Jetpack Dreams: One Man?s Up and Down (But Mostly Down) Search for the Greatest Invention That Never Was

For those of us still nursing disappointment that The Future made room for the earthbound Segway but not the rocket-powered jetpack, Mac Montandon?s tragicomic Jetpack Dreams provides a tantalizing view of an invention that remains just out of reach. The author includes everything from a fanciful analysis of why we fantasize about flying to careful documentation of how the term ?jetpack? became popular (see: Philip Francis Nowlan?s ?Armageddon 2419 A.D., Amazing Stories, 1928). Both the failures and successes that attempted to transform science fiction into science fact emphasize the dangers. The hapless "somewhat asinine young fellow" in 1930s Germany who "set off a few rockets while strapped to roller skates" reaches across time to join hands with 1960s Bell Aerospace engineer Wendell Moore, who actually built a functioning jetpack. Which is to say nothing of such hapless characters as Houston-based entrepreneur Bradley Wayne Barker, a partner in the absurd-sounding American Rocketbelt Corporation. His jetpack obsession ended in murder and kidnapping. At times sounding almost gleefully steampunkish, or steampuckish, Montandon also investigates such ungainly titled flops as the Springtail Exoskeleton Flying Vehicle. Despite a sometimes overly gee-whiz tone, the book does provide an undeniably entertaining look at the crackpots and experts who have pursued the dream of personalized flight. Always upbeat, Montandon still holds out hope that we may all someday enter the hallowed realm currently reserved for such famous fictional "jetpackers" as Star War?s Boba Fett and James Bond.

April 17: "In less than three years, both GM and Chrysler would be bankrupt, and a resurgent Ford would wow Wall Street..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

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