Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Flight Manual

There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. Its knack lies in learning to throw yourself at the ground and miss.
--from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
I'd forgotten how much I love the way flying is handled in the Hitchhiker's Guide books. I have fond memories of reading the original trilogy for the first time (back when it was a "trilogy" in the strictly accurate sense), and I skimmed through bits of the books again tonight, remembering.

If you ask me, Douglas Adams was one of those rare authors who actually do their best work while hopped up on adrenaline -- his most inspired ideas seemed to pop up when he was running way over deadline, nervous, half-drunk and in danger of being fired for incompetence. His later books and the Dirk Gently series have always suffered from his having been given copious amounts of time to write them, plus the added weight of having been accepted as a Real Author with Important Things to Say. His writing is far more fun to read when he isn't taking himself or anything else too seriously, destroying the Earth and having a ball doing it.

But, as usual, I digress. (Better get used to it.)

Anyway, all this reading about flight got me thinking about a very old scrap of fiction I wrote for an online project -- a virtual transdimensional library featuring single-page excerpts from books that have never existed (at least not in our dimension). My contribution to the project, titled Flight Manual, was meant to be taken from a short how-to book written in the "X For Dummies" tradition. Since I don't think it appears anywhere else online, here it is:

* * *
Flight Gear
Body-skimming thermal underwear makes fantastic flight clothing. It's cold up there, even in midsummer. Avoid bulky sweaters; they only increase wind resistance. Most fliers can handle a small backpack's weight of clothing and gear, but distribute the weight evenly and plan on additional landings, as you will experience greater fatigue.

High flight can be potentially deadly, particularly if you find yourself "browning out." If you will be flying higher than clouds or longer than one hour, pack an aluminum oxygen tank with a 5-hour span. Yeah, you can fly; don't try to prove you're a superhero.

Trip Planning
Unless you can stop on a cloud, plan regular landings. Deserted islands are ideal, followed by tundra and other inaccessible areas where you will not be spotted when touching down. Only magical nannies can get away with landing in the middle of London, and they're trained professionals.

You share the sky with birds, insects, bats, and the occasional 747. Some of these will be more simpatico than others. Steer clear of all aircraft, human and extraterrestrial. Humans tend to freak out when sighting "flying people," and you can't outrun an F-15. Aliens may seem friendly but often want to dissect you. You take your chances when hitchhiking with unknown spacecraft, even if they promise a straight shot to Alpha Centauri. Use common sense.

Most winged creatures will share the sky with you as long as you pose no threat. There's no need to fear bats; they will usually leave you alone. Besides, most bats eat bugs -- the bugs that sting, bite, and otherwise make your flying time miserable. Encourage bats to fly with you by behaving peaceably around them -- and for heaven's sake, no bat-ball!

On the extremely unlikely occasion of meeting another flier, use your
* * *

Yep, that's it. (Only one page, remember?)

And then, of course, they wanted a byline. So here's what they got:
Solana Zephirus is a third-year student majoring in Aerodynamic Theory at Onwerkelijke Universiteit at Onwaarschijnlijk in the Neverlands. Her idea of a perfect weekend involves listening to Vivaldi on her iPod, while practicing loop-the-loops and barrel rolls in the skies above Onwaarschijnlijk.

In the immortal words of another great flier, Hoban Washburne: "Wacky fun!"


MarieC said...

Fun stuff. Glad you resurrected this little gem.

Soozcat said...

Well, it's silly, but it was fun to write. Plus they paid me something for my trouble, which is always good.