Sunday, August 30, 2015
Airship Hunters (Jim Beard & Duane Spurlock, Meteor House 2015)
Another big piece of flying saucer lore I'd been thinking about using was the 1897 "Mystery Airship" flap, in which zeppelin-like airships were seen over the skies of the American Midwest. These ships occasionally touched down, and the bearded human operators would ask a mystified farmer if they could borrow a set of wrenches or a quart of mineral oil for repairs, paying for the tools with a plate of salty pancakes and claiming to be on their way to Cuba to exterminate the Spanish.
Well, Messrs. Beard and Spurlock have taken that nugget of Forteana and run with it far better than I probably would have. Their fast-paced novel (almost more of a round-robin anthology; the two authors alternate chapters, each of which is almost a self-contained short story in and of itself) follows Agents Cabot and Valiantine as they are plucked from their previous work - the Treasury Department for Cabot, the U.S. Army for Valiantine - and deputized as "Aero-Marshalls" of the mysterious Department A-13, sent out into the field to determine if the "Mystery Airship" is of American or foreign manufacture and what the creator intends to do with it.
The authors keep the mystery building, and the reader as disoriented by the facts of the case as Cabot and Valiantine are; it is only towards the end that the reader gleans some bit of understanding that only our 21st century perspective and knowledge of science fiction tropes allows us to grasp better than the characters themselves do.
The story is open-ended to allow for a sequel, so hopefully we'll get a return of Agents Cabot and Valiantine in the near future. I'm kind of hoping they'll look into one of my favorite pieces of the "Mystery Airship" flap that was left out of this volume: the crash of one of these vessels in 1896 in Aurora, Texas, and the burial of its inhuman pilot in the local cemetery!