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.

July 28: Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin eloped on this day in 1814.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).