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Into the Sun: Novels of the United States Air Force

Into the Sun: Novels of the United States Air Force by Phillip S. Meilinger. Imprint Publications, 2011, 255 pp.

Readers of Into the Sun, an attractive compendium by one of our airpower giants, Phil Meilinger, will be surprised to learn that so many novels about airpower exist. The book includes well over 100 titles, pared from a list of more than 400. To keep the number manageable, the author selected only those about the US Air Force, excluding foreign fiction; the many fine Army, Marine Corps, and Navy novels; books of a commercial, civilian, or romantic nature; “techno-thrillers” (such as those written by Tom Clancy); and juvenile works.

Since I haven’t spent much time reading fiction, I had doubts about my qualifications to review this book. As a military and airpower historian, I felt perpetually challenged by the prospect of reading all the nonfiction in my collection, let alone the literally thousands of attractive studies in the Air University Library. Then, when I saw Meilinger’s list of novels dealing with air warfare, I was surprised by how many I had read and/or seen in their movie versions. On that point, the inclusion of Catch-22 on the reading list for 2012 compiled by the chief of staff of the Air Force (CSAF) is fortuitous insofar as it tops Meilinger’s selections for “Europe: The Bombers,” the segment of his book on World War II bomber operations.

I fully understand the importance of airpower novels. Fictional studies have the immensely useful quality of digging into issues, enriching with nuances, and eliciting human emotions not developed in works of nonfiction. Into the Sun assists average airpower fans who wish to sample this genre by offering one- or two-page accounts of novels, thus piquing their interest and helping them decide what to read in full. Meilinger chose these books with two important criteria in mind: (1) themes unique to and thoroughly conversant in airpower practices, and (2) novels that were “reasonably truthful, entertaining, enjoyable or educational—and preferably all four” (p. 2).

Arrangement of the novels follows a natural chronological order connected to the major wars and combat of the twentieth century. The first section, “World War I,” includes a novel by William Faulkner, one of America’s most famous authors. The many books on World War II appear in four sections: “Europe: The Bombers,” “Europe: Fighters and POWs,” “The Pacific: Fighters and Bombers,” and “World War II: The Home Front.” Among the famous writers and their works included therein are Len Deighton, Bomber; John Hersey, The War Lover; Martin Caidin, The Last Dogfight; and James Gould Cozzens, Guard of Honor. In section 6, “The Korean War,” Meilinger features James Salter’s The Hunters (also on the CSAF’s 2012 reading list) and James A. Michener’s Sayonara (many of us saw the movie). Thunderchief by Don Henry appears in section 7, “Vietnam: Fighters and Bombers,” and section 8, “Vietnam: The Other Wars,” highlights Mark Berent’s series of books, including Rolling Thunder and Phantom Leader. (A former CSAF wanted to include one of Berent’s books on his reading list, but he thoughtfully relented when someone reminded him about its use of salty language and descriptions of sexual activity.) The final section, “The Cold War and Beyond,” leads off with another James Salter novel, Cassada; it also features a trilogy—Roaring Thunder, Supersonic Thunder, and Hypersonic Thunder—by Walter Boyne, one of our great American airpower advocates and a regular commentator on the History Channel.

When I read through many of the excellent summaries of these airpower novels, I was disappointed by the omission of a title that I expected to see in this volume. Then, of course, I remembered that many of the fine accounts of the Air Force story in the past century—like the one I had in mind—were not novels but studies written by historians and memoirs by Airmen. Most of them reflected Meilinger’s intent, in that they offer the important human dimension—emotions such as loneliness and fear, the constant companions of all warriors—and they deal with issues and doctrine that constantly underlay both airpower employment and flight in general. Clearly, if readers wish to criticize the author’s selection, they should compile their own list and start a debate about the rationale for including those titles. In the meantime, Into the Sun is a great book to have on any reader’s bookcase.

Dr. Daniel Mortensen

Air Force Research Institute

Maxwell, AFB, Alabama

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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