight, put on some suntan lotion and drift south toward page 8." I once ran into a dude named Professor Hardly Wright. And also, I noticed a number of the path choices are recycled, meaning two variant adventures used the same path at some point. A little of that is okay, but too much of it weakens the 4th wall, making your choices seem more arbitrary, less important and certainly nothing special.
The work of stalwart CYOA illustrator Paul Granger on this one isn't as memorable as other books. Too many pics are dull and Hardy Boy-esque.
My confusion about everything that is By Balloon to the Sahara is maybe best summed up by the encounter in which I was attacked by a dude who looked like a medieval pirate/Germanic barbarian. He and his people were entranced by my friend's flashlight, like it was magic, and they worshipped us as gods. Isn't this story meant to take place in relatively modern times? What the frick is going on here? None of this everything-and-the-kitchen-sink weird randomness is explained. It just happens, making this an occasionally fun, but wholly inconsequential read.