Synopses & Reviews
"Brilliant Rocket Scientist Killed in Explosion!" screamed the front-page headline of the Los Angeles Times on June 18, 1952. John Parsons, a maverick rocketeer whose work had helped transform the rocket from a derided sci-fi plotline into a reality, was at first mourned as a tragically young victim of mishandled chemicals. But as reporters dug deeper a shocking story emerged: Parsons had been performing occult rites and summoning spirits as a follower of Aleister Crowley, and he was promptly written off as an embarrassment to science.
George Pendle tells Parsons's extraordinary life story for the first time. Fueled from childhood by dreams of space flight, Parsons was a crucial innovator during rocketry's birth. But his visionary imagination also led him into the occult community thriving in 1930s Los Angeles, and when fantasy's pull became stronger than reality, he lost both his work and his wife. Parsons was just emerging from his personal underworld when he died at age thirty-seven. In Strange Angel, Pendle recovers a fascinating life and explores the unruly consequences of genius.
"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. Agent, Jill Grinberg." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A fascinating glimpse, a story that would make a compelling work of fiction if it weren't so astonishingly true."
"A fascinating glimpse, a story that would make a compelling work of fiction if it werent so astonishingly true."(Publishers Weekly)
"This is your book if you want to start reading up on the space age. Highly recommended."
"[A] rambunctiously funny, deliriously weird, and incredibly true story of a space-science pioneer turned lustful witch."
"An engaging treatment of a time when the modern world moved at the same speed as crazed mania."
"Pendle weaves a fascinating yarn. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to enjoy it."
"Elegantly written. Pendle, with his graceful, measured prose, skilfully steers us through the quagmire of Parson's personal life."
"Strange Angel could be a hybrid sired by Gravity's Rainbow out of Foucault's Pendulum. Explosively fascinating."
"A spellbinding story of a man with eccentricities that went well beyond a fascination with rocketry."
"A riveting tale of rocketry, the occult, and boom-and-bust 1920s and 1930s Los Angeles."
This amazing book is set in a more brightly coloured universe than most scientific lives are.
PRAISE FOR STRANGE ANGEL
"Pendle weaves a fascinating yarn . . . he deftly and seemingly effortlessly leads his readers through the technical aspects of Parsons' work. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to enjoy it." - The Seattle Times
"Pasadena's famous Craftsman mansions disgorge their ghosts in this rambunctiously funny, deliriously weird, and incredibly true story of a space-science pioneer turned lustful witch."
- Mike Davis, author of City of Quatrz
"As a history of space travel, Strange Angel is a cornerstone. This is your book if you want to start reading up on the space age. Highly recommended."- Ray Bradbury
ROCKET SCIENTIST KILLED IN PASADENA EXPLOSION screamed the headline of the Los Angeles Times. John Parsons, a maverick rocketeer who helped transform the rocket from a derided sci-fi plotline into a reality, was at first mourned as a scientific prodigy. But reporters soon uncovered a more shocking story: Parsons had been a devotee of black magic.
George Pendle re-creates the world of John Parsons in this dazzling portrait of prewar superstition, cold war paranoia, and futuristic possibility. 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 the occult- for if he could make rocketry a reality, why not magic?
With a cast of characters including Howard Hughes,
L. Ron Hubbard, and Robert Heinlein, Strange Angel explores the unruly consequences of genius.
About the Author
GEORGE PENDLE writes about science, art, and culture for the Times (London), the Sunday Times, and the Financial Times, among other publications. He lives in New York City.
Table of Contents
1 Paradise 21
2 Moon Child 35
3 Erudition 67
4 The Suicide Squad 93
5 Fraternity 117
6 The Mass 132
7 Brave New World 154
8 Zenith 175
9 Degrees of Freedom 202
10 A New Dawn 227
11 Rock Bottom 252
12 Into the Abyss 280