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The Philosopher’s Flight, by Tom Miller.

November 23, 2017

[My ebook edition of this book included a summary and author note for Gospel of Trees by April Anderson Irving before the actual ebook of The Philosopher’s Flight.]

The Philosopher’s FlightThe Philosopher’s Flight, by Tom Miller.  Simon and Schuster, February 2018.  FORTHCOMING

4 stars

A light-hearted adventure that relates both fantasy and history about an early twentieth-century America where a large group of women can fly and a young man that dared to join them.

Tom Miller was born in Wisconsin, graduated from Harvard, received a MFA from Notre Dame and an MD from Pittsburg.  His employment is equally varied.  In his first novel he continues his pattern of invention and creativity.

In Miller’s novel, a new branch of science has developed. It is called empirical philosophy and involves drawing symbols, or koru sigil, on minerals to create a variety of results —  from growing vegetables, to transporting people long distances, to flying.  A woman had discovered or created the process before the Civil War, and it had become common throughout the United States and beyond. Women were obviously and significantly better at flying than men and controlled access to the professions. Sigilry had furious opposition, however, who viewed the practice as evil and sought to wipe it out.

Robert, an adolescent boy in Wyoming, dreamed of following his famous flying mother and flying himself.  The United States was about to join World War I, and he wanted to be part of a Rescue and Evacuate Unit (RE) which was organizing to go to France.  His mother and sisters had taught him to fly, but as a male, he had no hope of getting the further training he needed to join the elite RE team.  After he performed an amazing rescue, he was admitted to the flying school at Radcliff where he made a variety of good friends.  Talented in many ways, and absolutely determined, he struggled to fly as fast as the women could. In addition, those opposed to empirical philosophy made life dangerous for Robert and those he loved.  Even if he could achieve his life’s dream, he faced a decision over whether or not to accept a position in RE despite the opposition of the woman he had come to love.

The Philosopher’s Flight is fun.  It is an enjoyable, fast-paced adventure story with lots of opportunity for satire aimed at various groups.  Some of the book humor and insight is a result of the gender reversals throughout the book.  This is primarily the story of a man who is trying to break down the barrier that women have constructed on the basis of their very real superiority in their ability to fly.  Most fantasies that upset our assumed gender order have been written by women.  Miller has turned the tables. The women he has created are strong and good and beautiful in various ways.  The main character with whom readers identify most is a man trying to enter a world dominated by women.

Among Miller’s achievement is the invention of a world that is shaped by both history and fantasy, combining provable facts and imagination.  If the book were more serious, that would be a problem.  If women had had the powers Miller gives them, the factual history would have been totally changed.  But this book was obviously written to be fun for readers, and probably for Miller himself.  It is not the book I would have written, but Miller has done an excellent job within the framework he has created.

I strongly recommend Philosopher’s Flight for any readers opened minded enough to appreciate it.

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