January 25th, 2009

krazy koati

Just to be a simple man who sadly lost his way

So on reading Nevil Shute's No Highway I find I'm surprisingly convinced by the story. It's about the discovery of fatigue leading to crashes of a new-model trans-Atlantic airplane, and in that regard is seen as forerunner to the actual Comet catastrophe. However, the similarities really start and end with the problem of structural fatigue on British Overseas Airways Corporation craft --- and getting the company right is unimpressive since they had a monopoly on British trans-Atlantic aviation. (Shute notes in endnotes that he made up company names where he could, but when there was a monopoly or a designated government agency for something he felt compelled to use the actually existing body. He does apologize for making the fictional representative of one agency worse at his job than we'd hope he would be.) The Comet suffered cracks around the windows; the Rutland Reindeer of the book have a faulty tail.

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As an intriguing point of technique the book is mostly written in first person, with third-person omniscient for the scenes the primary narrator could not witness. There's even an explanation at the end for how the book came to be written by the first-person character, the sort of thing I thought had gone out with identifying place names and noble characters by their first name and a long dash. It also adds in the closing chapters a new air-crash investigation, with Royal Air Force pilots who can't understand why their new fighters keep crashing and would those boffins please stop giving that foolish advice about not flying faster than Mach 0.90 since nobody's going to stay that slow just because some silly pencil pushers who don't even fly say they should? It doesn't reflect on the main story, and it's not resolved by the end of the book; it's just ... that in real life there'll be a fresh problem before they're quite done with the old.

Trivia: The ceremony on 25 January 1915 commemorating the start of transcontinental long-distance telephoning involved connctions between New York City, where Alexander Graham Bell spoke; and San Francisco, where Thomas Watson was; and Jekyll Island, Georgia, where AT&T president Thomas Vail was recovering fromillness. Source: Telephone: The First Hundred Years, John Brooks.

Currently Reading: Shakespeare: The World As Stage, Bill Bryson.