Friday, December 4, 2020

"Going Ballistic," by Dorothy Grant

 A great GOOD AFTERNOON on a Red Friday, to all my friends and neighbors out there in Internet Land! And to family members who have dropped by, I would have LOVED to have given this book to Ralph!

Cover art, followed by an Amazon Associates link. If you click the link, and buy something, I get a small referral fee. 

Every time I introduce author Dorothy Grant’s work to someone, I always add “...and she was an Alaskan bush pilot!” It’s such an amazing occupation. I already had mental images of life-critical flights under adverse conditions, having to buzz the strip to get the moose herd to leave prior to landing. WHY?

My mom married Ralph, a commercial pilot, in 1958, when I was five years old. Despite what you may have heard of a party lifestyle, most pilots chose voracious reading to pass the hours spent in layovers and dead-heading home. I suspect that my first reading of science fiction came from the library he had accumulated, but ANYTHING aviation-related was fair game. 
When “Fate Is The Hunter” was published in 1961, Ernest K. Gann became a household word. The book is dedicated to the commercial pilots who had lost to The Numbers, the odds that something will go wrong. I remember my mom showing me the names of the pilots who flew for the Ralph’s airline. 
So, I have long respected those who slip the surly bands of Earth, bringing bodies, beans, and boxes to where they are needed. And: BUSH pilots? WOW!

As far as I can tell, this is the first of Grant’s work to draw on her experience as a pilot; if it was mentioned in the two prior novels of hers I’ve reviewed, “Scaling the Rim”   and Shattered Under Midnight,” I missed it entirely. 

Some books are so good, that a reader says “I couldn’t put it down.” Book lovers know that there is AT LEAST one level above that: “I put it down, because I didn’t want it to end.” 
And that’s how good this book is.
Yes, I DID go back and finish it. 
Michelle Lauden is a hard-core pilot. She’s not yet old, but if she ever WAS bold, she’s gotten it out of her system. Good enough is NOT for her; she seeks perfection, in every aspect, every time. What sets her apart from some other pilots is that she also seeks perfection in her courtesy and respect for her flight crew, the mechanics, and even the ramp rats who load cargo. 
Perhaps her respect doesn’t extend to the dispatchers, but she DOES honor the schedule, even when it’s radically changed at the last second.

And THAT is the state in which we find her at the beginning of the book. She has just brought in a ballistic flight (one of a very small number of pilots with that rating) and is expecting some down-time; instead, she discovers that she has a quick turn-around flight, that comes too close to putting her over the maximum time she is permitted to fly.

A small note here: beside rules like this (and others) there are some particular aviation terms that  some readers might not know. It will NOT harm your comprehension of the story; it WILL be a nice  extra for those with some prior knowledge.

Since she IS a hard-core pilot, Michelle adapts, and, with the help of some unexpected but welcome Organized-Muscle-With-Brains, she proceeds to get the bird in the air...
...only to have politics interfere. She is told at first that there are terrorists in the area, but eventually discovers that some smaller governments are attempting to become independent of the ponderous Federation. 

I will NOT write spoilers! Therefore, EVEN THOUGH the essential action sequences occur delightfully early in the story, I turn from narrative to themes.

Theme 1: Michelle is a female in a testosterone-laden environment. She can’t ignore it; part of her ability to form and operate a crew is the way she  deals with hazing, particularly of newbies.  It’s a nasty reality, and fragile people don’t survive.

Theme 2: Michelle is a civilian pilot, in a situation that QUICKLY becomes a military operation. Because she has a skill the military MUST HAVE, she is not given the option of sitting on the sidelines. However, she is also not in the chain of command.

Theme 3: The massive Federation is at war with the smaller Empire. Michelle is not truly affiliated with either, but has a Federated background. However, she can’t remain unaffiliated.

Theme 4: TECHNOLOGY!!!!! Humanity has expanded out to thousands of planets, using jump gates to get there, but that’s really not a story factor. More applicable to the story is the tech Michelle has available to fly the plane; it’s inserted into her body, and allows her to plug into systems, make changes, get data; all sorts of things. She has also received some upgrades to allow her to respond more quickly to emergencies. Those include a system diagnostic/communications port on her wrist, covered with synthetic skin. There are some advanced weapons mentioned, but a very interesting segment is devoted to Michelle being trained to use what seems to be a conventional projectile pistol.

Theme 5: Redliners. I’m using the term from the David Drake book but here there are two categories of burn-out. There are some former combat troops, now in a semi-civilian capacity, who appear to have misplaced the ability to play well with others. More common are the limits reached by the characters.  Despite advanced medical tech, or because of it, each individual has a limit to what they can accomplish before they crash.  

Theme 6: This is the central theme, worth every bit of attention given to it. It's NOT ham-handed, though; in fact, I don't know that it's directly referred to once. It’s about relationships, and individual differences; how you treat others MATTERS. Those most deeply affected by burnout seem to have fallen back on one treatment for everyone, and it’s usually abusive. That works well with some people, but damages the effectiveness of others. 

Because the early action is critical to the story development, I backed away from referring to it in this review. Action lovers have NOTHING to fear; from exploding spaceships to punches in the nose, there is plenty going on. And, while I’m not saying that someone points a loaded gun at their boss, someone points a loaded gun at their boss.

Yes. Magnificent. I do so hope more is coming….

Peace be on your household.

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