Elizabeth Hand is simply one of the best genre writers working today. Subtle, humanistic, poignant, intuitive, and above all a flat out good storyteller, her works of the slightly paranormal strum chords of human empathy few writers of fantasy are able to conjure. 2010’s The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon a captivating example, the novella’s musing on loss captured in an homage to humanity’s winged flight is superb.
The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon is the story of three friends, Robbie, Emery, and Leonard, who met, one way or another, when working for the Smithsonian’s Museum of American Aviation and Aerospace; Robbie was a security guard, Leonard a special effects designer, and Emery a former local tv personality dealing with space and aeronautics. Learning in the early going that their former director at the Museum, an aging woman named Maggie, is suffering from terminal breast cancer, Leonard decides to do something special for her before she passes. Enlisting the help of the others, the trio heads to South Carolina for location work. Though they are doing something to help a woman they care for, each learns a little something about themselves in the process.
A personal story through and through, Maiden Flight is as touching as it is intriguing. Hand turning three ordinary Joes into men the reader cares for, their time together on the shores of the Atlantic in South Carolina brings tears of fun and sadness. The mission of their trip likewise begs for resolution. The objective: to make a film with a model flying device, what happens to the plane and whether it parallels the history they are attempting to mimic capture magic in a bottle, almost literally, and is a perfect counter-point to the underlying human stories.
In the end, The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon, from its great title to its tender resolution, wins the reader over. The opposite of revenge, it’s a tale of making things right while there is still a chance, and the bittersweet reward at the end. Hand’s first hand experiences working at the Smithsonian informing the text, readers should not be surprised to find more than a few shades of ancient science fiction lurking beneath the surface of the narrative. Simpy a superb novella.