Friday, 27 February 2015

Advance reading

The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock

Reviewing a book by someone you know, and that you bump into on a frequent basis is actually quite nerve wracking.
Add in to the mix that their new book is on a topic that you love, and know quite a lot about.

To say I approached The Last Pilot with trepidation isn't entirely the truth however, since the author announced it had a publication date I'd been haunting daily hoping that a reading copy would be available for request.

It duly appeared and I was approved for a download.  As soon as I'd finished my required reading for uni I did turn to it and then read pretty much non stop to the end.  I was very lucky that the following day was a day off!

The book took a little getting used to at first as there were no speech marks but this was good - it slowed me down (a little).

The publisher blurb tells more about the book than I ever could - and decides what counts as a spoiler:

Jim Harrison is a test pilot in the United States Air Force, one of the exalted few. He spends his days in a precarious dance with death above the Mojave Desert and his nights at his friend Pancho's bar, often with his wife, Grace. Both are secretly desperate for a child—and are delighted when, against all odds, Grace learns that she is pregnant.But Sputnik has put the country in a panic, and NASA, newly formed, has been tasked with manning space before the Russians. Harrison turns down the chance to participate in Project Mercury and becomes a father to Florence, his baby girl. Yet his life, as a father and as a pilot, grinds to a halt when she becomes seriously ill and dies at the age of two. Devastated, Harrison loses himself in his work—and, sometimes, in distressing thoughts of Florence—and this time, when he gets a ticket to the moon, he takes it, but without consulting Grace.As Harrison trains to become an astronaut, the toll that his daughter's death has taken upon his marriage becomes more palpable, even as his ability to reckon with the reality of it diminishes. Set against the backdrop of one of the most emotionally charged periods in American history,The Last Pilot is a mesmerizing story of loss and finding courage in the face of it, from an extraordinary new talent.
What I loved about the book was how little like a novel it was, at the back Johncock lists books he consulted for the research (I'd read all but one of them!) and I really felt that his book stood alongside them as a biography of the time and age - just with an invented character which made it fiction.

The repressed emotion shown by Harrison was perfect when compared to the biographies and autobiographies of the early astronuats - you know that they had to have feelings but that they were repressed to the Nth degree to keep up the image of the macho astronaut.

However this (accurate) emotional distance did keep me a little distant from the book as a novel hence my constant forgetting that it was fiction.  This may be down to my own knowledge of the topic matter and I really look forward to talking about the book with people who don't know the source stories as well as me! The book has enough story that I think it will satisfy people who are 'space nuts' and those who like a good story set in the 1950s and 60s.

I've been to many of the physical places mentioned in the book, and met several of the real men featured and I am so pleased that this book adds to my experiences and, unlike some works on topics I like, send me either screaming back to the sources or ruin my interest entirely.

The book isn't published until July in either the US or the UK but add it to your wish lists now.

Please note that although I know the author the book was provided through, the review is entirely independent and I have received no recompense for writing it.

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