By Victor Appleton II
Publisher: Grosset and Dunlap
Purchase this book here.
This review is only partly about the book, and more about the series. The Tom Swift Jr. series is in the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew genre, right down to the same type of illustrations, but with a heavy science twist. The stated goal of the series is to interest young boys in science. Sorry, no girls allowed.
This series started in the early 1950’s, and the topics and titles of the series show it. Atomic power is the Great New Thing, with Plastics being a close second. Tom sets out to explore new frontiers, those being Space and The Ocean. He flies higher and faster, and dives deeper than anyone ever has before. He’s not just an adventurer though, he’s an inventer. His father is also an inventer, and has a huge complex for the building of those inventions, so Tom Jr. is in the perfect place in the world to be doing all this stuff.
In Jetmarine, someone is using sonic waves to make groups of people (generally on boats) pass out. The waves are sent from a plane overhead, and then a submarine can surface near the boat and rob it at will. Tom’s Uncle Ned is taken from a boat that is robbed, so Tom sets out to find him, using his new submarine that he’s been building.
Tom’s Jetmarine uses an atomic engine, powered by Swiftonium, a new alloy made by the Swifts that generates more power than uranium. For its drive, rather than using propellers, it uses an engine similar to an aircraft jet engine. It pulls water in the from and pushes it out the back. This allows it to move almost silently and very very quickly. Sound familiar?
He also mounts something on his ship that blocks the sonic waves with counter waves. Sound familiar?
This book is juvinile, no bones about it. But that’s their target audience, so it’s cool. If Joe Hardy were to make a battery, they would say something like "Joe quickly assembled a battery and handed it to Frank." When Tom makes one, they detail the materials going into it, how it’s assembled, and go through the testing.
I really think that if Issac Asimov were to have written books for this age group at that time, this is exactly how he would have written them.
These books are the primary reason I love science ficiton. The air of excitment over where science and technology are taking us is almost tangible. Atomics is going to create a world were power is free to all people. Plastics will create a world where nothing ever wears out, and all of our resources can go to things like growing food for the hungry. It’s easy to be cynical about those attitudes now, but they were very real for a lot of people.
One last thing, I love the smell of old books. They bring back great memories of my youth, discovering long lost treasures in the back corners of the county library, often in boxes.