So much of this story seems stranger than fiction that a reader might wonder if I have stretched credulity beyond all reason. Perhaps most startling are the many similarities between our own decade of the nineties and the same decade a hundred years ago. It was also a time of high tech, including the Manly-Balzer radial engine and the competition for first flight; sensational press articles about UFO sightings across the entire country; small wars; fierce commercial expansion and competition; a popular passion for extra-sensory perception, competing with new and old religions, and a spirit of growing feminism challenging a male-dominated society.
For a detailed coverage of the whole era from 1895 to 1905, I drew on Dan Rather’s superb version of Mark Sullivan’s, Our Times (1996, Scribner), Page Smith’s scholarly, America Enters The World (1985, McGraw Hill) and Walter Lord’s, The Good Years (1960; Harper). For a probing comparison of the two end-of-century decades, I used Brad Steiger’s, A Roadmap of Time (1975, Prentice-Hall), which makes a persuasive case for a hundred-year cycle subdivided into four twenty-five year “seasons.”
For details on the general aviation scene, Sherwood Harris’ The First to Fly (1991; McGraw-Hill) and Jack Carpenter’s, Pendulum (1992; Arsdalen, Bosch) are excellent. For more data on the Manly-Balzer engine, nothing is better than Robert B. Meyer Jr’s definitive, Langley’s Aero Engine of 1903 (1971; Smithsonian Air and Space Museum).
Most students of early aviation have put to rest the controversy between Gustave Whitehead and the Wright brothers. But the real possibility that Whitehead actually flew first reminds us that our era of industrial creativity, espionage and sabotage is not unique. For two persuasive studies of Gustave Whitehead, see Stella Randolph’s, Before The Wrights Flew (1966; G.P. Putnam’s Sons) and Lost Flights of Gustave Whitehead (1937; Places, Inc.). For a fascinating insight into the Wright brothers’ inventive process, nothing is better than Peter L. Jakab’s, Visions Of a Flying Machine (1990; Smithsonian Institution Press).
As for the sighting of mythic airships over San Francisco and the rest of the country in 1896, see Daniel Cohen’s excellent, The Great Airship Mystery (1981; Dodd, Mead & Co.). In the current context of UFO’s and aliens, I leave it to the reader to decide if they were fact or fiction.
Some people may be offended at David Harrison’s precocity and psychism. In my own defense, I can only say that I have drawn all of David’s strange experiences from the lives of either personal friends or historic figures like Eileen Garrett, whose two memoirs have guided me: Adventures in the Supernormal (1969) and Many Voices; The Autobiography of a Medium (1968, G.P.Putnam’s Sons). In addition to the contemporary Proceedings of the British Society for Psychical Research and Borderlands, Volumes I & II, 1894-95 (1894-5; edited by W.T.Stead in London), I used the past twenty years of records of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, the 16 definitive volumes edited by Rhea A. White called Exceptional Human Experience (published by the Exceptional Human Experience Network) and Dean Radin’s superb overview of the entire field, The Conscious Universe (1997; Harper).
For evaluations of different aspects of the story I challenged the patience of many friends. I am grateful to Dr. Marshall Heyman for his examination of character behavior for consistency; to Dr. Leonard Duhl for a similar, if different view; to Dr. Theresa Abrams for her scrutiny of David’s precocious development; to Dr. Deborah Porter for her wisdom about both children and China; to Drs. David and Rebecca Grudermeyer for their professional assessment of John and Maggie Harrison as parents; to Dr. Marcia Greenleaf for her critical reaction to the whole story; to Patrick Miller for his detailed reactions to both the story line and its rhythm; to Doug Latimer for his early editing; and to James Barnett for his fierce defense of details about aircraft engineering when others argued for ruthless cutting.
I owe a special debt to Veronica Whitson for her enduring patience with successive versions.
Above all, I am indebted to my wife, Judith Skutch Whitson, for her unfailing good humor and, above all, her focus on relationships as the novel matured.
Needless to say, none of those friends should be held accountable for the final version of the story.