Mr. Planemaker’s Flying Machine by Shelagh Watkins
Reviewer: John C. Brown, Astromomer Royal for Scotland
Except for those with a phobia, flying has always been the stuff of dreams among all ages and, in this age of technological wonders, flying in space has become an integral part of this dreamland. As well as being the stuff of daring do, flying is full of mystery and laden with symbolic escapism, lifting us above the daily grind of adulthood and the growing fears of childhood, and human pettinesses from gossip to bullying, which detracts all age groups from the joy of living.
In Mr. Planemaker’s Flying Machine, Shelagh Watkins takes us on a flight of fancy, both metaphorical and literal, through these dreams, fears and joys. We are taken rolling and looping in skies through clouds of bereavement, sibling antagonism, and human spitefulness, into a brighter but mysterious world of computer systems, then onward and upward into the heavens and among the planets themselves. Closure of the stormy sky issues, through which child heroes Emmelisa and Dell have struggled, is eventually approached in the final pursuit of Mr. Planemaker’s physics-defying Trail of Light, during which we are constantly surprised.
While all this may sound a bit heavy for kids to read or for a bed-time story, and while it is thought provoking for adults, the yarn is a compulsive tale for kids, spun around daily routines and banalities mixed with fantasy elements and outrageous characters. The unashamedly corny names for the latter will bring a chuckle even to the sworn pun-hater like me. Who has not known a school brat like Mayja Troublemaker and someone with as little spark as her uncle Verry Boringman?
The escape route from these pains in the neck emerges gradually via a series of encounters, first at a strange house being worked on by Anne R Keytect, Bill Dare, Joy Nair and Dek Orator of Dream Homes Inc, then on to Whiz Kid Computer Maintenance in Virtual Realty. Mr. Wizard Kidd leads us further into Hardwareland where many of the workings of computer operating systems are revealed to us with greater insight than many a manual, though in this case the user interface smacks more of magic than of a keyboard. In the CPU building things rapidly progress toward the (virtual) reality of the Planemaker’s Flying Machine PH1. Then, at an ever increasing rate we head with Emmelisa for space itself, with the help of valet Sue Tassistant, coordinator Mish Oncontrol, and master pilot/instructor Astrow Naught. Thereafter, on a solar system tour, some of the strands of the story are tied up, in ways readers must find for themselves or I will spoil the climax.
So, in the end, what does it all mean? I am not sure that I know, or even that Shelagh Watkins does, though surely Cosmos Planemaker the magical family cat knows, if anyone does. What I do know is that this is a refreshing and unusual kids’ story which I, as a hard-nosed scientist – albeit with magic as a hobby – had to read to the end, and that it will likewise enthrall children readers and bed-time story tellers alike. So buy it, lie back, and enjoy it with, or even without the kids.