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    Review of TOM SWIFT AND HIS AIR GLIDER by Victor Appleton


    Grosset & Dunlap, 1912

    When young inventor Tom Swift crashes his airplane, he's certain he'll have a long walk. He needs platinum to repair it, and platinum isn't exactly found lying around. By coincidence, though, the farmhouse where he crashed is home to Russian political exile Ivan Petrofsky. Petrofsky discovered a lost platinum mine while he was a political prisoner in Siberia. He offers to help Tom find the mine if Tom will help him free his brother--also held by Cossack soldiers of the Tsar. Unfortunately, high winds make this section of Siberia unapproachable by airship, so Tom must come up with a new invention--a glider that uses the power of the wind to allow it to hover in place.

    After some experimentation, Tom puts together the glider. Together with buddy Nate Newton and regular adventure partner Wakefield Damon, Tom and Petrofsky set off in Tom's latest airship, the Falcon, traveling across the Atlantic, through Europe, near St. Petersburg, and across the Urals into Siberia.

    Even before they can leave the US, though, Tom and his friends realize there is trouble. Russian Imperial spies are after Petrofsky and they continually harrass Tom's party, delaying them and trying to bring enough men to bear to stop Tom and arrest Petrofsky. But Petrofsky is not helpless: his contacts with Russian revolutionaries help him discover where his brother is being held and warn him against the Tsarist troops.

    In a series of close calls, Tom and friends manage to rescue Petrofsky's brother--but can they find the platinum mine in the desolate waste of Siberia?

    Author Victor Appleton (see more reviews of novels by Appleton) continues the Tom Swift series with another mishmash of scientific invention, impossibility, coincidence, and adventure. I think Tom's disregard for Russian law would be hard to pull off in a modern novel and his easy alliance with Russian anarchists and nihilists would probably end him up declared an 'unlawful combatant' in today's 'war on terror.' His decision to accept Petrofsky's version of reality rather than that of the Tsarist agents certainly harks to an earlier day when Americans could be expected to support democratic movements rather than oppressive rulers like the Tsar (the horrors of the Russian Revolution and Stalin's genocide also make these revolutionaries seem less appealing, although it should be noted that Stalin would almost certainly have purged and liquidated any of the nihilist and anarchist rebels who helped Tom.

    As usual, the near-century that has passed between release of this TOM SWIFT book and the present has done more than render some of Swift's 'inventions' quaint or, in the case of the air glider, clearly impossible. The racial attitudes portrayed in the book remain offensive although AIR GLIDER avoids the truly offensive terminology used in some of the earlier books in this series. Swift's attitude toward Americans in the world is both an interesting view of the past and, perhaps, an warning light to problems we face today.

    My rating of this story reflects the enjoyment quotient for its target young adult (especially male) readership.

    See more reviews of novels by Victor Appleton.

    Three Star

    Reviewed 3/25/07

    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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