In Taylor’s debut novel, the skies over Vietnam become a rite of passage for an American soldier.
Quiet and impressionable, 24-year-old Steve Mylder volunteers for a tour in Vietnam after graduating from the Colorado Air Force Academy and serving six months in a squadron in England. With little world knowledge beyond his Arizona youth and officer’s training, Steve comes of age in the midst of military life at Danang Air Base. The young lieutenant’s aircraft is an F-4C Phantom II, “a two-pilot plane with an aircraft commander in the front seat to do most of the flying and a pilot in the backseat to do almost everything except pilot. Steve was in the back.” Most of his buddies’ life goals amount to flying a tour over Vietnam–consisting of 100 counters, or missions–and returning for a second tour to become a front-seater. Others are more ambitious, like Mike Ross, Steve’s bunkmate, who dreams of becoming a U.S. senator, or wild man Avery Aughton, a future chief of staff who falls madly in love with a Vietnamese beauty who he spots while flying 50 feet overhead. The protagonist’s only future goal is getting out of Vietnam alive. Adhering to age-old superstitions, his lucky charm for survival is newly grown peach fuzz, an “invisible protomustache.” Mission after mission, Steve checks off his counters, spending nights submerged in poker and hijinks with his friends at the DOOM club bar, surviving rocket attacks on Danang and penning dispatches as a war correspondent for his hometown newspaper. Author Taylor, a veteran of Danang, brings personal authenticity to this fictional account of Vietnam air combat. From soldier’s soldier Col. Sanger to Maj. Scott, who makes the life-or-death decisions around here,” and sub-Lt. Sam, the base’s collie mascot, the book is studded with rich, often juxtaposing characters that touch on philosophical questions of war. There’s a vivid contrast between swaggering language and graceful, even prose, which is underscored with deep internal subtext. The author brings a balanced and original perspective to a genre too often dominated by the action.
An honest, engaging tale of living through war.