Its no secret that I am not a huge fan of flying. I understand that it is the safest way to travel. But I usually choose to drive if I can. I like to be able to choose my own route, to leave when I want to leave, to stop when I want to stop. I like to be in control of my journey. I think the lack of that control in an airplane is part of what makes me uneasy. Oh, and the fact that I’m in a metal tube shooting across the sky is another part.
So the odds were good that this book about the potential horrors of flying was going to get under my skin. And some of it did, quite a bit.
Here is a list of what is included in this collection:
Introduction by Stephen King
Cargo by E. Michael Lewis
The Horror of the Heights by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet by Richard Matheson
The Flying Machine by Ambrose Bierce
Lucifer! by E.C. Tubb
The Fifth Category by Tom Bissell
Two Minutes Forty-Five Seconds by Dan Simmons
Diablitos by Cody Goodfellow
Air Raid by John Varley
You Are Released by Joe Hill
Warbirds by David J. Schow
The Flying Machine by Ray Bradbury
Zombies on a Plane by Bev Vincent
They Shall Not Grow Old by Roald Dahl
Murder in the Air by Peter Tremayne
The Turbulence Expert by Stephen King
Falling by James Dickey
Afterword by Bev Vincent
I listened to this audiobook on and off over several months, and to be honest, can’t even remember what some of these stories were about without looking them up…but I’ll do my best to try and figure out which one was which.
Highlights for me included:
Cargo, a story about a young guy in the military who was assigned to the cargo plane that flew the bodies of the Jamestown victims – mostly children — home after the mass suicides. What happens on the plane might even be worse than what happened with Jim Jones. This story was narrated by the great Santino Fontana, and he really made me feel for the young officer and the other military members on the plane.
The Fifth Category, which was suggested for the compilation by Owen King. Those Kings know their stuff – this one creeped me out. A former intelligence officer, infamous for his involvement in places like Guantanamo, wakes up completely alone on a plane. What was real? What was fabricated? And why?
Diablitos, a mesmerizing and horrific tale about a poor young idiot who decides to make money by smuggling South American artifacts back home to sell to rich Hollywood art collectors. Things do not go well for this guy, and for everyone else on his flight. And probably the rest of civilization.
You Are Released, by Joe Hill, who I’m finding has more and more to say about the state of current affairs. Like his dad, he isn’t afraid to name names and point fingers. In this short story, North Korea nukes Guam and the US retaliates, all while this small group of characters is on a flight. Unsure of where they are going and what they will find when they get there, this one scared me beyond belief.
And of course, we have to talk about the all-time classic, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. There’s a reason that Richard Matheson is so respected and revered by authors like King and Hill. His ability to create a feeling of horror – in a story that literally EVERYONE knows – is unmatched. So much creepier than either the Shatner or Lithgow Twilight Zone versions. David Morse reads this for the audio version and he truly becomes Robert Wilson.
And yes, there is a “new” story by Stephen King in here…and it is fine. It feels like an old story, one that he wrote decades ago, but pulled out of a drawer and tweaked to add modern vocabulary and technology. It wasn’t that scary or threatening, but I still liked it. It reminded me a lot of Everything’s Eventual – a mysterious organization paying excellent money for someone to not really do anything at all, and it somehow makes a difference between life and death for everyone involved.
The absolute scariest thing in this collection was learning that James Dickey’s epic poem was based on the true story of a stewardess who was sucked out of a plane in 1962 and fell to her death. I can’t even imagine the terror of that poor woman.
None of the stories were bad, I just didn’t feel like they all belonged in the same collection. Yes, they were all about flying, but they didn’t all fit together too well. We had hard scifi, classic who-done-it tales, a lyrical poem, and zombies. Overall an interesting bunch of stories, but the lack of cohesion brought it down a star for me.