Thursday, March 2, 2017

Kitty Hawk, by Alan Smale

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(Alternate History) Wilbur Wright dies in a crash just weeks before the historic flight, and his sister Katharine steps in to take his place. (15,659 words; Time: 52m)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ Long, Dull, Barely SFF

Add one star if you are really into early aviation.

"Kitty Hawk," by (edited by Sheila Williams), appeared in issue 03-04|17, published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: Orville’s goal is to make the flight by all means necessary. Katherine’s motivations also include showing that she can do this just as well as her brothers could. The near-fatal last flight is full of tension and excitement.

The details of how the original flyer worked are interesting.

It is worth noting that in real life, Katherine at least became Orville's business partner for many years after Wilbur's death.

Con: This brushes the lower limit of what you could call speculative fiction. Once we realize this is going to be about Katherine making the flight work, we’re impatient for the author to get on with it.

This story is much too long for what it contains. The infodump at the end is particularly tedious.

Another problem is that everything comes too easily to Katherine. Woodworking, flying the glider, winning over the local womenfolk, or even flying the plane itself. You name it, she did it easily.

Finally, it’s hard to believe the daughter of a Bishop was quite so coarse.

Other Reviews: Search Web, Browse Review Sites (Issue 03-04|17)
Alan Smale Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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3 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I felt the strength here was in the characters, rather than the process or the plot.

    The Wright Brothers are well-known figures, so the premise here is very immediate and gripping. And once that's in, it's all the characters - a grieving mad scientist and his sister, replacing the lost brother. I really enjoyed it -- though I absolutely agree (and this is rare for me...) that the SF element here is very, very light. It's alternate history, but even so, it feels less like speculation, more like historical fiction -- picking a great scenario and fleshing it out, rather than playing with a "what if". (Not that I mind!)

  2. I loved this story. 4.5 rating for me. It's alternate history, which IMO firmly places it as spec fiction regardless of it lacking any new scientific or fantastical ideas. The amazing level of detail and believable characters carried the story, and I also found the flying sequences immersive to an unusual degree.

    Its resemblance to historical fiction was a plus, because it helped me _believe_ it. In fact, several times I googled details because I wasn't sure if it was fiction or fact. Again, I consider this a plus.

    Dinged slightly because it did feel overlong, and I wasn't 100% satisfied that Orville got the first flight when everything had been pointing toward Katherine doing it. Seemed a bit of a cop-out because of how it was built up. I didn't much like the epilogue, either.

    1. Setting and characters are definitely strong in this one. For me, though, plot comes first, and there's not much of one for a work of this length. Hence I found it an unpleasant read simply because I got bored.

      I think we've definitely seen a split among readers based on how important plot, characters, and setting are to them. What we need is a way to rate each one separately and then let each reader pick the combination that works for them. Then the system could predict "This is a 4.5 story for you" even if it was just 2 stars for me. :-)