Steven R. Boyett and Ken Mitchroney’s novel Fata Morgana is a fascinating piece of science fiction that makes you feel like you’re watching a terrific old war movie combined with an episode of the Twilight Zone.
I say “old” war movie because contemporary war movies seem too focused on horrifying you about the nature of war. Old war movies often did that too, but they also focused on the heroic exploits of average American Joes thrust into a terrible time and place. The Americans in this story find themselves transported from a terrible time and place to an even worse time and place where the planet has almost literally been destroyed by immensely powerful weapons and all that is left of humanity is a couple of warring factions fighting for survival in the last habitable spaces.
Fata Morgana is the name of the B-17 bomber central to the story. The name is taken from a type of mirage that creates the illusion of islands in the sky. The mirage takes its name from the Arthurian sorceress Morgan le Fay. The Morgana’s name and nose art figure prominently in the story.
I also have to clarify that my review is based on the audio version of Fata Morgana as voiced by the talented Macleod Andrews. I sometimes find the audio format preferable especially when the narrator has delivered an entertaining performance, giving each character his or her own voice, which brings me back to the movie comparison.
My only frame of reference for the 1940s is movies set in the time and the dialog transports you into one of them. The bomber crew is a cross section of American culture with everything from a Lakota Sioux belly gunner to a wisecracking co-pilot from Jersey. Superficially they may be cliches but this is the kind of story where cliches seem appropriate. The Morgana’s crew has to navigate the strange world and find their way back home and their Yankee ingenuity and swagger remains undaunted in the face of the impossible.
As I listened to it, I could envision Fata Morgana playing out as a black and white or maybe one of the early color science fiction films—the kind where the special effects were crude but the story makes it forever re-watchable. There are elements to the story that are reminiscent of the old Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials, but it is easy to imagine a young Ronald Reagan being cast as Morgana’s Captain Joe Farley or a young Mickey Rooney playing “Saint Francis” the innocent and youthful tail-gunner.
Boyett and Mitchroney have gone out of their way to write a real tribute to the “greatest generation” in Fata Morgana. The story they tell makes us think that maybe that generation was even greater than we ever imagined.