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    Review of TOM SWIFT AND HIS SUBMARINE BOAT by Victor Appleton


    Grosset & Dunlap, 1910

    With his father's submarine nearly complete and ready for the government trials, inventor Tom Swift suggests an alternative. Rather than try to win the $50,000 that the government is offering, why not attempt to salvage a deep-sunk treasure ship. The ship, carrying gold for South American revolutionaries, was sunk beyond the reach of hard-hat divers, but Tom believes that his father's submarine has the capability to reach it. Unfortunately, a rival submarine company learns of the Swift plans and decides they, too, would like a chance at winning the salvage.

    The Swifts are joined by airman-adventurer John Sharp, eccentric Wakefield Damon, and solider of fortune and naval captain Alden Weston and, after brief trials (one of which nearly results in their death), they set off on their adventure.

    Although the Happy Harry Gang (badguys in the earlier Swift novels) plays no part in this adventure, Tom and his companions continue to have things rough. First, there's the small matter of a brand new submarine based on a completely new design (it uses electric charges for propulsion, with propellers as secondary propulsion only). Predictably, things go wrong with the ship. Next, there are the rival submariners, who don't hesitate to trail our heroes, or even to bump them underwater. Next, there's the Brasilian Navy who, surprised when an armed submarine surfaces only yards from their anchorage, take Tom and his comrads prisoner and quickly sentence the group to death. Finally, there are the dangers of the deep--huge sharks who threaten to consume Tom and his friends whole.

    As with the other Swift books, a large part of the pleasure is noticing the differences a hundred years in technology make. The Swift submarine is an impressive device, powered by a technology that has no current counterpart and it's ability to reach 2.5 miles in depth would make it nearly unique even today. In contrast, the search for a long-distance-capable phone and the use of a ram as the primary armament on the sub remind us that Swift lives in an era where the Wright brothers are still alive, World War I had not introduced the terrors of submarine warfare, and revolutionaries are seen as welcome rather than as terrorists.

    The Tom Swift stories are also useful in displaying racial attitudes of the time. While Eradicate Sampson plays a small part in this story, the 'brown-skinned' Brazilian sailors take over as racial inferiors. The Brasilian naval incompetence, both with respect to their preparations for a storm and their inability to defend against the all-American fists of Tom and his friends. This attitude toward South Americans (after all, how unreasonable is it for them to believe that a submarine, emerging in the midst of their fleet, had intended an attack), is probably consistent with the thinking of the time--but seems bizarre in a post-9/11 era.

    For all its shortcomings (yes, including more of the clunky dialogue that characterizes the series), TOM SWIFT AND HIS SUBMARINE BOAT is hard to put down as Tom and his friends lurch from danger to danger.

    See more reviews of novels by Victor Appleton.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 10/08/06

    TOM SWIFT AND HIS AIRSHIP is available for FREE.

    What do you think? Too generous? Too stingy? Or did I miss the entire point? Send your comments to Give me the okay to use your name and I'll publish all the comments that fit (and don't use unprintable language).

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