The flyboy talespinner takes a break between bouts of aerial combat (Liberty, 2003, etc.) to assemble 23 novel excerpts, stories, and pop fragments for those with their hearts in the clouds.
The “one tangible symbol” of the last century, Coonts says, is the “airplane. No invention in the history of our species has had a greater impact on human life.” We can forgive some preaching diverted in this companion to Coonts’s nonfiction War in the Air: True Accounts of the 20th Century’s Most Dramatic Air Battles (1996). Few of the selections are concerned with the “impact” of the airplane on life because Coonts has excluded science-fictionists, who wrote so much about the effect of early flight technology on society. We do get Jules Verne, whose “Five Days in a Balloon” is a lackluster choice considering the more interesting events that occurred on a vast papier-mâché airplane Verne prophesied in Master of the World. The rest here offer superior accounts of flight or aerial warfare (the best from John Hersey’s The War Hunter, Jack Hunter’s The Blue Max, Ernest Gann’s The High and The Mighty, and Coonts’s own excerpt from Flight of the Intruder) as opposed to tales that use the new powered flight to retell old stories: the horrors of war (a morsel from Catch-22 as well as Faulkner’s “All the Dead Pilots”) and the nobility of combat (Dale Brown, Ralph Peters, and others). Snippets from Kipling, Michener, Len Deighton, and Louis L’Amour indicate that they, too, wrote about flying. Most embarrassing is Conan Doyle’s deathless “Horror of the Heights,” about monsters lurking in the clouds. Most interesting are three marvelous pop-culture fragments: “Bill’s First Airplane Ride,” by Major Henry Arnold; an unattributed glimpse of the adventures of pulp magazine superspy G-8; and Edgar Allan Poe’s fabricated account of a transatlantic balloon race, a story that was believed—for a while—when published in 1844.
For armchair pilots, love at first flight.