Saturday, April 07, 2007

Book Review: Tom Swift and His Airship

As a child one of the first set of stories I read were The Black Stallion books. Fairly quickly I started working my way through Hardy Boy stories, and then moved to reading Science Fiction with the Tom Swift Jr. series. Tom Swift Jr. was a young scientist who had great adventures, like the Hardy Boys, but he had cool gadgets. In the first book Tom Swift Jr. builds a flying plane which had three levels, and carried a smaller plane and helicopter which could be launched out of the back of the big plane, while in flight!

It was a decade or two later that I learned the reason he was called Tom Swift Jr. was because there were a set of stories about his father, Tom Swift Sr. The original Tom Swift books were written in the early 1900s. The first one was published in 1910 – Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle.

A couple weeks ago I was at a friend’s house and noticed that he had Tom Swift and His
Airship. I borrowed the book. Here Tom builds a cross between a balloon and an airplane. His Airship is made of aluminum and floats because of a special, secret gas. It has a race with an airplane and wins. I rolled my eyes a couple times while reading the book, but remembered this was written almost a hundred years ago.

This book is more focused on adventure than the science. Like the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift solves a mystery. He is suspected of a bank robbery, but of course he is able to find the true criminals. Tom also fights the local town bully.

While the Hardy Boys are timeless and read very well almost a hundred years later, this is clearly dated. The science is weak. The book has people still using horses and wagons. And one of the characters is treated in a way that we would not tolerate today. An older black man who helps Tom is uneducated and a bit of a comical figure. There are many glimpses into life in America a hundred years ago.

I enjoyed reading the book. It is a quick ready. The story moves along; it is pleasant, but not great. It was fun to read about the father of Tom Swift Jr.

If you are interested in these stories I’ve found that many of the Tom Swift Sr. stories are available online.

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