FORGOTTEN BOOKS: CRIMSON SKIES BY ERIC NYLUND!
Welcome to the unfriendly skies of 1930’s alternate reality America of Crimson Skies. The United States is a land torn apart by epidemic and war. With chaos on the ground, America’s highways have been forced into the skies, a lawless new frontier where the flying ace – hero, pirate, villain – is king.
In this alternate history, the year is 1937 and the United States is fractured into squabbling nation-states, brought about by the weight of the Great Depression, regional prohibition and mounting isolationism. Giant Zeppelins crisscross the skies carrying both passengers and cargo, and airborne bandits are a constant threat.
Crimson Skies was an official tie-in novel to the thrilling Xbox game of the same name – a game that also spawned miniatures collections, board games, strategy manuals, and anything else that could possibly make money.
These types of books are often overlooked because of their video game incarnations as if they are somehow inferior – and some of them are. But good writing can be found in any genre and video game novelizations is not an exception. Currently, I’m really enjoying Matt Forbeck’s inventive Blood Bowl novels (sword and sorcery on the football field with big dollups of humor) based on the fantasy game of the same name. Eric Nylund, who contributed the first of the three novellas in this collection, is also very capable of turning out fresh and intriguing pulp stories in this sub-sub-genre.
Over the years I’ve developed a strong affinity for the air combat pulps of the ‘30’s and ‘40s. G-8 and his Battle Aces is a particular favorite. As a result, I was easily drawn to the Crimson Skies novelization even though I didn’t have an awareness of the video game for which the concept is best known (Crimson Skies was actually spawn as a board game, but that’s a story for elsewhere).
Like many of the pulps before it, the cover and advertising copy for Crimson Skies promise maximum thrills and adventure. Often this type of hype is far more than what the interior prose delivers. Still, I was willing to forgive much in order to sit back an enjoy the effort the authors made to recreate the pulp feel – and overall, Crimson Skies is quite successful in creating a believable alternate history universe and developing all the traits that made the air combat pulps so popular.
Crimson Skies features three novellas (the exciting, danger-packed adventures of three air daredevils), two originally published on the Crimson Skies website, one previously unpublished. Each story is preceded by a brief history lesson about the Crimson Skies universe, which acts as the prelude to the following story.
THE CASE OF THE PHANTOM PROTOTYPE – Eric Nylund
A hefty payday convinced dogfight genius Paladin Blake to fly a top-secret aircraft into the Mojave Desert. But on this job, Blake must not only save himself, but thousands of others slated for death by an unseen foe.
‘GENGHIS’ KAHN & THE MANCHURIAN GAMBIT – Michael B. Lee
Why is the notorious leader of the Red Skull Legion pirate gang rescuing a lady in distress, returning gold, and duking it out in blazing air battles from Manhattan to Manchuria with no plunder in sight? Wonders never cease.
BAYOU BLUES – Nancy Berman and Eric S. Trautmann
Ever since flying ace Nathan Zachary made a pirate ship out of a stolen zeppelin, the gentleman air-pirate and his Fortune Hunters gang have roamed the globe in search of money, fame, and adventure. But a double-dealing Cajun sky-thief, a crooked businessman, and a pair of star-crossed lovers may just trump this ace in a high stakes, high altitude con game.
Swashbuckling adventures of your favorite flying aces, in all their guts and glory, against a backdrop of blazing Crimson Skies.
Aside from this collection of short stories, the Crimson Skies franchise also led to several other tie-in novels and story collections:
SPICY AIR TALES
This two volume series featured short stories that originally appeared on the Crimson Skies website and supplemental material for using characters and planes from the stories with the boardgame.
VOLUME I: FORTUNE'S HUNT – Michael A. Stackpole
VOLUME II: THE GREAT HELIUM WAR – Robert E. Vardeman
MANHATTAN MAYHEM – Loren L. Coleman
WINGS OF FORTUNE: PIRATE'S GOLD – Stephen Kenson
Introduces Nathan Zachary and his famous band of air pirates, the Fortune Hunters. It follows Zachary's air exploits and daring escapes during his early days as a war pilot, and recounts a climatic confrontation with his nemesis.
WINGS OF JUSTICE: ROGUE FLYER – LOREN L. COLEMAN
Follows the transformation of Trevor Girard from law-abiding security agent to pirate with a heart of gold.