The Philosopher’s Flight
Created by ggrihn on 5/15/2018 9:47:44 PM

The Philosopher’s Flight: A Novel, by Tom Miller

Reviewed by Gregory G.H. Rihn, Steampunk Chronicle Literary Editor

The Philosopher’s Flight clip_image002is definitely of interest to the Steampunk reader, although it uses few, if any, of the classical Steampunk tropes—including steam.

The events of The Philosopher’s Flight take place in an alternate world United States of 1917, and the US has just declared war on Germany, taking part in this world’s version of World War I.

The protagonist, Robert Weekes, want to go to war, but not as a soldier. Instead, he wants to follow in his mother’s footsteps, and become a member of the United States Sigiliry Corps Rescue and Evacuation Unit.

The existence of the Sigilry Corps is one of the chief differences between this world and ours. A specialist unit, it does not seem to be part of the US Army, but has an independent command structure closer to the Marine Corps. Second, it is made up of “sigilrists,” people who have the ability to combine willpower, chemical components, and control gestures known as “sigils” to fly, teleport, heal—and to kill. Third, the vast majority of effective sigilrists, and all the members of the Rescue and Evacuation Unit as the book opens, are women.

Civilian sigilrists are called “practical philosophers,” and Robert is the son of retired Major Emmaline Weekes, a military veteran and “county philosopher” for their home in Wyoming. The county philosopher is a one-woman ambulance and rescue squad for her district, and also hires out to fly freight, act as a mobile crane, round up strayed cattle, and generally provide such services as practical philosophy can perform. She has trained Robert as her assistant and unofficial apprentice: “unofficial” since the licensing board refuses to consider that a man could be as effective as a woman at the job.

When Emmaline, who has taken part in too many declared wars, not to mention guerrilla warfare between philosophers and their opponents, the so-called “Trenchers”, refuses to allow Robert to enlist, he seeks an end-around by qualifying for a philosophers’ scholarship to Radcliffe College. As in our world, Radcliffe is an all-women’s college, with the only exceptions being a handful of male scholarship students.

At Radcliffe, Robert makes friends who will help him to achieve his potential and shape his life, among them Danielle “Dardanelles” Hardin, already a war hero and scarred by it; Fredrick Unger, hopeless at the practice of practical philosophy but peerless at the theory of it; and Professor Brock and “Jake” Jacobi, who are willing to take Robert’s part against students, faculty, and government.

Author Miller has created a fascinating and turbulent world: one in which women took a dark and bloody role in the American Civil War; were given the vote by Abraham Lincoln because of it; and are embroiled in a continual struggle to keep it, which echoes the “Jim Crow” period of anti-voting actions against American black people. This is intertwined with the ongoing controversy over the value of practical philosophy, which adds an extra level of deadly violence to the struggle.

This volume covers Robert’s college days and his eventual admission into the Rescue and Evacuation Unit. What happens to him in the War and after is sketched out in notes and chapter headings, but I could hope Robert’s further story will be told in more detail some day.

The Philosopher's Flight at Amazon

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