I fly an old open cockpit aeroplane from grass once or twice a month, so perhaps lyrical descriptions of what it feels like are wasted on me. If Richard’s book inspires others towards my kind of flying, good luck to him, but I am afraid I found it rather thin.
RICHARD BACH’S LATEST book is brief, so brief as to really be an extended short story, and some might say that the publisher’s asking £9.99 is a bit of a cheek. I read it in under an hour. I enjoyed it, but not all that much, and I can think of better ways to spend ten quid. (To be fair, it does have some very nice illustrations by K O Eckland, and it is a hardback.)
The story, written in the first person with the author as hero, is a gentle fantasy involving a parallel world in which war was averted in 1914. In this Utopian place, there is an aeroplane factory that the author finds himself able to visit. He makes the trip in his mind, raising the question of whether he imagines the parallel world, or whether it really exists thus the book’s title.
The tale is really a parable about two things: the power of the mind, and how progress, particularly progress in aviation, has in many ways been counter productive. Bach seems to be hankering for the twenties and thirties, the days of Tiger Moths and Piper Cubs, when there were no hard runways, crosswind landings nor computers… the factory he visits has ‘CAD’ painted on a door, but this stands for ‘Crosstime Assistance Division’.
The style is dreamy and slightly poetic: ‘I knew that everything in sight was my own imagination. But long since had I trashed the phrase Only imagination. Convinced that everything in the physical world is imagination dressed to look solid, I was not about to wake from this place, or discount it.’
Some of the descriptions, particularly those of aeroplanes, are well written, but in general I found the style rather off putting. Personally, I think Richard Bach hit his peak decades ago; I very much enjoyed Nothing By Chance, Biplane and a few others written then, and have them on my shelf now. His big hit, Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, I confess to having found unreadable, and Illusions The Confessions of a Reluctant Messiah, which I bought recently for 20p in a charity shop, I threw away half read as near as I could gather, it was about the second coming of Jesus, as a barnstormer.
It would be a shame if my own reactions were mirrored by other readers because Bach has been a very influential writer with an original contribution. At his best, he makes us pilots a hard headed lot, not much given to introspection stop and think about what we do, in a way that enhances our enjoyment of it.
As an instance of early Bach, he wrote a magazine piece on the theme, be careful what you wish for. In it he listed instances of pilots he knew who had hankered for one kind of aeroplane and told how, sometimes by quite circuitous routes, they often came to own that particular machine. I found that piece inspiring, and I imagine others did too. This was a welcome find in a flying magazine, where all too often the writing can be prosaic, factual without being thought provoking, and informative without being entertaining.
What I object to in his later works and this book is an excellent example of what I’m referring to is that they are too distant from the real world. You can take flights of fancy too far, and I hate the quasi religious overtones although it starts prosaically enough, with the pilot looking for a better catch to hold open the window in a Piper Cub. I imagine that the typical Pilot reader will pick up this book, read a few sentences and leave it on the shelf but Bach may not be aiming this book at us at all.
I fly an old open cockpit aeroplane from grass once or twice a month, so perhaps lyrical descriptions of what it feels like are wasted on me. If Richard’s book inspires others towards my kind of flying, good luck to him, but I am afraid I found it rather thin. Nick Bloom.