The Pilots

Overview

Apart from sex, flying was the most exciting thing I'd run across in my twenty years on this planet.

James Spencer flew B-24 bombers over New Guinea, Borneo, and the Philippines during 1944 and 1945, and it was only decades later that he began to write about it, combining the literal truth as he remembered it with imagination based on all that he'd seen and heard.

The extraordinary result is The Pilots, a novel-in-stories about a group of young...

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Overview

Apart from sex, flying was the most exciting thing I'd run across in my twenty years on this planet.

James Spencer flew B-24 bombers over New Guinea, Borneo, and the Philippines during 1944 and 1945, and it was only decades later that he began to write about it, combining the literal truth as he remembered it with imagination based on all that he'd seen and heard.

The extraordinary result is The Pilots, a novel-in-stories about a group of young men, their comrades, and girlfriends, as they evolve in often unpredictable ways during the last years of the war: Blake Hurlingame and Steve Larkin, boyhood friends who take different paths into fighters and bombers; Doc, the flight surgeon, battling combat fatigue; Courtenay, the captain whose arrogant bluster masks hidden demons; and Addie, the woman who will leave her mark on them all.

These are stories alive with the senses, filled with the smell of hot oil and burnt rubber; the sight of green jungle and backlit clouds like vast sculptured monuments; the feeling of a plane warming up, trembling like a bird eager to be in flight. Several excerpts have already appeared in magazines; now the work itself makes a wholly remarkable debut.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Half a century ago, brave pilots fought in Pacific skies against a determined enemy and helped turn the tide of war. The author was one of them, but only in the past decade-to satisfy the curiosity of his sons, he says-has he written up his memories, fictionalized as a series of linked short stories. Other veterans have produced a deluge of similar works, but the honesty of Spencer's writing, which is lean and understated whether he is describing deadly scenes of action or military horseplay at base camp, sets this volume apart. There is a touch of Tales of the South Pacific to the adventures of Steve Larkin, a fighter pilot and the author's stand-in, who bails out of his plummeting aircraft and lands on a grimly hazardous jungle island inhabited by head-hunting, spear-toting savages. They capture and imprison Steve in a fetid hut, and the situation seems bleak, but after some days of testing his intentions, two nubile young women make it clear he is welcome. Though the episode is described unemotionally, its impact is plain; after the villagers release him, Steve concludes simply "it was odd that he didn't feel more enthusiastic about being rescued." Heroism is about staying alive, but the unit physician, Doc, is so solicitous of his men as to become hopelessly delusional, believing he must save them from sinister friendly fire. Scenes in Australia, where the pilots go for rest, are vivid and poignantly capture the pain of the women there who have lost their men. This is not self-conscious writing, but it successfully balances the beauty of flying with the terrors of life-and-death combat, and is a worthy addition to the literature of WWII. (Feb.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425194164
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 3/2/2004
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 8.88 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

James Spencer earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and three Air Medals, among other honors in the Pacific. Four of these stories have appeared in The Ontario Review and The South Dakota Review, and his short stories, poems, and plays have also appeared in more than forty other magazines and collections, including The Best American Short Stories 1999, edited by Amy Tan.

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Table of Contents

Introduction ix
The Hurlingame Trainer 1
Dead Reckoning 24
Doc 38
Famous Aces 50
Ceiling Zero 77
First Love 91
Traitor 108
The Jungle--Part I 122
The Jungle--Part II 141
Flying with Angels 156
The Japanese Ace 180
Addie 197
Courtenay 220
The Emissary 235
Patsy 252
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