Eight Rick Brant Science-Adventure Stories: The Rocket's Shadow, Sea Gold, The Caves of Fear, The Electronic Mind Reader, The Scarlet Lake Mystery, The Pirates of Shan, The Flaming Mountain, and The Flying Stingaree by John Blaine (Grosset and Dunlap, New York, 1947-1963)
The Mystery of the Timber Giant (A Tom Quest Adventure) by Fran Striker (McLoughlin Bros./Clover Books, New York, 1955)
Tom Swift and The Visitor from Planet X (The New Tom Swift Jr. Adventures) by Victor Appleton II (Grosset and Dunlap, New York, 1961)
The uncovering of a box that had been mostly ignored since our move (yes, that was eight and a half years ago) transported me back to early childhood, on the wings of these books that simply had to be read to help make the agonizing decision: keep? give away? ebay? (Note I said "help." The decision has still not yet been made.)
As a child, I never cared for Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys; I was hooked on a less popular series: Rick Brant's Science/Electronic Adventures. And do you know? I still am. There are plenty of times when I look back on things I liked/believed/wrote/said/did and am flooded with embarrassment rather than nostalgia. But even though the science in the Rick Brant books is dated—they were written between 1947 and 1968—the value of the stories is undiminished. The science, although somewhat futuristic, was believable then, and so the human elements still are. There is just one aspect that I find embarrassing now, as I did 50 years ago: the female characters, specifically the teenage girls. No wonder I almost always identified with the boys in my childhood books. Looking back, I can see that the girls are more intelligent and less flighty than in many books of that time, but still!
I'd like to be able to finish reading the Rick Brant series, and hope efforts to republish them will be successful. But, unlike the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, these are rarely carried by libraries. Looking back, I'm frustrated with myself for not having bought all the books, or at least made stronger requests for them at Christmas time. It's hard to believe today how unusual it was to buy books back then. We read an awful lot, fetching armloads of books regularly from the library, but buying books was an unusual expense. It was not until after I graduated from college that I broke away from that attitude. (And then with a vengeance; our house has more books than square feet of living space.)
Reading The Mystery of the Timber Giant was the final installment on a very old debt. The book was the thoughtful gift of a friend, and I'm sure I received it with due thanksgiving at the time. But I never read it. I was a picky child when it came to books, and back then was especially suspicious of anything recommended to me by someone else. (I drove my mother crazy; thank you, Heather and Janet, for being more reasonable.) But I kept the book, out of some weird sense of duty. I dragged it, and an accompanying portion of guilt, through five moves, still unread! But now, the debt is paid at last. And guess what? I enjoyed the book. Perhaps if I had known as a child that Fran Striker had also created The Lone Ranger, I would not have been so hesitant to open the book. I'm not likely to seek out more of the series at this point, but it was an interesting story.
The Visitor from Planet X was my first encounter with Tom Swift, Jr., as this book was from Porter's childhood, not mine. Whether or not I would have liked it as a child, I can't say for sure, but I think not. I liked science fiction (and still do), but unlike in the Rick Brant stories, the science here is too unbelievable to be enjoyable. Even fantasy worlds must be credible in their own way, and having your hero avert world-destroying disasters with inventions he thinks up in an hour and builds in a day is further than my credulity will stretch.
Reading all these books within a short span of time, what struck me the strangest was how much all the characters, villain and hero, relied on fist-fights to settle their difficulties. There's not all that much violence otherwise, but that was an era when playground scuffles were not uncommon and boys could exchange black eyes one day and be best friends the next. It's not something you see much in children's literature today.