PERSONAL: Born May 5, 1953, in New York, NY; son of John and Jane Pellegrino; children: three. Engaged to Mary, the soon to be last Mrs. Pellegrino.
Literary Agent: Elaine Markson, 44 Greenwich Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10011. (212) 243-8480.
Lecture Agent: George Greenfield of Creative Well, Inc. (1 800 743 9182) Creativewell.com
CAREER: scientist working in paleobiology, astronomy, and various other areas; designer for projects including rockets and nuclear devices (non-military propulsion systems), composite construction materials, and magnetically levitated transportation systems; writer. Has been affiliated with Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand National Observatory , Brookhaven National Laboratory, Long Island, NY; taught at institutions including Hofstra University and Adelphi University Center for Creative Arts; member of Princeton Space Studies Institute. Cradle of Aviation Museum, space flight consultant; Challenger Center, founding member. After sailing with Robert Ballard to the Galapagos Rift in the immediate aftermath of the discovery of the Titanic (in 1985), Pellegrino expanded from the field of paleontology “into the shallows of archaeological time.”
MEMBER: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Planetary Society, Paleontological Society, British Interplanetary Society (fellow).
SIDELIGHTS: Charles R. Pellegrino told Contemporary Authors “I owe much to having patient and supportive parents and to at least three equally supportive teachers who came into my life at a very critical time. You will find them acknowledged first and foremost in every one of my books.
“From the start, a career in writing seemed the least likely thing in the world. At age twelve I was reading far below my grade level. Ironically, I think having to climb that extra hurdle gave me more of a love of words than I ever would have had otherwise. Two of my childhood friends, also reading disabled, grew up to write books with me. A sheer love of science probably had much to do with getting us over the hurdle.”
“My scientific adventures, ranging from the co-discovery of Biblical Sodom to co-designing the world’s first antimatter rockets and tracing the Titanic’s debris field backward in time to reconstruct the liner’s last three minutes, have become the subjects of my books. When asked by aspiring writers for advice, I say shy away from journalism school and concentrate instead on science, art, history, or some subject you truly love. That way you will have something interesting and close to your heart to write about. It is also important to know at least one full-time writer. The paleontologist Gerard R. Case was able to show me in just five minutes what was wrong with my earliest articles, sparing me many months of bumping around in the dark.”
“My literary fathers include Isaac Asimov, Stephen Jay Gould, Arthur C. Clarke, Stephen King, Walter Lord, and Anne Morrow Lindergh. I am often asked what sort of person becomes a writer. I think you’ll find that most of us were strange kids.”
In the past decade, Pellegrino has written six books on subjects that range from the lost city of Thera to what would happen if all insects suddenly became extinct. In the spirit of many of Pellegrino’s books, Unearthing Atlantis offered scientific explanations for a possible kernel of truth behind a mythical event – in this case, Plato’s story of Atlantis. According to Pellegrino, what Plato called the Atlantis disaster was centered on the Aegean Island to Thera, part of the Minoan culture. It was destroyed in a horrific volcanic eruption in 1628 BC, in which “(f)ifty cubic miles of rock,” according to John Leonard in Nation, became in Pellegrino’s words, “as vapor in the heavens, [and] death rolled into Turkey on the tongue of a tsunami.” In his review of Unearthing Atlantis, Leonard wrote that “Pellegrino will talk your head off on top of the ‘smoking cathedral’ of a volcano or beneath the seas where giant sandworms inhale sulfides and entire continents grind or drift from the pull of moon on bedrock. . . What Pellegrino does to fudge up the flimsy evidence is go all the way back to the Big Bang.” But despite some criticisms, Leonard was entertained by the range of Pellegrino’s mind, the “Big Picture” he gives, from “weather reports in the Old Testament and classical literature, from volcanology, glaciology, paleobotony, oceanography and particle physics, and from readings of ice caps, acid layers, carbon exhaust clouds, dinosaur teeth, clam bed fossils, Irish peat bogs, and Californian bristlecones.
In Pellegrino’s 1993 Flying to Valhalla, a sci-fi novel, a husband-wife scientist team are set to fly Earth’s first mission to another star system. As a result of their 92% speed-of-light flight to Alpha Centauri A-4, Christopher Wayville experiences “the Lazarus Effect. . .” The faster they travel the more his dreams and later even his waking moments are plagued by recursive visions of alternate pasts, and nightmarish outcomes of potential futures,” Commented a writer on the Strange Words web site. The Lazarus Effect makes Chris act as if he is going insane, but is also allows him clear insight into the likely impact of Earth of this trip to A-4, based on Pellegrino’s Three Laws of Alien Behavior: 1) Their survival will be more important than our survival. 2) Wimps don’t become top dogs. 3) They will assume that the first two laws apply to us.” In other words, the Aphans response to any civilization intelligent enough to reach its star system will be to react defensively in order to ensure its own survival – that is, to annihilate Earth. Chris and his wife join forces with an Alphan scientist to try to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
The novel’s review on the Strange Words Web site was positive, and indicated a lot of admiration for the book’s technical descriptions. It noted approvingly Pellegrino’s “central theme that the discovery of intelligent life bodes ethically complex and potentially species-perilous ramifications that the rose-glassed ET lovers have failed to consider.” The reviewer summed up the novel as a “hard sci fi fan’s dream.”
