Ancient druids make modern life surprisingly difficult in Guy N. Smith’s 1981 novel about a doomed airport. Why would they bother? Because they’re druids and as everyone knows, druids are all about doing evil for evil’s sake.
Set in a small English town called Fradley, the novel recounts the efforts by dodgy businessmen to build a modern international airport to compete with Heathrow on the site of an abandoned RAF airfield. Apparently the airfield was beset by accidents and after a while it was abandoned, becoming an overgrown field. Trouble ensues already during construction, with malfunctioning machines, disappearing kids and fires. A mysterious ring of stones is discovered beneath the surface and several people begin hallucinating or dreaming about chanting men in robes. After the airport opens the troubles only escalate further, with plane crashes, hotel fires and deaths, until the finale which goes absolutely gloriously overboard in the best eighties’ style.
Surprisingly, Fradley is an actual place in Staffordshire near where Smith was born. There was an RAF field during the war, so it’s safe to assume some of the background is based on reality. Checking up on some timelines, the late 1970s and early 1980s was also the time when the debate about developing Stansted airport into London’s third airport took place. And of course the airport parody movie Airplane! came out in 1980. It’s not a great leap to deduce that the spark for Doomflight came from one or more of these sources.
Having previously read only Smith’s classic but somewhat uneven debut novel Night of the Crabs I had some reservations, but Doomflight proved to be a quick, fun, well-written read. It’s silly, everything is exaggerated and the rotating group of characters (developers, local activists, hotel magnates, pilots and stewardesses) are mostly there for fodder, but that’s what great eighties’ horror is all about. There is a fantastic Englishness to the novel throughout, and admittedly the basic plot of something modern invading the quaint rural idyll of old England could easily pass off as a Wallace and Gromit movie, perhaps sans the multiple murders. Some of the violent scenes are in fact very effective, especially towards the profoundly nihilistic ending, with one local activist ending up in a pigsty and the main couple left facing a certain and excruciatingly slow death. One also cannot discount the effect of nostalgia; after reading Doomflight, an eighties kid like myself wanted to go read Zzap!64 magazine or play something like Doomdark’s Revenge on the Commodore, with Iron Maiden blasting out of the speakers. That feeling alone is worth full five stars. Thank you, Guy N. Smith (1939-2020) and rest in peace.
Smith’s novels are available as ebooks on his site at guynsmith.com.