Friday, July 29, 2011
Forgotten Books: Silver Wings by Raoul Whitfield
Along with his work for Black Mask (under his own name and as Ramon Decolta), Whitfield wrote heavily for air war and air adventure pulps, and I figured this book would be either a novel or short stories culled from those. Nope. It is a collection of short stories (plus one novelette), but most of them originally appeared in Boy's Life.
Too bad. Because while Whitfield's prose is as sharp as ever, and his storytelling first-rate, the stories themselves are of true Boy's Life caliber. In other words, they're boyish, clean and nonviolent. Most of the characters are tediously nice and polite, and the few who aren't always learn their lessons by story's end.
"It takes a man to wear them, and it makes a man - to wear them - silver wings." In each tale, one of our three heroes faces a fear and whips it into submission. Yawn.
Next up is the novelette, "The Air Mail Flies." The hero in this one is a young man who thinks and acts like a boy. Again (surprise) he must conquer his fear to make the air mail fly. My problem here was that it begins as a Man Vs. Nature story, a theme guaranteed to put me to sleep. Our hero flies blind into a snowstorm and crashes in the mountains. Ho hum. There is a briefly interesting conflict when he encounters two guys with guns who seem to be up to no good. But we quickly learn they're forest rangers on the lookout for a suspicious flyer who has been buzzing the area. The mystery of the suspicious flyer is interesting for about half a page before our hero quashes it with the revelation that the guy is simply scouting emergency landing sites for the air mail service. And guess what? Our hero conquers his fear, and The Air Mail Flies.
The third cycle, of six stories, stars an 18-year old commercial pilot prodigy called Rush Roberts. Rush (you guessed it again) conquers his fears and overcomes adversity through strength of character and by being an all around swell guy.
OK, I know I'm making this sound like a lousy book, but it really isn't. Whitfield's writing manages to rise above the simpleminded moralizing and make it worth a read. But after this, I'm really looking forward to some old fashioned gratuitous sex and violence.
More (and probably better) Forgotten Books at Sweet Freedom!