Now a CBS All Access series: “A riveting tale of rocketry, the occult, and boom-and-bust 1920s and 1930s Los Angeles” (Booklist).
The Los Angeles Times headline screamed: ROCKET SCIENTIST KILLED IN PASADENA EXPLOSION. The man known as Jack Parsons, a maverick rocketeer who helped transform a derided sci-fi plotline into actuality, was at first mourned as a scientific prodigy. But reporters soon uncovered a more shocking story: Parsons had been a devotee of the city’s occult scene.
Fueled by childhood dreams of space flight, Parsons was a leader of the motley band of enthusiastic young men who founded the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a cornerstone of the American space program. But Parsons’s wild imagination also led him into a world of incantations and orgiastic rituals—if he could make rocketry a reality, why not black magic?
George Pendle re-creates the world of John Parsons in this dazzling portrait of prewar superstition, cold war paranoia, and futuristic possibility. Peopled with such formidable real-life figures as Howard Hughes, Aleister Crowley, L. Ron Hubbard, and Robert Heinlein, Strange Angel explores the unruly consequences of genius.
The basis for a new miniseries created by Mark Heyman and produced by Ridley Scott, this biography “vividly tells the story of a mysterious and forgotten man who embodied the contradictions of his time . . . when science fiction crashed into science fact. . . . [It] would make a compelling work of fiction if it weren’t so astonishingly true” (Publishers Weekly).
Pendle vividly tells the story of a mysterious and forgotten man who embodied the contradictions of his time. Throughout the 1930s, John Whiteside Parsons (1914 1952) was a pioneer of rocket science, a fixture at Caltech with an uncanny ability to understand and control the dynamics of explosions, though he'd never completed an undergraduate degree. At the same time, Parsons was a key figure in the Los Angeles occult scene, presiding over a world of incantations, black magic and orgiastic excess. Science journalist Pendle (Times of London, Financial Times) follows Parsons on his journey through both science and the occult as he explored the connections between the two at a time when science fiction crashed into science fact (and when the practitioners of one often dabbled in the other. The book tells the story of the research that formed the basis for both missile defense and space flight, but Parsons himself was a tragic figure, left behind by both the science he helped to found and the women he loved. Marshaling a cast of characters ranging from Robert Millikan to L. Ron Hubbard, Pendle offers a fascinating glimpse into a world long past, a story that would make a compelling work of fiction if it weren't so astonishingly true. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.