Stranger than Fiction

By sizemore Last edited 159 months ago
Stranger than Fiction
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What we need right now is something to take us back to a time when explosions were fun and the men that carried them out were rocket scientists and occultists.

We first got interested in reading the book Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons when we saw it mentioned on the rather splendid Dark, But Shining. When it got picked up on Boing Boing we decided to get in touch with the author to see if there was even the remotest London angle so we could convince you guys to read it too. Turns out that there isn't really. BUT we did find out that George Pendle will be on Radio 4's Start the Week this Monday discussing the book. Here's what he had to say to us:

The book concerns John Whiteside Parsons, a pioneering rocket scientist in Los Angeles during the 1930s and 1940s. Parsons was a self-taught amateur at a time when rocketry was roundly ignored by the scientific establishment, and travel to the moon was considered little more than the talk of madmen. His main inspiration came from reading the science fiction pulp magazines of the day and he became friends with (and appeared in the stories of) many of the great Golden Age writers of science fiction. Despite the scientific establishment being set against him he eventually came to make his own dreams a reality, being responsible for the first manned rocket-powered flight in America, and co-founding the famed Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena (responsible for, among many other projects, the recent Deep Impact comet mission).

Yet away from rocketry his life was also touched by a Pynchon-esque confluence of the bizarre. For as well as being one of America’s first and foremost rocket scientists, he was also a committed occultist and a devout follower of the English diabolist Aleister Crowley, known at the time as "The Wickedest Man in the World". As his interest in magic grew stronger Parsons began performing rituals and holding orgies in his grand Californian mansion, much to the chagrin of the government agencies that funded his research...

We JUST started reading the book and dare we say that it's a blast? The opening chapter dealing with the deadly explosion and subsequent police and press investigation is just wonderful and we're intrigued to see how one man's life can touch upon the likes of Howard Hughes, Robert Heinlein, L Ron Hubbard, Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer without us ever coming across his name before. We're going to try and hook up with George before he heads back to New York to buy him a drink for tackling the subject and also providing us with something better than Harry Potter to read.

Be sure to listen to the interview (9am Monday) if any of the above intrigues you, but if you miss it first time round Radio 4 tend to archive the show.

Last Updated 15 July 2005