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Friday, December 30, 2011

Tom Swift and His Air Scout Now Online

The twenty-second installment of the Tom Swift saga, Tom Swift and His Air Scout, is now posted in the Tom Swift and His Pocket Library collection. As usual, HTML, PDF, PDA eReader, and plain ASCII text editions suitable for reading off- or online are available.

One problem with building a work of fiction around topical events is that the story is necessarily held hostage to tomorrow's headlines. That is illustrated by this, the second of the Tom Swift novels written during World War I (the first was Tom Swift and His War Tank, published in 1918). The present volume was written during the war but was not published until 1919, at which time the Armistice had gone into effect, rendering a number of comments about the progress of the war in the narrative dated.

In this novel, Tom, inspired by the difficulty he has hearing and being heard over the racket made by the engine while taking his lady friend Mary Nestor for a spin in the sky, vows to invent what today we'd call a “stealth aerial reconnaissance platform” by developing an engine, muffler, and quiet propeller which makes an airplane, even flying as low as a few hundred feet above the terrain, effectively silent to people on the ground. Tom imagines that such a craft will be much in demand for scouting missions above the trenches and behind enemy lines in the European conflict. He embarks upon the project himself, having rejected a generous offer from another aircraft manufacturer to go to work for them. Curious circumstances and evidence of sabotage cause Tom to suspect nefarious forces are out to steal or wreck his design. All of this fades into the background when Mary Nestor's father disappears without a trace while bicycling from the Swift residence back to his house, and Tom mounts a search which remains fruitless even weeks after being turned over to the police.

As Tom Swift fans will anticipate, all of these goings-on are connected in ways which will become apparent as the story progresses, and a satisfactory resolution is obtained in the end. The unsettling corruption wrought by Wilson's War is also on display here. Ned Newton, Tom's friend since childhood, until recently financial manager of the Swift enterprise, and now a banker and Liberty Bond salesman, is revealed to have been covertly spying on Tom and the development of the silent motor and passing on information to the U.S. Secret Service. “Oh, so it was Ned!” exclaims Tom, who appears to consider this betrayal of confidence all hunky-dory—just Ned's “doing his part for Uncle Sam.”

Three public domain Tom Swift novels remain to be posted. When all are complete (this is a long-term project begun in 2004; I have averaged between two and three novels a year), I will revise the already-posted books, bringing their production standards up to those of the more recent postings and incorporating corrections to typographical errors spotted by readers.

Posted at December 30, 2011 17:56