The Sea Witch is a collection of three aviation short stories by Stephen Coonts, rich author guy, written between 1999 and 2003. They aren’t bad, not if you like planes, but with one exception, I’m not sure what the point of the stories are. Anyway, the three shorts are…
The Sea Witch: The titular story centers on a PBY flying boat that has been tasked with a night bombing run over Rabal in WW2. Coonts demonstrates a full working knowledge of the craft itself (which is interesting). And it’s one of those “desperate crew fearfully flies the edge” deals. However, I’m not sure of the point. The main character (the new copilot, booted out of SBDs because of his excess zeal (i.e. he’s a dangerous-to-be-with-mo-fo)) joins a crew whose nerves are stretched to the limit. And the low-level night bombing run is hairy indeed. But I need to point out that action is only part of a good story. I’m not sure what all that character development led to. The main character hung onto the joystick to keep the plane flying. No tense dialogs took place. No appeals to patriotism, no snarling threats. Just a rattling night in a beat-to-shit plane with characters dropping like flies. I’m not sure if the conclusion meant anything. Look, I’m not suggesting that a story needs all sorts of crafty elements, but just that a slice of life (even dangerous seat-of-the-pants-flying life) doesn’t necessarily make a story.
The 17th Day: This is a reference to the survival rate of WW1 pilots during Bloody April (where the Royal Flying Corp got shot out of the sky). Again, Coonts knows his airplanes (at least the SE5a) but neglects the storytelling. It turns out that today is the 17th day of this pilot’s active service and he feels if he can make it, he’ll last a good long time (like until next week, perhaps). However, my first bump centered on the fact that this statistic was known sometime after the period, not during it (you can’t determine an average in the middle of the time span). In all the WW1 aviation books I grew up on, no pilot ever fixated on the 17th day. The second bump were the Fokker DVIIs showing up in presumably what is sometime in 1917 (the squadron’s Nieuports have just been replaced with SEs). DVIIs shouldn’t be about for another couple of months, even a half year. Even DR1s (the dreaded triplanes) would be a new thing then. And again, the story is episodic but somewhat pointless. The main character flies about, people get killed, it’s all very thrilling. But no progression, no hopes, no introspection.
Al-Jihad: Finally, something resembling a plot. This time, a retired ex-marine is hired by a batshit crazy woman who flies V-22s, whose parents were killed some time ago aboard an airliner bombed by terrorists. So terrorists the world over are going to be meeting in this ancient fortress in the back-end of Libya, and she wants to blow the place up. With very little planning (they decide their plan of attack when they are on the ground), they go in. Of interest to me was the V-22 itself, which I did flight simulator work on years ago. Here, the main character has an interesting backstory, the woman is eerie yet mysterious, the tension mounts, and finally, in the end, a clever twist. So even though this story was the furthest from my interests, I found it better than the others. Still, there was that one terrorist who seemed to have expected them, who spoke English without prompting. This was a Chekhov’s gun of the highest order.
I’ve been a little picky here. Coonts writes solid, he knows his stuff, he gives us flyboy porn. Since I got this from the library, I’m not too bent out of shape. If you are your library and see it on the shelves, by all means, run it through the scanner. Fun but light.