Indulge your curiosity

In the course of writing Angel on the Ropes, I researched subjects that most people would never mention in the same sentence: motorcycles and Shinto temples, low-flying dance trapeze and plague. I got a behind-the-scenes tour of Cirque du Soleil from some performers who kindly welcomed me into their world and acted as technical advisors. I’ve talked to wildlife biologists, martial artists, microbiologists, acrobats, and engineers. I even badgered my doctor for information.

The following links provide information about some of the subjects mentioned in the book.

Trapeze Circus Invasive species (general information)
Plaguepox Dyson spheres Northern snakehead fish



Serenity Smith Forchion and Elsie Smith, aerial acrobats

The Flying Vazquez (the world’s greatest flying trapeze act, featuring the legendary Miguel Vazquez, the first flyer to successfully land the quadruple somersault. Gravity made an exception for Miguel.)

Trapezium (the place where I first tried flying trapeze)

Trapeze-Experience, led by flying trapeze catcher and coach Peter Gold

Ludwig’s flying trapeze resource page (extensive info about schools, clubs, resorts with rigs, equipment suppliers, books)

The trapeze net, includes a database of tricks with descriptions and video demonstrations

Aerial arts FAQ from Simply Circus

STREB (Elizabeth Streb’s company and school, which includes a trapeze academy)

Air Dance Bernasconi (low-flying dance trapeze, a combination of modern dance and circus)

Canopy Studio (high-flying aerial dance trapeze)

Cirque d’Hiver, the oldest extant circus venue in the world, where Jules Leotard performed the first trapeze act in 1859 (he invented the leotard, and was the inspiration for the song, “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze”)

Circus Tent


Circopedia, an online encyclopedia maintained by the Big Apple Circus

Cory Tabino, handbalancer (The first circus artist I met)

New England Center for Circus Arts (Brattleboro, Vermont, USA: school with public and professional training programs)

Circus Arts Institute (Athens, Georgia, USA: circus workshops, fitness classes, and circus arts therapy for children and teens with behavioral, emotional, and physical challenges)

Gravity Defying Fitness (New Orleans, Louisiana, USA: aerial fitness programs)

Simply Circus (Newton, Massachussetts, USA: youth circus programs)

Circus Harmony (St. Louis, Missouri, USA: a school that promotes peace through circus arts)

Circus Smirkus (Lyndon Center, Vermont, USA: circus camp and traveling youth circus)

Cirque du Soleil (Opens in a new window.)

Circus Center San Francisco (San Francisco, California, USA: school with public and professional training programs)

National Circus School (Montreal, Canada: advanced training for students who seek professional careers in circus, offers diploma)

The Circus Space (London, United Kingdom: BA degree in Circus Arts, professional development, public programs)

National Institute of Circus Arts (Melbourne, Australia: BA degree in Circus Arts, professional development, public programs)

Invasive species
Alien Invaders


Eat the invaders: Their tag line says it all: “Fighting invasive species, one bite at a time.” Please do use valid identification guides and good sense before you eat any wild foods.

Invasive Species Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission of The World Conservation Union (IUCN)
Let it never be said that environmentalists skimp on acronyms. The ISSG is a global group of 146 scientific and policy experts from 41 countries.

National Invasive Species Information Center, USDA National Agricultural Library

What you can do to protect native plants and animals (The Nature Conservancy)

Northern snakehead fish
Northern Snakehead Fish


Northern snakehead fact sheet, Sea Grant Pennsylvania

Snakeheads-A Biological Synopsis and Risk Assessment, US Geological Survey Circular 1251

National Management Plan for the Northern Snakehead, US Fish and Wildlife Service (scroll to the bottom of the page to download the document)

Rapid response plan for the Northern snakehead, Channa argus, in Massachusetts

Plague Doctor


My fictious disease was based on plague (a.k.a. “the Black Death”), an infection caused by the bacterium, Yersinia pestis. Here’s information about the real disease:

Plague (Yersinia pestis infection), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Multidrug resistance in Yersinia pestis mediated by a transferable plasmid, New England Journal of Medicine

Decameron Web, a site dedicated to Boccaccio’s masterpiece, created by Brown University scholars. The Decameron contains vivid descriptions of the 14th-century plague outbreak in Europe and its cultural consequences.

Dyson spheres


Inspired by Olaf Stapleton’s SF novel The Star Maker, in 1960 physicist Freeman Dyson proposed several ideas for imaginary megastructures designed to use all of the energy radiated by a sun. The type-2 Dyson sphere is one of the common explanations for the SF trope of an artificial planet. I chose not to delve deeply into the physics, but encourage your exploration.

Dr. Dyson’s original papers:

Dyson, F. J., Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation, Science, vol. 131 (no. 3414), pp. 1667–1668, 3 June 1960

DOI: 10.1126/science.131.3414.1667

Dyson, F. J., The Search for Extraterrestrial Technology, in Perspectives in Modern Physics (Essays in Honor of Hans Bethe), R. E. Marshak (Editor), John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1966

Dyson sphere FAQ (explores the scientific possibilites of Dyson spheres, ringworlds, and bubbleworlds, and includes a list of some SF novels that used the concepts).