Pellegrino shifted back toward science history in his 1994 Return to Sodom and Gomorrah: Bible stories from Archaeologists. Here Pellegrino returned to the volcano that destroyed Thera in 1628 BC, which, he also contended created the days of darkness, ashes and pestilence described in Egypt's Ipewer Papyrus and in the Book of Exodus.l He also considered the existence of Sodom, which he believes, said a Publishers Weekly reviewer, “represents a telescoping of oral traditions from diverse places.” Using the fieldwork of archaeologists Elisabeth Stone and Paul Zimanksy, he speculated that Madhkan-shapir, an ancient city now located under the Iraqi desert, may have been one such historical site. He also addressed questions such as where the Ark of the Covenant resides, and the irony that Eve’s punishment for eating from the Tree of Knowledge was to have her child labors become painful. Reviewers were appreciative while at the same time they noted the highly speculative nature of the book. A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that “(h)is unsubstantiated theories may irk scientist and scholars but will intrigue general readers.” And Booklist’s Ilene Cooper stated that the book “offers plenty to think about and argue with.” Pellegrino does draw clear divisions between scientific evidence and the speculations that follow – pointing out opposing views to his own best guesses, and indicating the direction of future research that will either confirm or deny.
Pellegrino teamed up with George Zebrowski to produce The Killing Star, a sequel to Flying to Valhalla in which an alien civilization that has discovered Earth’s ability to travel into and colonize space, launches a relativistic bomb attack that instantly sterilizes the surface of Earth. The only survivors are a crew of a deep-sea diving vessel that was exploring the Titanic at the time of attack, and those few Earthlings who occupy space colonies on the moon and Mars. When these groups learn of each other’s existence they strive to unite, but expose themselves to annihilation each time they attempt to travel or communicate.
Readers were impressed by Pellegrino’s ideas about the likely reaction of advanced civilizations to Earth’s attempts to communicate and by his rendering of the relativistic bomb attack. In his long review on Sites, Christian Weisgerber wrote that the novel “paints a frightening picture of civilizations exterminating their interstellar neighbors, not from malice, but simply because it is the most logical action. A universe where successful genocide is the norm, the ‘right’ way.
Following up on this success, Pellegrino brought out Dust, one of his most widely and positively reviewed sci-fi novels ever. The premise of the novel is “a missive die-off of fungus gnats,” said Grant A. Fredericksen in Library Journal, a seemingly obscure extinction that in fact has direct ramifications for world survival. “Once the gnats (and other insect ecologies) die, the fungus they ate multiplies, as does the population of mites they once controlled. Before long, these mites, which resemble huge clouds of carnivorous dust, are swarming over a Long Island community, slaying everything in their paths, including the wife of scientist Richard Sinclair. Sinclair barely escapes with his nine-year-old daughter to Brookhaven Labs, where he and a team of scientists try to figure out what’s going on and how to stop it. Meanwhile, mass hysteria breaks out, crops die, financial markets collapse, species of animals die off in droves, and a talk-show host named Jerry Sigamond who wants to undermine all scientific influence takes control. In an attempt to right the ecological imbalances from which all these horrors result, Sinclair and other scientist discover a way of “biomorphing” replacement insects from dinosaur-era ancestors locked in fossil amber,” wrote a Kirkus Reviews reviewer.
More than one reviewer referred to the publisher’s note that credited Pellegrino for the idea of cloning species from fossilized amber, which gave Micheal Crichton’s Jurassic Park its premise. Reviewers generally praised Dust. Although a Kirkus Review reviewer deemed it a “(b)rilliantly scary (and highly entertaining) vision of eco-catastrophe,” it did receive more measured praise from Publishers Weekly, whose reviewer wrote that “(d)espite the promising ingredients, most readers will probably be so bogged down by overheated pseudo-jargon . . . that they’ll be rooting for the mites.” Booklist’s Donna Seaman concluded that “Pellegrino pulls out all the stops, but as convoluted as his plot gets, his message is stunningly simple: we need every single life-form the earth supports.” Library Journal reviewer Fredricksen called it a “biological thriller that will convince readers to treat insects with more respect.”
In 2000, Pellegrino brought out a sequel to his best-selling Her Name Titanic called Ghosts of the Titanic: An Archaeological Odyssey. In the later book, Pellegrino supplied new information that details the experiences of those on board the great ship, including diaries and eyewitness accounts. These previously unpublished accounts are compared with the first detailed archaeological and forensic investigation of the wreck site, 2.5 miles under the sea. The new information clarifies the events that happened that fateful night, when the Titanic, travelling dangerously fast in order to arrive in New York a day ahead of schedule to gain public attention, breached a critical bulkhead damaged by fire that had already endangered the ship even before she ran into an ice field. Pellegrino carefully reviewed survivor accounts to establish that guns were fired and third-class passengers were actually shot to keep them from getting aboard the lifeboats. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Ghosts of the Titanic a “fresh recreation of the Titanic’s final hours [that] provides an eerie and astonishing adventure, a time capsule gracefully wrapped in elegant prose.”
Booklist, August, 1994, Ilene Cooper, review of Return to Sodom and Gomorrah, p. 1997; January 1, 1998 Donna Seaman, review of Dust, pp. 743-744.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 1998, review of Dust.
Library Journal, February 1, 1998, Grant A. Fredericksen, review of Dust, p. 112.
Nation, August 24, 1998, John Leonard, review of Unearthing Atlantis, pp. 25-27.
Publishers Weekly, August 1, 1994, review of Return of Sodom and Gomorrah, p. 66; January 19, 1998, review of Dust, p 370-371; May 8, 200, review of Ghosts of the Titanic, p 210.
Strange Words, http://www.strangewords.com (March 3,2001).
Sites, http://www.sites.inka.de (April 16,1996).
Most of Jerry's photo-file survived the collapse of the World Trade Center's North Tower on 9/11. These were found on top of "the pile" by firefighter Keith Young. Firefighter Young salvaged the essentially "shock cocooned" file, expecting to return it to the family of a victim. Within a week of the attacks, Keith was able to return the file to Jerry - elated to find that Jerry was alive and well. An instant friendship developed.