Memories of flying

James Spencer (2003), The Pilots, New York: Berkley Books.
This was a fast read – a sort of naÔvistic Catch-22 written by someone who has read a lot of Hemingway – but I liked it. The author claims to be a WWII bomber pilot who has written a novel – more of a series of short stories with a linked set of participants, again like Hemingway – based on his remembrances. The main protagonist is a fighter ace, batting it out with Japanese Zero pilots and seeing the gruesome details of a war that, at least in the beginning, can seem noble and distant.
I was a bit surprised to see this novel panned on, but people looking for the more traditional, technical and heroic type of war novel, with much detail on weapons and history, will be a bit disappointed. The fairly modern language and style detracts a little from the authenticity – you sometimes wonder whether the author really was a pilot or merely a student of one. But the personalities come out through the sketches and the author mercifully avoids clear-cut endings – such as whether the ambitious flight captain taking chances to become the top ace really is evil or merely confused. Excellent last chapter on how people deal with their experiences back in civilian life, when the young pilots come home to the GI bill and the occasional question about their experiences. Recommended.