Friday, July 31, 2015

"The Last Pilot"

Benjamin Johncock was born in England in 1978. His short stories have been published by The Fiction Desk and The Junket. He is the recipient of an Arts Council England grant and the American Literary Merit Award, and is a winner of Comma Press's National Short Story Day competition. He also writes for the Guardian. He lives in Norwich, England, with his wife, his daughter, and his son.

Johncock applied the Page 69 Test to The Last Pilot, his first novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Last Pilot is a curious one, as it contains the only flashback of the entire novel. I’m not a fan of flashbacks, hence why this is the only one. Before this, however, we see two characters talking about the aftermath of Sputnik, with one—Reverend Irving—deeply concerned about escalating global events:
This country has always been protected by the vast oceans that surround it. Imagine if that could be breached, at any time, in minutes, by a Sputnik carrying an atomic bomb? What if it could shower us with radiation like a crop-duster as it passes overhead?
Grace isn’t so sure, but Irving is fearful and panicked, much like the Administration:
Only last week the Soviets launched another Sputnik—Mechta, whatever that means—that flew to the moon, then into orbit around the sun. The sun! How are they doing this? How are they doing these things before us? McCormack’s right, you know, we’re facing national extinction if we don’t catch up, and catch up soon. We simply must capture the high ground of space. Our survival— the free world, the church—depends on it.
It’s hard to appreciate now, with Earth orbit like an international freeway, the deep fear that the launch of a mere satellite provoked. Johnson said that control of space meant control of the world: “The power to control the Earth’s weather, to cause drought and flood, to change the tides and raise the levels of the sea, to direct the Gulf Stream and change temperate climates to frigid.”

It was the beginning of the space race.

As Irving says, “It’s a battle, Grace. It’s a battle for the heavens. It’s good versus evil and we’re on the front line.”

Or, as a radio announcer put it, at the time Sputnik was passing overhead, beeping down at the sleeping United States, listen now for the sound that forevermore separates the old from the new.
Visit Benjamin Johncock's website.

--Marshal Zeringue