Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Part 23, Chapter 7 - Not So Much a Dogfight as a Joust

Suddenly, Jonnie is aboard his trusty old Mk32 battle plane, racing along with Stormalong and two other pilots to rescue Glencannon, who fell under attack while en route to deliver the latest Terl footage. It's Day 78, and there's now eighteen alien ships orbiting Earth, and one of them's apparently a Tolnep "plane carrier" that launched the fighters that are harassing Glencannon.

Six more "needle-like craft" are launched by an orbital carrier while Jonnie watches his scopes, but then he spots Glencannon, alone and harried by four bogeys. Stormalong and the two other pilots rip through these pursuers, leaving one alive. So Jonnie changes course to meet the six newcomers head-on in a suicidal maneuver that only works because he's the main character. His spray of firepower kills the leader and he's able to down another enemy when the formation rushes past. He's actually hit on the wing ("touched") by a piece of Tolnep debris, but if you think that'd have some sort of an effect on a high-speed aircraft, you'd be wrong.

Jonnie goes head-to-head again and somehow his "shots stuffed the Tolnep's own fire up his cannon barrels," destroying the ship. I guess it's like those old Looney Tunes where you stick your finger in a shotgun barrel and it blows up in it's wielder's face. Only, you know, with blasters. After taking a hit that darkens half his windshield, Jonnie blows away two more Tolneps without further incident, and then blasts apart the last one as it tries to flee.

Glencannon, meanwhile, is almost at the minesite landing zone, with that one last stubborn Tolnep on his tail. He makes it through before the minesite guards turn the "atmosphere-armor curtain" back on. The Tolnep doesn't.

When Jonnie's on the ground checking on Glencannon, he finds him crying in his cockpit because he was ordered to leave his escort, a Swiss pilot and friend of his, behind. When Unnamed Swiss Guy was shot up and ejected, the aliens blasted him in midair. Jonnie and the others manage to talk Glencannon out of a suicidal attack on the orbiting enemy warships, and Jonnie takes the shipment of Terl discs, hoping that they're worth it.

So yeah, action this chapter. Tedious, suspense-free, meaningless action.

I've read the X-Wing books, which contain plenty of dogfights and ship-to-ship combat, and they're nothing like this. In those stories there's substance to the starfighter battles. You've got the initial terrifying rush as the two sides close on each other and exchange fire, the expanding furball as the combatants chase each other, trying to get behind for a kill-shot (or a missile lock). You've got the hero pilots trying to outsmart their enemy, anticipate which way their target will break, and struggling to slip away from a foe that gets behind them. You've got suspense even when you're following characters that canonically survive the book, because you get to see them looking out for other pilots, their squadmates, and try to keep them alive.

Jonnie on the other hand is just as boringly invincible in the air as he is on the ground. There's no sense of danger, no suspense, or even a sense of accomplishment at the end. We're just being told how many aliens Jonnie blew up that day. It's only exciting in comparison to the chapters we've had to sit through recently.

Back to Chapter Six

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