THE MACHINE: The Soviet Mig-31, codenamed Firefox. A thought-controlled, terrifyingly lethal warplane capable of ruling the Western skies.
THE MAN: His name is Gant, an obsessed renegade American pilot. His Control: Kenneth Aubrey of Great Britain. His plan: infiltrate the shadowy worldwide KGB network and make his way into the Soviet Union. His job: steal Firefox.
Title: Firefox | Author: Craig Thomas | Series: Mitchell Gant #1 | Publisher: Sphere | Pages: 294 | ISBN: 9780722105672 | Publication date: 1977 | Source: Self-purchased
‘Firefox’ was released in 1977 and was a deserved success for author Craig Thomas. It spawned a movie, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, and an Atari arcade game which I loved. If you remember the ‘Star Wars’ wireframe game where you sat in an X-Wing cockpit and destroyed the Death Star, with Obi Wan in your ears, then the ‘Firefox’ one will be familiar. 10 year old me got to sit in the cockpit of a super advanced fighter plane and shoot down Russian planes represented by bitmaps layered on top of real aerial footage (played from a laserdisc).
It’s that fighter plane that gives ‘Firefox’ its draw, and title. It’s a secret new Mig being developed by the Soviets which is, we are told, a decade ahead of anything NATO has. The plot revolves around Mitchell Gant, an ace fighter pilot who flew in Vietnam, going to Russia to steal the plane from under the noses of the KGB. For all the importance of Firefox (the codename the West have given the plane), it takes Gant half the book to actually get to it.
This is a Cold War thriller, through and through, and the first half is a fairly slow, but suitably gripping, account of him sneaking into Russia and hundreds of miles cross country. There are wily policemen and KGB agents, heroic rebels and Gant himself, a suitably damaged hero plagued by crippling flashbacks.
Once he gets to the airfield where Firefox is hangered, the book clicks into a much higher gear and becomes a breakneck action thriller filled with aerial combat and adventure. It’s just as cool as 10 year old me thought it would be, even if the build up feels a bit like low rent Le Carre.
Overall, ‘Firefox’ reminded me a lot of Tom Clancy’s later ‘The Hunt for Red October’. It has a similar mix of commie-bashing, tech-fetishism and expertly handled tension. If you like that kind of thing this is a blast.