By Alexa Day
Remember when Jason Isaacs seduced me into paying six dollars a month to watch Star Trek: Discovery? Yeah, that was about a year ago. And I’m still paying, even though there hasn’t been any Discovery in months.
Now I’m paying for Strange Angel.
I’m sure you’re not watching Strange Angel. After all, it’s on the same platform where you wouldn’t pay to watch smart, diverse science fiction with brilliant female characters.
That’s all right. I’ll give you a little taste of it.
Set in California in the 1930s (and based on a true story), Strange Angel introduces us to Jack Parsons, a working class guy with an extraordinary dream. Jack wants to go to the moon, long before going to the moon would become cool. During the day, Jack’s a lowly janitor, but by night, he and his childhood buddy head out into the desert to test rockets.
It’s not easy to live with a dream like space travel in Jack’s world. Jack can’t get funding from Cal Tech for the experiments, so his wife, Susan, is bankrolling the nightly launch tests, at the expense of the couple’s mortgage payments. Because Jack isn’t home all that often, Susan spends a lot of time hanging out alone at the house, bored. The marital sex is unsatisfying for both of them. And then there’s a new neighbor moving in next door, in the middle of the night.
The new guy on the block is named Ernest Donovan. The fun starts on his doorstep.
Ernest is the sort of free spirit who keeps a goat in his house (Temporarily. Sorry. I wish I had better news). He’s married, but he and the missus aren’t together just now. He has a weird, unpredictable energy about him. He’s the kind of guy who brings peyote on a camping trip the way the rest of us bring s’mores. He looks like he’s about to explode into waves of maniacal giggles.
Ernest doesn’t believe in rules, at least not the way society encourages people to. He’ll take a dip in a stranger’s pool and howl at the moon just for kicks. He’s taken a shine to Jack, so he shares the only rule he lives by with the rocket man.
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.
It’s the central principle of Thelema, a religion developed by Aleister Crowley. Thelema’s roots run deep, all the way to the ancient world, but in the California of the 1930s, Thelema is all about rituals meant to help its adherents manifest their true will.
And there’s sex magick. Did I mention the sex magick? Let’s stop for a second and talk about the sex magick.
About the k in sex magick. Crowley put it there to differentiate sex magick from sleight-of-hand stage magic, also super popular in the 1930s. In no-k-magic, it might look like things are disappearing, but nothing actually does. In magick-with-a-k, the sex is actually sex.
How do we manifest our individual will through sex magick? Well, Thelema might have only one rule, but I’m going to suggest some helpful guidelines.
1. Prepare to have your marriage melted. It’s not a huge surprise to say that partners are going to get passed around as part of Thelema, is it? I mean, if sex with your partner was enough to manifest your will, shouldn’t it already be manifested? Strange Angel mixes things up a little. Susan is initially reluctant to participate in that sex magick foolishness — she’s a Catholic in the 1930s, after all — and so she’s not a super willing participant with her very open-minded husband, Jack. Susan is, however, interested in getting Jack out of Thelema, which leads her back to the temple alone, which leads her to the high priest … which leads to sex magick. And once Susan has her first orgasmic vision, well, maybe that sex magick isn’t so bad after all.
2. Prepare to have your will manifested. Don’t you love it when folks get whatever they want, all at once, and their lives buckle under the weight of it? Thelema has a way of doing that here. Jack’s rockets start working, which is what he wanted. Sure, some of them explode, and it’s hard to find a test pilot, and the military is a little too interested in the technology. But Jack wanted them to work, and they work. Susan wants to see behind a repressed spot in her memory. Soon, she has a pretty good idea what happened back there, but it’s some stuff she can’t unsee.
3. Prepare to learn something surprising about yourself. Marisol takes up with Jack’s partner, Richard, at the direction of the high priest. During their courtship, she discovers the depth of her powers — the innocent Richard looks at her like she’s a goddess. In turn, she confides that she’s more than willing to get past that timid personality and expand his horizons for real. No magick. Just the two of them. Learning that the sexy Marisol is into him — that way — gives him the confidence he needs to take the rocket project to the next level, without the far more charismatic Jack.
It’s a lot to take in. But I started with Ernest, right?
While everyone is finding their way into, around and through each other through Thelema, all that sex magick has separated Ernest from his wife for good. What Ernest wants, at the center of all that fun-loving, peyote-toting madness, is to be loved. He’s trying to fill an emptiness that’s going to swallow him whole, even with sex magick. He’s popular enough. But he’s not loved. And remember, he only knows one rule.
How far will a man like that go to be loved? And more importantly, how much will we get to see him do? Because I’m paying six dollars a month for all this.
I’ll try to keep you posted.
In the meantime, I will be hanging out at RomCon this very weekend, October 6 in Richmond, along with a lot of really awesome authors. We will be at the DoubleTree Hotel in Midlothian, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by swag, checking out cover models, and hip deep in all the romance you can manage. Come join me in the Sweet Virginia Breeze!