REVIEW SUMMARY: Jetpack Dreams is a book I really wanted to love, but in the end it just became a collection of interesting anecdotes about the slightly odd people who are still pursuing the idea of a personal flying device (aka, jetpack or rocketbelt.) I enjoyed the writing style and the individual stories, but the book as a whole left me a little bit wanting.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Montandon sets out to answer the question: “Where is my jetpack?” in this tour through the world of people working on a personal flying device. We see the creation of the concept sponsored by the government but driven by the will of one man, Wendell Moore. When he died, the work went either to the home shops of numerous tinkerers or the purely sensational realm of advertising. Neither are likely to produce a usable solution and certainly as of today, they have not.
PROS: Montandon can write and he makes things interesting, the outlandish story of the Houston-based American Rockbelt Corporation is a standout involving kidnapping, theft, and murder.
CONS: The book doesn’t have any startling revelations or much in the way of intrigue or compelling storylines (save the one), individual tales are disjoint.
BOTTOM LINE: It is hard to separate the sad state of jetpacks from the state of the book. Can I fault Montandon for the fact that nobody has a secret jetpack project that’s nearly complete he could uncover? Hardly. But I do have to say that I was left feeling like I had read a collection of newspaper columns versus a novel.
When Buck Rogers took that jetpack flight in Amazing Stories over eighty years ago I doubt the author imagined what dreams he would be creating in the minds of many. From James Bond to Boba Fett the Holywood has kept this dream alive. But the truth of jetpacks is a little less glamorous and a lot more hard work. And failure – lots, and lots of failures. Jetpack Dreams chronicles the history of the earliest government-sponsored jetpack research as well as the people who attempt to keep the dream alive today. The stories of todays private citizens working on jetpacks are what I found most compelling.
There is the story of the 32-year old working in his parents garage who typifies the tinkerers. There is the story of “The Mexican Rocket Man” who, when Montandon visits is recovering from a serious accident, typifies the mad scientist approach. And then there is the bizarre tale of American Rocketbelt Corporation. The team built a jetpack in a minimall next to the car audio store and a strip club and it actually flew in the 1995 celebration for the Houston Rockets NBA Championship. They had a goal of making money off it. But the three owners ended up feuding, with one ending up dead, and the jetpack missing. One of the surviving owners kidnapped the other, tortured him reveal the jetpacks location, and ended up in jail. The jetpack remains missing.
I so wanted to love this book. The topic is fabulous, the people are truly characters (part mad scientist, part crazy), and Montandon does a great job of telling us about them. But there is something that holds this book back. Maybe it was just that there wasn’t a great ending – after all, we don’t have jetpacks. Or maybe it was just there wasn’t much between the various stories to hold the novel together?
On a side note, Montandon is keeping the story going on his blog – an awesome trend I hope other authors do!