Harry Turtledove

Prince of Cats Literary Productions


170pp/$16.99/February 2021

Or Even Eagle Flew
Cover by Paul Guinan

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

On July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan disappeared over the Pacific Ocean while searching for Howland Island during an attempt to fly around the world. In Or Even Eagle Flew, Harry Turtledove writes about a world in which Earhardt successfully completed her voyage and used her ability and fame to earn a place flying as an American in the Royal Air Force in the days before the United States entered World War II.

Earhart's path is not easy. Traveling by train to Canada, she doesn't have to worry that the customs officials will believe she is going through Canada to volunteer to fight for England, as happened to male pilots on her train. However, after that initial benefit, her gender continuously raised barriers for her, whether among other pilots who don't believe a woman should be flying or officers who don't want a woman to fly in combat. Every step of the way, Earhart fights for her rights and proves herself, aided by the magic of her name as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and the first woman to circumnavigate the Earth.

Turtledove's focus is not on Earhart's flights against the Germans, although he does include them, frequently with a brief summary, but rather a look at her battles against her allies to remain flying. She builds friendships among the other pilots, notably Red Tobin, Shorty Keough, and Andy Mamedoff, whom she met in Canada before traveling to Europe, but with the other pilots in the various squadrons she is assigned to as well. Furthermore, Turtledove shows her earning, and winning, the respect of those who have stood in her way. Overall, the story provides a character study of Amelia Earhart two years after her death in our world and finding new ways to break down gender barriers.

The novel does not have a lot of action. Amelia flies her missions, but Turtledove doesn't really describe any dogfights or bombing runs in details. He shows her as a competent and capable aviator who understands the world around her and can see what needs to be done and she does it. She builds close friendships with Red, Shorty, and Andy, with other friendships implied but not fully explored. Nevertheless, it is these relationships, and the more turbulent ones with Marshal Sholto Douglas and Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory that form the crux of the book.

At the same time, Turtledove is cognizant that Earhart was not sui generis. He introduces the character of Amy Johnson, who was one of Earhart's contemporaries. Being British, Johnson wasn't able to sneak into the RAF and instead found herself serving in the Air Transport Auxiliary, flying mail and officers around the country to free up male pilots for combat duty. The appearance of Johnson makes Earhart's battle of gender equality more personal as it gives her an individual other than herself to fight for.

Although the point of divergence for Or Even Eagle Flew is two years before the book begins, Earhart's position in the Eagle Squadron and her fight for equal opportunities for women during World War II indicate that the biggest chances afforded by he survival of her around-the-world flight are still in the future as people see that she can hold her own with the men in her squadron and is willing to put up with inconveniences and follow orders while working her way towards becoming a flying ace. Although the novel ends before Turtledove can fully explore her impact, he paints a picture and shows barriers being set up to fall.

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