lallis_folly: (alyson_book)
[personal profile] lallis_folly
Having been raised with the adventures of Tom Swift, Jr. -- my father brought from his chidhood the first thirteen books in the series -- I was quite pleased to find a copy of the series' sixth book at a recent used book sale. Tom Swift, Jr. does not appear to have enjoyed the popularity of Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys and I have not found his adventures easy to come by. This is, in fact, only the second I have found in several seasons' worth of garage and used book sales.

This book begins with Tom and his friend Bud Barclay cruising in Tom's nuclear-powered flying lab, the Sky Queen (his first major invention) testing a solar-powered battery that Tom has been working on. Before long, however, the boy-inventor and his chum are embroiled in an adventure involving a competitor in the solar-battery market, and international spies who seem determined to kill Tom (though not his well-known inventor father, Tom Swift, Sr.), Tom's "space friends" (alien beings who contact him from time to time) and the construction of, you guessed it, an outpost in space.

It's best not to think too deeply about the Tom Swift books, nor indeed, about any of the books written by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Characterization is practically non-existent or based on stereotypes that make the modern reader stare in disbelief -- in this particular volume, the Chief Bad Guy looked like a gorilla, which was how we knew he was a bad guy, and in the chapters set in the South Pacific, we have superstitious Polynesian natives who don't speak English, as well as the white folk giving beads and trinkets to a native youth who warns them of treachery. As for the good guys, Tom is a genius; his best friend Bud is brave and staunch and true; his sister is, at the same time, a dardevil pilot and paragon of virtue; and his mother would win the Good Mothering Award away from June Cleaver (in fact, I picture Tom's parents as June and Ward Cleaver).

Another point about the Tom Swift, Jr. books: don't look too closely at the science -- you'll get a headache, especially if you remember anything at all about high school science classes. But, in Outpost's defense, it was published in 1955, three years before the foundation of NASA (according to Wikipedia, anyway), but Tom had already been in orbit several times by then.

We won't even discuss the fact that Tom is only eighteen years old and his test pilot sister is only seventeen.

While the Tom Swift, Jr. books provide an interesting window into the attitudes of another era, their chief purpose is to provide rollicking adventure stories for young adults. And that, they absolutely do.

Cross-posted to [ profile] webofbooks.

Date: 2009-04-02 06:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
My grandparents had a couple of those books: "Tom Swift and his Sky-Train" was one of them.
I could tell the sky-train was entirely a specious fantasy, but it was a fun read. I think it was probably my start on science fiction.

Date: 2009-04-02 07:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That's not one that I've read. I suppose they qualify as sci fi.

Date: 2009-04-03 03:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The sky train is a series of gliders, all pulled by a single powered airplane, all going in the same direction (say from New York to Los Angeles), but not necessarily the whole distance. Along the route, one glider drops off and lands at St. Louis, one at Denver, etc.
That was the theory.

Date: 2009-04-03 03:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Was that Tom Swift, Jr. or Tom Swift? It sounds more like an older idea.

Date: 2009-04-03 07:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hmmm-not sure. I never read any of the other books, so I didn't realize there were titles under both names.
Maybe I'll stop by the library on my way home....

Date: 2009-04-03 08:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The original series, in the '20s and '30s, was Tom Swift. Then, to snare a new generation of readers, it was updated to Tom Swift, Jr. and the writer's name went from Victor Appleton (a pseudonym for several different ghost writers) to Victor Appleton II.

Date: 2009-09-10 09:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Tom Swift was my nearly my introduction to something called science fiction. I acquired a handful of them as a kid, and have rarely, if ever, seen them again - at least the ones I would remember.

I agree that it never gained the resurgent interest in latter years, probably because they never saw fit to do a movie or television show based on them as they did for The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books and characters.

I wonder if Subterranean Press could be interested in branching out into the Tom Swift titles? Might be interesting to find out.

Date: 2009-09-10 09:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I suspect Sub Press's interest would have a great deal to do with whether or not Grosset & Dunlap has relinquished the copyright.


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