Bookburners: Season One: Episode 2: Anywhere But Here
by Brian Francis Slattery
read by Xe Sands for Serial Box
[Missed Episode 1? The pilot episode is still free, and at under 90 minutes each it’s a breeze to catch up!]
Well, I’m again late late with the listen-a-long recap, as Episode 3 (“Fair Weather”, by Margaret Dunlap) has been out since Tuesday. With Episode #2 we see Bookburners HQ at the Vatican (“Looks a little Satanic for around here, doesn’t it?”), meet a new team member, and ride along for Sal’s first official mission with the Societas Librorum Occultorum.
Coming into the seven-sided-star-themed headquarters, Sal meets the very friendly Archivist Asanti and gets a mini-tour and an abridged history lesson, from which we learn some pretty interesting stuff, such as that there is a magical “Orb” which alerts the Order to magical events, and that there are currently three teams, and… that there used to be a Team Four: Research & Development, peeling back the veil of magic, peeking under the hood, and rummaging around to see what happens when you rummage around in there. Summary: Not Good. Not Good At All.
Also in the “not good” category: the creepy vibes coming off of the exorcists from Team Two.
Also not good? Sal’s brother, Perry, is still comatose, IV drips and electrode monitoring and not particularly hopeful, though somehow the Order has been able to move him to a hospital room in its own headquarters as well. He’s the reason Sal’s here: not just to do her part to fight this strange new evil she’s learning about, but to actively hunt in the only domain likely, however unlikely that may still be, to contain something that can help him.
In Max Gladstone’s pilot (“Badge, Book, and Candle”) we spent the entire episode in Sal’s close third person point of view; with “Anywhere But Here” Slattery begins with two sizable scenes with Sal, but then cuts from point of view to point of view with short, well-paced scenes, not only within the Order but also without, as, of course, like Chekhov’s Gun, the Orb, once introduced, must sound its alarm, and so it’s off to Madrid and to Gabriel, manager of a decaying movie theater in the process of closing its doors, that Slattery sends us.
Cleaning out the shelves of old films in the basement, Gabriel finds a book. A very old book. (You see where this is going?) He takes the book back to his apartment, opens it, and Unspeakable Evil pours fourth… only it doesn’t. Not all Very Old Magical Books (VOMBs, yeah I just made that up, I think it’s an acronym that’s going to come in handy throughout this series) are possessed by entities as power-hungry and evil as The Hand from the Liber Manus of episode one. The book Gabriel finds happens to simply make all of his dreams come true, and give him fantastic adventures, all while he sits, head buried in its pages, in his apartment.
But unfortunately, that “buried in a book’s pages” idiom here is actually literal. And it pulls into the dreamlike narratives (in turn) a pair of sisters visiting from their family upstairs, a Madrid policeman called in to investigate, and the members of the Societas Librorum Occultorum who have flown in to (also literally) close the book on the case. We get to see some truly weird shit happening in the carpet fiber-and-dreamscape rooms of Gabriel’s apartment, Grace kicking some tentatcled ass, and Sal — wait, new to the Order, as-yet untrained, quite recently having lost her brother’s mind to a magical book, Sal? — confronting Gabriel, before she, too, is pulled under its spell, and then it’s from inside the the dream that she must convince Gabriel to wake up and see what horrors his imagination has wrought, before it’s too late. (Some of this resolution is a bit “all too easy”, and some of the buildup once again pushes on my “I’ll buy magical books, but I find it hard to buy a policeman or parent acting like this” credulity buttom. But only just a bit.)
Audiobook narrator Xe Sands once again knocks it out of the park, adding new major characters like Asanti into her characterizations seamlessly, and creating an entirely different verbal motif for the Madrid-set cast of this episode. And! Though not quite the performance of meteorologist Liam Sutton’s nailing the pronunciation of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Sands does get to fire off Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull, referencing the volcanic eruptions there as part of the continuing “secret history” of the Order’s activities. Where Sands really shines here is in the closing scene, expression the exhaustion, all of mental, physical, and spiritual, of Sal as she considers the roles of magic and faith in this new world, against the tide of rising magical emergence and her continued feeling of hopelessness about her brother’s chances for recovery.
And! This episode closes on quite a hook. 3 A.M. phone calls, indeed…
Seriously, all we are missing is a theme song, folks, and we’d have in this episode a scene-for-scene drop-in for compelling television in your mind. (And I could stand to have a training montage. Just sayin’.)
On the “meta” side of things this week, the Serial Box iOS application had some audio player bugs last week, but (as was also the case last week with some Twitter login nit-picks) they’ve already been fixed in a September 21 update (“Fix bug where audio would restart every time you play.”) and now I am completely all set on the technology front, with handset controls and backgrounded app audio all doing the job, though it does take a little bit of looking to find out how to delete previously downloaded audio files — they’re in Settings. (Well, all set, except having run out of money in the audiobook slush fund, and not knowing how to tell Serial Box, “hey, try charging my subscription again?” just yet. So! I’ll have something “meta” to report on next week. All part of the master plan…)