Pages Completed: 250
Reason Abandoned: I did finish it – eleven times. But it probably needs a few more drafts, and I don’t anticipate I’ll get to it.
This may not sound appealing: a psychological farce, with a dab of literary pretension, about a topic as thoroughly flogged as the war in Iraq.
It takes the form of a long letter.
Princeling, the protagonist, has demonstrated to himself his utter lack courage through his failure over the course of four years in college to even approach a particular girl, much less ask her out on a date, preferring instead a silent vigil of observation.
Triggered by this realization, he joins the Navy. What does he want? It’s stated clearly on the second page. He’s not there for college money, or for citizenship, or to defend anyone from anything, etc. And his goal is not to return home a hero (or a villain) which would only amount to a change in status (a nearly anointed hero, in the modern sense of the term (‘God bless our returning heroes . . .’), is the same person he or she always was; the act(s) in question simply lays bare this essence for all to see.) Princeling’s goal is to change that very essence of his being: to move beyond his former meekness and hesitation, and to conjure up within himself – ex nihilo – the very attributes he so demonstrably lacks – manliness – daring – sensation – sensuality – qualities with which he might one day claw his way back to the girl in question, the addressee of the letter. He wants to become someone new, and believes this bureaucratic organization might be his ticket out of neurosis.
He winds up with a purposeless job in an Air Wing that performs unarmed airborne reconnaissance using an outmoded type of aircraft, the Sky Pig.
Under the tutelage of his idol, Commander Leontocephalos, Princeling quickly succumbs to the easily attained outward manifestations of personal worthiness so prevalent in the military (labels, uniforms, ranks, poses, sunglasses), and therefore believes he has succeeded – believes that he has indeed cast himself fully and heedlessly into life, with its attendant, outsized risks and rewards.
As the war approaches (a war never quite specified), Princeling’s boss, the Air Wing Commodore, Captain Coilcon, eager to impress his own boss, the Admiral – and after dabbling unsuccessfully in fabricated photography – falls under the spell of a government scientist, Doctor Feuerträger, who has been shopping around a series of newly developed non-lethal weapons. The Commodore obtains for the Air Wing a secret weapon system (STARK DISCIPLINE – the story’s sci-fi element) that promises to bolster his reputation and – in Leontocephalos’s view – rescue the Air Wing from its relative impotence – getting them all, for once, ‘into the fight.’
Princeling, meanwhile, is rather proud of his many (non)achievements – going so far as to call the girl of the story and letter-recipient to invite her to a wedding in Paris – until the clear-sighted Commodore lays him low with an inevitable and unpleasant truth: that Princeling has been grossly deceiving himself – that he’s been trying to cheat the Faustian bargain by taking the knowledge – for harnessing the power of the great machine for himself – without paying the price.
Thusly gutted, the next day – and the first day of the war – Princeling makes a crazed dash for a Sky Pig as it’s about to depart for its first mission into hostile territory – armed with this new weapon – and in doing so he finally launches himself out into the uncertain world.