Star Kites has been published - at long last. It's taken over 25 years since I first thought about it, and perhaps 5/6 years to actually produce it. It is a large book (over 500 pages and weighing about 2 kgs) and it was even larger originally but I had to reduce its size in order to contain everything else, namely the production costs and shipping costs.
For better or for worse, I can say that it is a different book. It does not deal in generalities but on the contrary it offers an individual and personal account of kite making. What makes it different?
Well, for a start, it contains mostly original designs and far more detailed instruction for their construction than a simple sketch with basic dimensions. Then it conveys to the reader (or so I hope) that it is important to design, make and fly kites, that is, that kites and kite flying are a serious and worthy subject (just as making violins or pottery) even when they entail fun and pleasure .
The book does not include or even contemplate traditional chapters such as the history of kites. For that it points the reader to other works. Its subject is specific - star-shaped kites - and it reflects the author's spontaneous and unpremeditated attraction to this area of kite making even as the author has for many years investigated other and quite different designs.
Since the point of departure is that kites are a serious endeavour, the book offers a personal point of view as regards kite aesthetics and kite design. Then the point of view gets even more radical when it deals with kite "aerodynamics": here the very word is questioned in connection with kite flying, and throughout the long chapter titled "The dynamics of flying kites" an unsparing effort is made to clearly separate true (airplane) aerodynamics from the mechanics of flying kites in the same medium, the air.
Making kites entails a space (the workshop) and the use of tools and materials. This is dealt with in Part Two. Some of the techniques described may be personal and peculiar and that is how it should be: for myself, I would be interested to observe other makers' techniques and ideas more than reading yet again about the generalities of kite making and flying.
When it comes to kite construction with Part Three, the sequence starts off with paper kites (even though I doubt in this day and age anyone will want to bother with wooden sticks and tissue paper) and then militantly takes up the subject of making three-dimensional kites relying on the peculiar properties specific to rip-stop nylon. Here the reader will notice a real effort to credit in print (at long last) Stephen John Robinson for the invention of the Facet kite and to describe a school of related kite making split into two branches: Facet-like kites and Waldof-like kites. Accordingly, a number of my own designs follow based on one method or the other and at the same time harking back to the ingenious inventions of Hargrave, Lecornu and Rogallo, eventually discussing trains and other configurations and ending with my beloved Millestelle, delight and curse in equal measure due to its being probably the most time- and material-consuming kite ever designed.
Some people will note that the book has a sort of "American" bias. There are echoes everywhere of people and events which I mention and that make up that sort of background. This is simply to do with the fact that for many years I related mainly to the American kite circuit. Also, the ideas set out in the book about kite aderodynamics somehow follow in the steps of a small tradition whose chief exponent was the late John Loy (1917-1999). I have always felt a great resonance with his down-to-earth conceptual approach and his ability to recognize simple and objective facts about the mechanics of kite flying. I am sorry that he cannot see that this book acknowleges and gives value to his ideas.
I hope the reader will appreciate the Index. One frustrating thing about Italian books, regardless of their subject matter, is that they tend not to have an index. I took pains to produce one that cost me hours of work and I am proud of it.
I created the whole layout with an American software called EazyDraw. This is primarily a graphic software which was first conceived to enable previous users of the old MacDraw to open and rework their documents. Although it has an instruction manual which I personally find incomprehensible, the software is brilliant and almost everything one does is manual, like holding a pencil when you draw with it. Dave Mattson of Dekorra Optics, the designer of this software, kindly assisted me at regular intervals and his advice enabled me to come out of corners in which I had got stuck. But overall Star Kites has been pretty much of a hand-crafted job (the software does not even have a spell-checker or, if it does, I blissfully ignored it) with none of the real computer-like features of high-end editing/publishing software.
I am a musician and I went about putting together this book in the same way that a musician would put together a new record or a new composition. A new record or a new composition would not be like a tutor in music theory or a harmony treatise. The two approaches are diametrically opposed: the second one aims to establish and teach general concepts under the guise of “rules” and in order to do that it generalizes and standardizes; the first approach aims instead at offering a set of new meanings rooted in the language used. Such meanings, once given shape and form, may reflect this or that rule (“pattern” would be a better word) but they are not conditioned by any rules. The second approach relies for its own existence on the fruits of the first approach: it attempts to “prove” the soundness of the rules that it defines by drawing on and quoting from musical masterpieces of the past, at the same time studiously avoiding the instances that appear as “rule violation” but which ought to be regarded as examples of the fertility of the language and its irreducibility to frozen and static codes and rules. In this case, it was useful to mention and describe the work of Stephen Robinson and Peter Waldron as they seem to clearly define different styles of construction, and it was a good exercise to do that in order, hopefully, for these makers to be valued and respected beyond like or dislike on a more intellectual level and with some pride, too, because they have brought great gifts to the world of kites and kite making. Naturally, more gifts were brought by countless other makers during the past decades and if anyone ever wanted to write a related encyclopaedia they would have a huge body of work to analyze and describe.
For a technical description of the book click here.