Review: Virgin Airmen by Michael Gouda

After a short hiatus we are back and I’m kicking off with a short story set during the early 50’s in England.

It’s a bitterly cold Saturday evening when Michael Duggan, RAF aircraftsman second class, meets Jim Ross on a train station platform. Together they experience life in the forces—including a near-miss with death when their bombing range is destroyed by American “friendly fire.” After being split up by the subsequent disbanding of their unit, they are reunited just in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II—and decide to have a celebration of their own.

Ebook only – 40 pages

Review by Erastes

There’s one short review on the Dreamspinner site; it’s only a sentence, but I have to agree with every word. This little story has a lot of potential, but at $2.99 it’s a bit of a rip off.

This little story is set during the first wave of National Service in England which started up just after the war, and really there’s not much to say about it, being so short, as the blurb has pretty well outlined the plot, for what there is of it.

However, I did thoroughly enjoy what there is of it; I’m assuming, from the author’s bio (he was in the RAF and lost his virginity there) that it’s mostly autobiographical and that was interesting. There’s a real wealth of day-to-day detail which I liked a lot; descriptions of barracks, and the mindset of the National Service airman–amusingly taking time to fold their uniforms carefully over a chair (because they know all about uniform inspections) and the larking around (a way for mostly hetero men to get touched while hiding it under a silly game) that went on. The relationship described is pretty simple – as the blurb says, they meet up on their first day at camp and get to know each other but don’t consummate the deal until much later–but it’s nicely described. The men get on with their work and aren’t mooning around over each other or getting burgeoning hardons at any opportunity.

But while there is a real core to this short story, it doesn’t satisfy–and frustrated me–because there’s so much potential here and the author clearly has a wonderful insight into the National Service of this era and such descriptive flair to pull the reader in, really tight, made me care about the characters but then ultimately to end it all very abruptly, too abruptly even for a short story. The author may think that he’s written simply a story which needs to culminate in the main characters having sex but there’s too much else he’s explored for this ever to be considered “just an erotic short story.” The voice is excellent, and there’s humour and danger and companionship, which is a tough job for a story this length.

And yes, as for the price, I know that the author has no say in that, but Dreamspinner, you should be ashamed of yourself. The general price for short stories is $0.99 and this really doesn’t merit the $2.99 price tag. I was kindly given the book by the publisher for review, but at that price, for this length, I wouldn’t have bought it–and that’s a shame because I would have not discovered a writer with talent.

I shall certainly seek out more of Mr Gouda’s work, and I hope he does this short story justice one day and expand it into the novel that it really longs to be. I was torn between giving this a 3½ and a 4 star rating, and I’ve gone for the 4, because the problems with pacing and pricing can’t overcome the really rather nice writing.

No author’s website that I could find.

Buy from Dreamspinner

6 Responses

  1. Nice review. I would definitely buy a novel-length version of this material. Michael Gouda, are you listening?

  2. That does sound very good. I’ll definitely look for his other works.

  3. Regarding the pricing of short stories – simple economics don’t allow (many) publishers to sell shorts that are edited, laid out and have covers for $.99. Essentially, producing a short story that has a cover, is laid out properly and had an editor and a proofer easily runs into several hundred dollars.

    Most sales of e-books come through Amazon (I’d estimate 80-90%). Amazon takes 70% of the sales price as its cut for books priced below $2.99. So, for a short story priced at $.99, you end up with around $.29 to share between publisher and author. Say the publisher pays 50% royalty on shorts (I believe Dreamspinner does), DSP ends up with 14.5 cents, meaning you have to sell thousands of these short stories to make back the initial investment – at which point many publishers consider shorts a loss and might simply not publish them.

    At $2.99 or up, Amazon takes only 30%, leaving author and publisher to share ~$2. This means you only need to sell a few hundred (depending on production cost) to make back your investment.

    So the culprit of this pricing is Amazon,. not Dreamspinner (or any other publisher out there trying to recover the investment in a short story).

    • Well, that’s interesting, but this title isn’t available on Amazon – DS have the title on their site for that price.

      • I also note the cover is their generic short story cover. So costs are layout, proofing, editing, conversion and layout. Not sure what the calculation is in this case; the newness of the author might be another factor.

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