REVIEW: Fata Morgana by Steven R. Boyett and Ken Mitchroney
At the height of the air war in Europe, Captain Joe Farley and the baseball-loving, wisecracking crew of the B-17 Flying Fortress Fata Morgana are in the middle of a harrowing bombing mission over East Germany when everything goes sideways. The bombs are still falling and flak is still exploding all around the 20-ton bomber as it is knocked like a bathtub duck into another world.
Suddenly stranded with the final outcasts of a desolated world, Captain Farley navigates a maze of treachery and wonder – and finds a love seemingly decreed by fate – as his bomber becomes a pawn in a centuries-old conflict between remnants of advanced but decaying civilizations. Caught among these bitter enemies, a vast power that has brought them here for its own purposes, and a terrifying living weapon bent on their destruction, the crew must use every bit of their formidable inventiveness and courage to survive. Climb aboard and hold on tight for this cinematic, meticulously researched adventure that’s part Band of Brothers, part James Cameron movie, part Casablanca, and 100% edge-of-the-seat breakout thriller.
A Fata Morgana is an unusual and complex form of superior mirage that is seen in a narrow band right above the horizon. It is the Italian name for the Arthurian sorceress Morgan le Fay, from a belief that these mirages, often seen in the Strait of Messina, were fairy castles in the air or false land created by her witchcraft to lure sailors to their deaths.
Spoiler (Violence): Show
Sometimes a cover or a blurb will grab my attention. With this book, it’s the title that snared me. I will admit to not knowing what a fata morgana is so of course I had to find out. Though SciFi isn’t my usual genre, mixing it with WWII, some romance and tossing in some alternate reality sounded intriguing.
The start of the book seemed very plain old historical. It begins with the end of a disastrous mission for the crew aboard their shot up and doomed B17 bomber. With their old plane now a hulk on the shore of England, Captain Joe Farley and his men get a brand new one. Named “Fata Morgana” and with nose art done to the captain’s specifications by the artistic radio operator, they take off the next day on their first raid in it.
The mission is tense and as dangerous as all of them were above the skies of Germany in 1943. Flying in tight formation, the bombers only have fighter escort for a portion of the journey before facing the Luftwaffe on their own. Their Norden bombsights give them better accuracy but the price is paid in blood as they must stay on the bomb run and endure lethal flak from the ground and punishing attacks by German fighter planes. Deliberate wisecracking banter pushes their fears away enough to allow them to function and deliver their payload but when a terrifying phenomenon swallows their battered plane, it’s as if Saturday afternoon Buck Rogers serials have come to life.
Finally we get to the SciFi stuff. The crew have no idea where they are or what has happened to them. Stranded in a desolate and dead landscape, they are rescued by the members of one of a pair of warring peoples (The reason for the enmity is never explained). Or is it a rescue? Farley and his men know their only hope of getting home is to get back to their abandoned plane but can they trust the inhabitants of the Dome or are they going to be turned into game pieces in a fight not their own? And if they do get home, will it be the one they left?
The speculative aspects of the book are interesting. The description of this world sounds like a cross between what the people of the 1930s thought the future would look like and what the actual world of the 1950s turned out to be. Then toss in some glimpses of what our own tech might be leading us to and – voila. Then there are parallels to “Planet of the Apes.” Okay without the talking apes but with a horrific view of what might have happened if WWII had ended differently.
Some things pop up that usually annoy me in these types of SciFi/fantasy worlds. Everyone the bomber crew encounters speaks English and they have coffee! I could have accepted these people speaking another language (I won’t say which to avoid spoilers) but not English. It makes no sense. I also hate it when the bomber crew insists on using their slang even after it has to be laboriously translated multiple times. We get the standard culture clashes with the supposedly tech backwards crew trying to repair the broken but more sophisticated things of this world. Just how many times can the crews’ plain ol’ common sense fix the day? I did like that the crew is faced with their 1940s prejudicial views of women and minorities and that these are basically shot down in flames.
Our bomber crew plus a few who see the truth of the world in which they live must make a stand and fight for truth, justice, motherhood and apple pie. The ultimate Reveal of who caused what that lead to this world does make sense given the mindset behind the people who caused the wasteland. This bombshell leads Farley to give the “what can one man do to alter his fate and everyone else’s” speech. Still he has to try and his girl won’t let him give up now.
For most of the book, the romance is pretty ‘eh. Farley and Wennda do the standard “two people from different backgrounds who instinctively understand each other stuff” which avoids having to spend a lot of time developing their relationship. I’m not wild about how independent Wennda gets all girly as she reacts to Farley making her feel like a woman and pretty.
Okay so the world is saved from a horrific weapon and I’m thinking “there’s still a lot of book left.” And this, coupled with the initial routine war stuff, is where it finally soared for me: the new reality the crew faces and how they live with it. It’s poignant and not all pretty or pain free.
Readers need to know that this will not be the type of HEA romance we enjoy reading here. Instead my rec of this book would be more for the military aspects. The framework of the plot presents an interesting view of time and a bittersweet love found, lost and – maybe – ultimately found again. The last paragraphs of Farley as an older man thinking back on his crew, the woman whose memory he’s loved for seventy years and this adventure did have me in tears. B/C+
Because time’s not an arrow. It’s a shock wave. It spreads out in all directions at once. From every possible past to every possible future. Someone I’ve loved all my life told me as much. Will live to say as much. Because she’s waiting out there, somewhere. Somewhen. There is out there a hub around which all times turn.
Beyond the windshield the overcast was finally burning off and what remained of day was clearing. In some other future up ahead a bright soul’s beacon shone. It would be beautiful at sixteen thousand feet.
He could hear the voices in his headset now. Boney and Plavitz and Shorty and Wen, Everett and Garrett and Martin and Francis.
“Wheels up,” the old man whispered.
He felt the cockpit tremble as the Fata Morgana began to pick up speed. Slowly at first, then in a rush. The daylight brightening to a blinding white as the world he knew all dropped away.