Product: Rhetoric #17
Publisher: Fanzine
Compatibility: BBC/Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #61

There's often a lot to be said in the 8-bit world about a lack of supplier information should you do an internet search on the name of your favourite 8-bit computer. It might hit not only the excellent resources but also those with little interest, if any, in your machine. Here in EUG we've warned against being seduced by ProAction's "latest Electron conversions" because they don't exist. To this list of cowboys, you can also add The Really Good Software Company; actually only really good at forgetting what you've ordered and sending endless contradictory emails.

It has to be said too that there are also a lot of false promises out there in the shape of user groups, mailing lists and documentation sites. Your EUG Editor smarted a bit after compiling a large article (with Chris Richardson and Ron Marshall) for Retrovideogames (at their request!) only for them not to honour their promise to send him a free copy of the issue it appeared in. On joining the BBC Mailing List and identifying the new A&B and EUG disc libraries, the only reply (from Gareth Babb) was "If only you hadn't got your grubby hands on EUG, we'd all be better off!" And Mark Usher's BBC Documentation Project has now received manuals to half a dozen hardware products painstakingly typed up by me but which its webmaster has never taken the few seconds' worth of time it would take to upload them for all to benefit.

Pleasing it was then to actually have one user group keep its promise to send me a free copy of its quarterly magazine in return for an article on the demise of EUG. The magazine in question is Rhetoric, that of the Oric User Group, supplied on nine double-sided sheets of A4 paper with headers not dissimilar to EUG's own; Editorial, Articles, Mailbag, Utilities, Advertisements, Solutions and a back page Competition.

The Oric, as noted in my "Don't Be Dead" article published in EUG #60 and Rhetoric #17, led much the same kind of lifestyle as the BBC/Elk, apart from being infinitely more difficult to program. It now also has the same kind of cult following in cyberspace with abounding emulators and all Oric emulated software available to download to PC. The mag Rhetoric #17, now under scrutiny, costs the same as EUG too and is just as evidently the work of only a small number of people.

But the finished product of #17, if this is the regular standard of the magazines, does have a long way to go. It has two co-Editors, Simon Ullyatt and Steve Marshall, who have, as noted in the editorial, shared the workload of the magazine in turn with a very light-hearted policy. The front-cover is inventive: a photocopied Oric circuit-board super-imposed with the Rhetoric logo, and it's nice to see a contents page actually correctly matched with the mag's contents. You'd be surprised how often they don't correspond - particularly in fanzines!

Yet the easy-going style of the magazine falls rather flat with its inclusion of odd information which, to me (with a very different editorial policy), seems completely irrelevant to the Oric or even 8-bit in general. In in-jokes, the editorial publishes a photograph of Blakey from "On The Buses" captioned 'Our Co-Editor' and Simon Ullyatt then notes his suspicions that Steve Marshall's previous cover illustration on RHETORIC #16 wasn't really an Oric game, asking him to comment. This turns the editorial into more of a letter between the two of them.

After the "Don't Be Dead" article and answer [See EUG #60 - Ed], three mailbag queries fill the next two pages but really the subject matter of the first is merely an offer of help and the third an advertisement. Only the second letter contains a routine of use to the Oric programmer - and here the Editor has not answered two of the specific questions about Rhetoric the writer put forward.

A documented scrolling routine in Oric machine code fills the next four pages [By now you can estimate just how little you get in comparison to EUG! - Ed] and, while undoubtedly useful, its introduction admits that the listing contains omissions and then states what commands to add to remedy them. In effect it's a program followed by a correction in the same issue! Why hasn't the rogue line simply been changed before the listing was printed? To me, the only answer is because it would've meant work neither Ed wanted to do. The result is a sloppy appearance.

Presented nicely is a page named "The Tips Archive", similar to the Electron User's "10-Liner" section, presenting small BASIC procedures useful to Oric programmers. Unfortunately, the information is headed by a paragraph stating it all comes from elsewhere. The same cutting and pasting is also seen in the Solutions section, where it is obvious that the solutions have simply been whipped off the internet, not even pageset properly or spellchecked, and simply printed out!

From now on, large white patches of space are out in force. A small snippet photocopied from a French periodical, entitled "The Oric Is Back", gets no less than two pages thanks to a pidgin-English translation. It begins "Some people remember (with emotion) previous meets that hardly reached nine fans. During the june 9th edition, not less than 25 persons hurried to reach the door near 'Gare de l'Est', Paris."

Of course, translated laterally, the article could be much improved -"To scorn previous meetings of 'Oric enthusiasts' with a grand total of nine in attendance, this June 9th saw no less than 25 persons bustling into a venue near 'Gare de l'Est', Paris." - and it could still remain tongue-in-cheek. The decision the Ed has taken though is, again, the And In Case You Wonder What An ORIC Looks Like... easiest. The translation is not error-checked; it is simply padded out with space. There's room for several more articles in the paper wasted. It is even pointed out in the Mailbag section that a full review of a game was mentioned several issues earlier and the writer thinks it "a great idea! Why doesn't someone get on with it?" I venture to suggest such reviews should be the norm in fanzines like these so "Here, here!"

The back cover devoted to a competition (in the form of mind-boggling puzzles) is a good idea. So too is the article in there beside my own: "Life In The Fast Lane". Overall though, I was unimpressed with Rhetoric; it merely proving EUG has always been streets ahead of its competition. The response to "Don't Be Dead" is considered, and Rhetoric does have potential there. But the pagesetting, spellchecking and editorial policy lacks many qualities and, with the current apathy surrounding 8-bit, one can but wonder how long it will survive.