Close to the Sun
This novel of World War II follows the careers of three fighter pilots, two American and one German. Each man is in love with flying above all else and comes to war with an idealized notion of the job: the fighter pilot as a “knight of the air,” meeting his noble peers in chivalrous single combat high above the impersonal slaughter on the ground. The reality in 1942 is much different, however. German ace Karl and his Luftwaffe comrades rack up hundreds of victories each yet are losing a war of attrition against the Soviets. On the American side, pilots Hank Milroy and Seth Braham can never fly high enough to escape the atrocities on the ground.
Platt makes his key point well: winning a modern air war is not about chivalry or single-seat fighters, it is about filling the sky with enough bombers to destroy the other side’s ability to fight. Unfortunately, this leaves little for the main characters to do but fly a succession of ultimately meaningless missions on the path to disillusionment. Karl is entirely unsympathetic, a domestic abuser who hates the Nazis only because he is an aristocrat and they’re not. The two Americans deserve medals for exposition above and beyond the call of duty, sometimes recalling entire passages from books about air combat theory and quoting them for our benefit. Despite its faults, this is a highly informative look at the changing face of aerial combat.