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Hell Above Earth by Stephan Frater

Discussion in 'ETO, MTO and the Eastern Front' started by George Patton, Jun 10, 2012.

  1. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    I'm just about finished reading "Hell Above Earth" by Stephan Frater and felt compelled to write my comments on it.

    The book advertises itself as the story of Werner Goering (nephew of Hermann), a B-17 pilot in the 8th Air Force and the Jack Rencher (the co-pilot ordered to kill him if the plane was shot down). Its an interesting story, but sadly 50% of the book isn't centered on either Goering or Rencher. Instead, its a mix of simplified WWII history, the history of American between 1920 and 1939, the 303rd Bomb Group, Goering/Rencher and random facts that are repeated over and over. Of these, two are relevant (Goering/Rencher and their unit, the 303rd BG), while the rest should be used to set the stage, not to drive the story forward.

    First off, the factual errors are glaring. I'm surprised someone let them into print -- it certainly looks bad on the publishers. Here are a few I can remember off the top of my head:

    • 88mm AA guns are reffered to as ".88mm" guns, over and over again.
    • The author describes an attack on a B-17 by a "Messerschmitt 100". This fighter was more commonly known as the "Bf110" (in fact, I've never heard of a messerschmitt 100 prior to this book and had to look it up).
    • The author uses the idea of "Russian Roulette", but with a Colt .45 pistol. He throws in some figures, presumably to show he can do math, but overlooks the fact that you can't play Russian Roulette with a semiautomatic pistol (the gun is either empty or loaded, and the first trigger pull will determine that).
    I can overlook the technical errors, but I the endless repetition comes very close to completely wrecking the book:

    • Frater refers to men being killed by Flak shrapnel the size of a nickel, and repeats the same or a similar line at least 3 times
    • Describing the procedure where a pilot or co-pilot would relieve themselves by opening the cockpit window, Frater mentions an incident where this went wrong and a hapless captain ended up pissing in the face of a General Travis. He quotes the 303BG history, saying "Captain Eisenhart was known as the only Captain who had urinated in the face of a General and got away with it.", then immediately repeats the same line after the quote ("Eisenhart became known as the only captain who had pissed in the face of a general and got away with it.")
    • He repeated attacks Goering's navigator with the same line ("near psyche-case) or similar lines throughout the book.
    • He repeats that (I'm paraphrasing) "3/4s of bombs dropped in the ETO fell in in the last year of the war" several times
    • He constantly repeats that Albert Speer was a master organizer and was responsible for increasing the production of German fighters in 1944. I can remember this mentioned at least 4 times off the top of my head.
    If this book was written for people with short-term memory loss and/or a short attention span, it would be fine. These examples are just a handful. Anecdotes, figures and events are repeated over and over and over again, even if they are barely relevant to the chapter.

    My biggest complaint is that over half the book is not on the Goering crew, which I the only reason why I bought the book. He devotes chapters to German-Americans, stateside flight training (repeating the casualty figures over and over), the casualty figures of the 8th AF, and other efforts related to the bombing campaign (technological advances, medicine, etc). The standard chapter structure goes something like this:
    1. Something about Werner Goering
    2. Something about the 303rd BG (this will usually mention Goering/Rencher in passing, and will usually be repetitious, especially in regards to the "deadly .88s" and casualty figures)
    3. Something about someone else in the 303rd BG that typically has no relation to Goering (the chapter on MoH recipient Vossler was interesting, but completely irrelevant to Goering or Rencher)
    4. Something about a topic completely unrelated to the book's premise (The chapter on "Aero Medicine" comes to mind. Although interesting, it is not relevant to Goering or Rencher, and barely relevant to the 303rd BG).
    5. Something about Werner Goering
    The end result is a patchy biography of Werner Goering, coupled with a patchy history of WWII and the early Cold War. I understand what the author was trying to achive (likely hoping for a New York Times Bestseller) by using an interesting story (Goering) to sell the book, and throwing in a very basic history of WWII to appeal to the "average reader", but ends up failing. Given the endless repitition, its almost as if the author ran out of time to write the book and merely copied-and-pasted his favourite sentences whenever he needed a filler. I'm surprised the editors let this through -- its published by St. Martin's Press, a big outfit. Frater quotes AJP Taylor in the prologue, saying that history looks easy to write until you try it. While this may be true, I can certainly say that the author needs more practice.

    EDIT: After reading a few other reviews on the internet, it looks like the author usually drops in to address the reviiew. It would be nice for him to address these criticisms, but I won't hold my breath.
     
    belasar likes this.
  2. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    It may be that this is a self-published work in which case was not subject to a competent editor. Of course it may just have had such a bad editor anyway. Your comment that you bought the book because it said it was about Goering's nephew might explain why it was written this way, to grab your attention and your money from what otherwise was a hack work. Thanks for the heads up.
     
  3. George Patton

    George Patton Canadian Refugee

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    Its published by St. Martin's Press, a good-sized publisher (they also printer Sterling Mace's book). The book is OK for the casual reader that has little or no knowledge about WWII and won't mind simple, stupid mistakes -- but I can't see much value from a historical standpoint. I hope that further production runs (if they occur) will fix some of these errors.

    If it was edited, the editor should lose his or her job. If it wasn't, I think St. Martin's has to re-evaluate their policies.
     

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