** Review originally prepared for Big Al’s Books & Pals. Received a free file of the book **
Genre: Rite of passage
Description: The Zons say this of Wild Blue Yonder – “over 650 Vietnam War novels have been published, mostly dark tales from the war zone. In Wild Blue Yonder, Airman Nathaniel Hawthorne Flowers goes not to Vietnam but Germany, straight into a military Catch-22. His assignment: writing stories for the Stars and Stripes newspaper that will never see print. Nate’s adventure deepens as he and his fellow troops try to understand why they’re there, the military mindset, and the massive social disruption roiling 1960’s America.
“Existential, psychedelic, funny, and laced with rock ‘n’ roll, Wild Blue Yonder is the story of Nate’s quest for personal and spiritual values while trying to learn the meaning of family, friendship, and the love of the girl he left behind.”
I take issue with the comparison to Catch 22 for a number of reasons, which boil down to the fact that the USAF boys in the book are not in a war zone. Catch 22 was the Catch that was going to kill you. These boys are in no danger whatsoever.
Nor am I sure that The Doors, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Steve Miller Band, Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix et al which are so important to the book (not to mention classical music, blues and jazz) really count as ‘rock ‘n’ roll’. Seminal music, taking off from rock and roll and going places never explored before: yes. Rock ‘n’ roll: not really. But the book certainly does explore the mind-expanding music that came out in 1966-68.
Author: Jack B. Rochester has worked in publishing his entire career as an editor, publisher and writer. He’s written 12 works of nonfiction, including The Naked Computer and Pirates of the Digital Millennium , hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, and short stories and poetry for literary magazines. He is the founding barista of www.fictionalcafe.com, a popular arts and coffee hangout. Wild Blue Yonder, his first novel, was self-published in 2011. The sequels, Madrone and Anarchy are published by Wheatmark.
Rochester earned his Master’s degree in comparative literature from California State University at Sonoma, where he sponsors an annual scholarship for students who aspire to a career in writing. He was raised in South Dakota and Wyoming, lived many years in California, and today shares his time between Lexington, Massachusetts; Titusville, Florida; and Châteaulin, France. No moss grows under his feet.
Appraisal: I have been a bit curmudgeonly about the claims made for this book above. So what is good about it?
It follows a rudderless young man through the three febrile years 1966, 1967 and 1968. For those of you doing the math on your fingers that was 50+ years ago. The summer of love was in 1967. US troops were first sent to Vietnam in 1965 and by 1966 a young man could be drafted to serve there for two years, unless he made other arrangements with the military (volunteering to serve elsewhere). Martin Luther King Jnr was assassinated in April and Bobby Kennedy in June 1968.
Still grieving for his recently deceased father, Nate volunteers for the USAF, gets sent to Germany, and two years later is disgorged back into civilian life. The book embraces the discoveries you rather hope a young man with an open mind would make: the music, the books, the zeitgeist, the searching for meaning in life.
The book reads like a memoir. Nor is there a whole lot of story. Of course, any book dealing with the military not in a combat situation is going to have a lot of ‘hurry up and wait’ in it. But there are a number of fascinating episodes (‘the grandes dames’ are not to be missed).
Industrial quantities of marijuana are consumed during the course of the book. Some LSD is dropped. Nobody has any trouble procuring this stuff, nobody is arrested for possessing or supplying it, none of their superiors ever notice they are stoned, and the narrator never buys any of it (except $2 for an LSD-laced sugar cube). Halcyon days!
The little group of GIs spend their time in their USAF backwater, almost entirely dependent on each other, trying to find themselves. They know very little about current US or German politics. They have very little German between them. And the only access to English-language newspapers they have is the military’s Stars and Stripes, which carries nothing controversial about the Vietnam War, nor anything else happening back home. So the group mark time, looking inward, playing the latest music and smoking a LOT of dope.
If you want to know what those days were like, this reads like an accurate place to start. Except, possibly, for the truly amazing quantities of dope.
FYI: plenty of bad language, but surprisingly little sex.