A tightknit group of U.S. Air Force airmen chase promotions and women in Gore’s (Short Rounds, 2018, etc.) historical novel.
After World War II, the Air Force prioritized the technological development and training of an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) fleet. Its aircraft were equipped with sophisticated long-range radar capabilities that made them powerful tools against possible Soviet attacks, as well as for the ongoing war on drugs. Gore chronicles the experiences of several Air Force airmen in the 1980s who flew and supported AWACS missions, and whose friendships were fired in the crucible of military training. This sprawling account is built around the men’s camaraderie, as well as their seemingly obsessive searches for female companionship. For example, Lt. Koepernick, though married, keeps a mistress who aspires to be a strip club owner; later, he likes to think of himself as “righteously gangster” as he builds his own minor business empire—some of it criminal. Lt. Walden’s girlfriend, Crystal, reacts so poorly to news of their breakup that he ultimately gets a restraining order against her. Readers are also treated to love letters written by fellow airmen Zip, Jeff, and Gordon to the women in their lives. Gore provides a remarkably detailed and often engaging account of the training missions that the talented men endure, as well as their seemingly ceaseless globe-trotting. The author served for a decade on an AWACS aircraft, so his knowledge of this milieu is extraordinary. He also vividly captures the esprit de corps that binds the men together, and the hilarity that often results from it. However, the novel lacks a solid plot, overall; instead, it reads like an account of random happenings, rather than a coherent story—and a long one, at that. It’s also easy for readers to forget the urgency of the Cold War, which is occasionally alluded to (“Competing worldviews, civilization hanging in the balance, all that stuff they drilled into us at OTS, you remember”) but rarely discussed at any length.
A meandering, unfocused story of military men.