By Balloon to the Sahara was the third published book in the Choose Your Own Adventure series of interactive fiction. This was the only book to be written by Douglas Terman for the Bantam Book series – in fact By Balloon to the Sahara features a dedication to his Daughter, Christine M. Terman. I will say what little I have been able to find about the Author himself paints an interesting life – for one thing he and his friend, Hazen Richardson, in 1962 owned and operated a charter service – a 77-foot schooner by the name of the Jacinta. On their first voyage as a charter boat they had an Ohio banker and his Family on board, H.W. Nichols – who during their cruise made mention that he would rather fancy buying an island, which is how in 1963 both Richardson and Terman were looking at the Grenadine chain of islands and came across Petit St. Vincent. Fast forward to May of ’66 and Terman, Richardson, and Nicholson are building a small hotel upon the island – one that is still in operation today. Hazen stayed on as manager of the resort when it opened in 1968 and would eventually buy out his partners, which might explain why Terman went on to become an Author – writing 9 books in total. The 3 Megaton Gamble, First Strike, and Free Flight as well as the 6 other non-interactive fiction offerings were military-themed – which is understandable as he was in the military during the Cuban Missile Crisis as a missile launch crew commander.
Who would have thought when we set out to talk about the awesomeness of 1979’s By Balloon to the Sahara that it would involve both the Cuban Missile Crisis and the building of a resort on Petit St. Vincent? Terman would call Warren, Vermont home for over 20 years and this is where he became friends with Edward Packer as well as R.A. Montgomery – the co-creators of what would become the Choose Your Own Adventure line of books. This friendship is obviously how Terman was offered the opportunity to contribute to that popular series.
The artwork for By Balloon to the Sahara was provided once again by Paul Granger and the popularity of this entry – which was first published in July of 1979 – was already seeing it’s second printing by December of that year! By August of 1982 it had been reprinted ten times… which kind of seems to be the case with many of the books in the series that were published in 1979. Interesting fact this book was later republished in 1989 as Danger in the Desert – although I have no idea as to the reason for the change in title. Although I can tell you that like with Journey Under the Sea the original cover artwork by Granger was replaced by a new one – this time by Romas Kukalis. To be fair I think in this case I actually prefer the version by Kukali over the cover provided by Paul Granger – who I will always point out was the pseudonym for Don Hedrin.
In addition, back in 2015 – Chooseco LLC. – the company that original co-founder of the interactive fiction series, R.A. Montgomery helped form with partner Shannon Gilligan re-released By Balloon to the Sahara as part of it’s Lost Archives with a new cover courtesy of Jason Millet.
I first read By Balloon to the Sahara like all of the Choose Your Own Adventure books I’ve shared so far – at my elementary school. This was already when the popularity of the series forced the librarians to put them on the list of books that couldn’t be checked out. I was in third grade by the time the first couple of books had been released and I was allowed library time during class as a reward. I would also often skip breakfast in the cafeteria for a chance to enjoy the comfortable silence of the early morning – making sure that I had my pick of Choose Your Own Adventure titles in the process. Check out the story hook from the back of the book:
“You are floating high above the earth in a giant balloon. Below you is the Sahara Desert, with it’s endless, golden sands, hundreds of camels, and mud-walled villages. Suddenly you see a large silver dome twinkling in the distance. Should you land the baloon and see what it is? If it’s a flying saucer, it might be dangerous…should you play it safe and remain in the clouds? If you decide to land, pull the cord and descend to to p.16. If you decide to keep going, drift ahead to p.17.”
Throughout the 117 pages of the book with 40 endings, you experience some pretty crazy adventures that begin in your hot air balloon. Along with your best friends, Sarah, Peter, as well as Harry – your dog – you come across the likes of a secret research base, aggressive alien beings, time-shifts, a theme park, you can wind up helping a desert chieftain, and even join up in attacking whale hunters. And death… oh, you most certainly can find all manner of gruesome deaths within the pages of By Balloon to the Sahara!
On visiting this book again, I was surprised by how many of the options – your possible fate was provided by the toss of the coin. As well as the fact that quite a few of the adventures end in what might be considered a bummer but it ends up causing a positive effect – for example with the whaling ships:
“You Fire! The torpedo strikes home. Men from the ship launch their lifeboats in panic. You realize that you have committed a great crime. Even if the whales are saved, you may have caused injury to the whalers. You plead with Captain Zud to put you ashore, which he does with great reluctance. After giving yourself up to the international police, you are sentenced to jail. But during your imprisonment, you write a great book about your adventures. People from all over the world praise it and the governments of the world finally outlaw whaling. You are finally given a pardon and live for the rest of your life beside the sea with Harry, your dog, so that you can be close to the great creatures of the deep.”
Kind of some heavy stuff there, wouldn’t you say? My favorite part of revisiting By Balloon to the Sahara was finding an ending that I had somehow not stumbled upon back in the day. It was a pretty wonderful nod to Terman’s friend and fellow Choose Your Own Adventure author, R.A. Montgomery – one of the possible endings including becoming part of the crew of the Seeker the submarine featured in Journey Under the Sea!
As always I look forward to hearing about your own memories about your favorite Choose Your Own Adventure books – leave them in the comments section!