Tom Swift and the Captive Planetoid by Victor Appleton II

Collins, 1969, 157 p. Illustrated by Ray Johnson.

This one is definitely of its time. A boys’ own adventure written in breathless prose full of exclamation marks and with a “Gee Whizz!” and “Jumpin’ Jets!” style of dialogue. It was part of an ongoing series – five others are listed on the back cover – and refers to Tom Swift’s many “brilliant inventions” (some of which seem to have been able to be brought to market in short order by a couple of retainers) and previous “thrilling adventures”.

His latest wheeze is a thermal wing for re-entry – which is used for bouncing on the atmosphere like a skimming stone. This is his Duratherm Wing – or Durathermor for short (though Durathermor is hardly any shorter) and Durabuoy crash shield. Other late sixties coinages the author makes are repelatrons, Tomasite, and asbestalon. (That last would surely be given a health and safety swerve these days.)

Incidents come thick and fast – we start with an attack on a US spaceport base by black clad raiders whose costumes are blazoned with a sphere and lightning bolt symbol. This is followed up by Tom accused of being involved and his plan to hollow out an asteroid for use as a space vessel as a threat to his country. A package delivered to him turns out to contain deadly flying insects. Mysterious men arrange meetings with patsies to further implicate Tom. Despite his troubles on Earth Tom still finds time to make an excursion to an asteroid which has been brought into Earth orbit by some force or other. Using it as a test bed for his plan for an asteroid ship he finds it has a sapphire core. He manages to hop into and back from space as if he’s taking aeroplane trips. On one occasion he is accompanied by a chef named Chow. Tom’s sister and her friend make a brief appearance as companions for Tom and Bud on a trip to the beach and have as little agency as you would expect from “girls” in late sixties “juvenile” SF.

In its favour the colourful cover and grey and white endpapers are wonderfully redolent of the age though the four interior black and white illustrations are more humdrum.

I note, however, that this was a time when British publishers took care to reproduce US publications using, for the most part, British spellings. Hurrah!

Pedant’s corner:- Time interval later (or equivalent) count; 21. Otherwise: dryly (drily,) “lighter-than-air buoyancy” (less dense than air buoyancy,) Petronius’ (several times; Petronius’s,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech.

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

free hit counter script