Volume 17, Number 1, Spring, 1999

Sliders: The Classic Episodes By Brad Linaweaver (TV Books, 1998, $14.95)

Back in 1996 when Sliders debuted on Fox, it seemed like a great science fiction concept, ideal for a TV series. It poses the idea of a group of people using new technology which enables them to travel to parallel worlds where slight differences in the outcomes of events change history--either radically or slightly. The technology breaks down, and they lose the tether to their original world. They must then travel constantly to other worlds until they stumble back to their own reality, each episode able to show new worlds, new alternate timelines.

In the worlds they visit JFK might not have died, or Hitler might have succeeded in taking over the world, or the communist revolution might have triumphed, or on a simpler level, your father and mother might never have met, or you might have died young, or you might meet yourself. Allohistory, as alternative history is often called, is now a common theme in science fiction stories. Sliders seemed poised to become just what the field needed, a non-Trek successful TV series able to show that science fiction really dealt with ideas.

Brad Linaweaver is certainly one of the best qualified persons to write this episode guide for Sliders. After all, he wrote Sliders: The Novel, which recounted the two-hour premiere of the show in written form. Linaweaver visited the set, spoke with the show's creator and prime mover, Tracy Torme, and interviewed the main cast. He lives in Hollywood and has worked in several aspects of show business. His knowledge of the show and the business around it shines through the entire guide.

Sliders: The Classic Episodes consists of detailed synopses of the first two and a half seasons, with brief descriptions of the second half of the third season, the last season on Fox. Linaweaver interviews the four main cast members, Sabrina Lloyd, Jerry O'Connell, Cleavant Derricks, and John Rhys-Davies. Two of these were replaced late in the third season, and I agree with Linaweaver that their departures were the show's loss. Rhys-Davies is a powerful actor, in voice and demeanor, and he instantly improves any scene of any movie or TV show in which he is part. Sabrina Lloyd has an elfin charm and the kind of strong female presence Hollywood seems to instinctively hate. I was not surprised to read that she started in theater, where the "scripts" are better.

In addition, there are interviews with Peter Spellos, one of the guest actors, as well as with Tracy Torme and co-creator Robert Weiss. All the interviews were conducted before Lloyd and Rhys-Davies left, and before the show started to suffer and slide downhill. Sliders was cancelled by Fox after the third season, although the Sci-Fi Channel picked it and resumed production, under new management so to speak. There's a certain buoyant innocence in the interviews, where Lloyd talkes about being "on for the duration," and Torme talks happily about his numerous battles with executives constantly urging changes, from the significant to the trivial.

Sliders: The Classic Episodes works on several levels. It is an excellent research guide, listing the writers, directors, and composers for each episode (this isn't Babylon 5 where one person wrote over 80% of the five year series; instead twenty-four writers tackle forty-six episodes, with several repeats but also many one-time writers), as well as supporting cast members. The synopsis of each episode is clear and informative. And opinionated. Linaweaver pulls no punches, reaming at least two of the stories as incoherent, and wistfully pointing out how other episodes could have been much better. Linaweaver slips in humor as often as he can, and in ways only he can; the informal style makes even the shorter plot summaries quite readable.

The best episode guides are the ones where Linaweaver slips in commentary and analysis. He makes the reader, even one who may not have seen specific episodes, visualize how the plots unfold. In others he runs down the plot in snappy sentences. Such narrow descriptions tend to lose the reader because names and plot development zooms along rapidly.

Since many shows have both an A story and a B story, juxtaposing these plots too quickly tends to confuse things. Linaweaver takes pains to make the episode guide entertaining, as well as to show the evolution of the show and the characters. Although he covers only three seasons, we see the growth of Sliders as it struggles with its inital limitations; the first two seasons were set in San Franscisco, and it moved to Los Angeles in the third, leaving room for many Hollywood inside jokes in the interviews. People who live in LA know how to laugh at themselves and especially Tinseltown.

Even if you're not a Sliders fan, this guide is useful and informative as a book about science fiction and the television industry. Too mnay good shows suffer quick deaths (the original Star Trek lasted three seasons), and the creator rarely has full control. If you're a Sliders fan you'll want to buy this book, especially for the interviews, but also for the memories, which Linaweaver, a true fan of the visual media, captures on almost every page.

Reviewed by Anders Monsen

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