March 10, 2008

pull me out of the air crash

Well, that was unexpectedly exciting.

"International diversions are unusual," said the still-slightly-shaken stewardess over the PA, as we taxied towards Schiphol International. It was something of an understatement. I had heard of airplanes that took off aiming for one country but wound up landing in another - most notably in Gander on 11 Sep 01 - but until today it hadn't ever happened to anyone I knew.

I've had a fair number of interesting airborne expeditions. In no particular strict chronological order, they include a Douala-Harare flight that featured an abrupt and unscheduled stopover in Kinshasa, at the height of the Congo's civil war; careening across the Himalaya on a Buddha Air prop plane full of bags of apples, with cotton swabs for earplugs; a six-seater Cessna caught in the swooping up-, down- and side- drafts above the Grand Canyon; my solo skydive from 12,500 feet over Empuriabrava; a thunderstorm landing in the Papua New Guinea highlands; a flight into Iquitos, a jungle city unconnected by road, on an airline not permitted to fly into the USA; the C-130(?) US military cargo jet from Germany to Iraq, via "death spiral" landing, followed by the Anaconda-Baghdad-Anaconda Blackhawk shuttle; even the world's first credit-card-purchased flight from Kigali International. But I have never felt quite so nervous in the air as I did today.

I would have been fine if I hadn't begun to think he was actually going to try to land the thing. "There's high winds, but they say they've steadied off a bit, so we're just going to go down and take a look and see if we can land," the pilot chirruped in a cheerful Texan accent, and down we sauntered towards London Gatwick, until the sauntering turned into a bouncing, buffeting roller-coaster ride, more violent than any other turbulence I can remember offhand - and this was no puddle-jumper or diesel prop, this was a 767 - and yet the flaps rose, the landing gear dropped, the engine dialled back, and we just kept falling, falling, down so far that we could see land even through the thick clouds below, and I really thought he was going to go for it despite our continual erratic and violent near-quantum jumps in all three axes.

Then whoom, the engine screamed back to full power, the wheels went up, the flaps went down, and as we soared back through the unfriendly skies to something vaguely like cruising altitude, the pilot got on the horn and reported, with something like amazement in his voice, "It was 72 knots with wind shear at 800 feet down there, so tell you what, folks, we're just going to divert to Amsterdam, fuel up and sit tight 'til this weather clears up."

Good call, I thought. Then I thought, waitaminit, Amsterdam? But yep, seems the whole British Isles were being lashed by storm, and you know what they say about any port in those circumstances.

We probably landed on fumes, too; we'd come all the way from Atlanta. Alas, we were not allowed to deplane and enjoy the many delights of Schiphol aka Spliffol (is it true there's a hash bar?) - apparently nation-states look askance at unexpected airliner visitors. At least the flight was sparsely populated and I had a whole middle section to myself, enough that I could lie down with bent knees and sleep during our unplanned two-hour Dutch stopover. Gatwick was more welcoming at noon, and here I sit, back on Daventry Street, in one piece, and rather glad of it.

In other news, NoK has earned a few nice reviews from English and Australian papers:

The Sydney Morning Herald, my daily paper when Down Unda, calls it A scary and graphic thriller about a complex global conspiracy involving al-Qaeda, pan-African politics, gorillas, guerillas, murdered hostages, state-of-the-art digital technology and, inevitably, the CIA.

The novel begins at speed, with a group of British, American and Canadian tourists trekking through the Ugandan jungle on a gorilla-spotting tour. By the time the page numbers reach double figures, the guards are dead and the tourists' apparently Congolese captors are marching them towards the Uganda-Congo border, where the plan is to hold them to ransom.

But almost every aspect of the plot is more complicated than it seems ...

The York Press says (scroll down): A gripping and terrifying read. Evans is definitely a name for the future

The Lancashire Evening Post goes into more detail: In this scarily plausible thriller set in the heart of Africa, kidnap in the Congo is just a smokescreen for a devastating conspiracy [...] Full of pace and high drama in a world made more open and dangerous by modern technology, Evans's plots positively teem with well-drawn characters and terse, well-controlled dialogue. There are plenty of twists and turns and the non-stop action is guaranteed to leave readers breathless. Ya got that?

They also call me the master of the high tech, high concept and high adrenalin thriller, which would be more of an egoboo if it wasn't quoted word for word from my publisher-written publicity blurb.

Oh. Yes. They do say The only reservation about Evans's thrillers is his use of the present tense which may be designed to give the story more impact and immediacy but seems a pointless writing device that jars with the action and makes reading unnecessarily laboured.

Actually, Books One and Two are first-person past: I wrote Invisible Armies in third-person present basically because I thought of it as a cyberpunk novel and was aping Snow Crash, then decided I liked it enough to stick with it in NoK (after various interim drafts, including at least one, if memory serves, written as two storylines with alternating past and present tense). Have since moved back to past tense for my most recent work.

Does present tense really bug people that much? I suppose the correct answer is, as always, "not if it's done well." Hrmp. Oh well.