The Blue Max is WWI Germany's highest decoration for individual heroism, and Leutnant Stachel, 19, a crack pilot, wants his Blue Max so badly he will kill for it. These are the days of von Richthofen's Flying Circus when Germany still had a chance to win. Stachel has one flaw: he's an anxiety-ridden drunk who keeps bottle in his room and one with a rubber siphon on it in his flying jacket. Because he feels inadequate, he swaggers and insults mercilessly, while always aware that he's a two-dimensional man. He distinguishes himself enviably in the air, even saving von Richthofen's life, but on one mission, in a fit of sodden jealousy, he deliberately forces a comrade to crash. Stachel claims the comrade's kills, thus becoming a famous ace. As he racks up his eventual 30 kills (and gets his Blue Max), he grows emptier but more powerful, while experiencing sexual joy during most kills. At novel's end, Germany is lost but has given birth to the steel-eyed, sadistic Nazi prototype, Stachel, not ""all bad"" but ready for more blood. An excellent character study, full of action and plot, but no Blue Max for originality.