Tag Archives: Juvenile fiction

On a Torn-Away World or, Captives of the Great Earthquake by Roy Rockwood

On a Torn-Away World or, Captives of the Great EarthquakeOn a Torn-Away World or, Captives of the Great Earthquake by Roy Rockwood

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I found this book at an antique shop, an original 1913 edition with a damaged cover and a price I didn’t like. But, I liked the cover art and my wife talked me into getting it.

I was rather disappointed that nowhere in the book was a description of an airship remotely resembling that picture on the cover. And I was even more disappointed in how offensive this was on so many levels. Two pages in and we’re assaulted with “Is eeder ob you boys seen ma Shanghai rooster?” And, after one of the “boys” said “… He is as elusive as the Fourth Dimension.”, Washington White (let that sink in) said, “I dunno wot dat ‘fourth condension’ is, Massa Mark; but dat rooster is suah some conclusive.” Yep…Massa Mark. Page 3 tells us that Washington “usually afforded the boys much amusement.” Oh, and also on page 3 we see that Washington is a “darkey”.

Cultural relativism adherents will cry me a litany for my indignation, but this was the 20th century! And more to the point, these were books that young – “white” – boys were turning to. I don’t know which of the stable of authors in Edward Stratemeyer’s Syndicate wrote this one, but Howard Garis wrote the first five in this Great Marvel series and he also penned several of the original Tom Swift books wherein you’ll see he patent racism. Stratemeyer wanted to provide adventure for young children and he had a corner on the market, so the influence of his books was wide and sadly reaching.

In addition to the racism against blacks, Native First People are referred to as savages, bucks. And the author’s sense of high adventure ran absurd more than once. In one substory, a criminal was believed by a Federal agent to have “joined forces hereabout with ancient enemies of the Federal officers.” What “ancient enemies”?? Really? And in an encounter with an eagle, the author said, “Perhaps […] she feared her hereditary enemy, Man, was coming on wings to deprive her of [her young].” Well…”hereditary enemy”. Jeez.

Most of the time I can read these and throw away the fake science. They were after all fun aimed at kids. But the premise of this one is absurdly silly. A mountain blown into space (cue the title) to be another moon? With near full gravity and atmosphere. Sure. And the boys’ mentor guardian Professor Henderson says in reasoning out what happened that the “surface of the earth is very, very rough.” Well, actually, known even at that time, the earth surface is quite smooth. If it were reduced to the size of a cue ball, it would be smoother than an actual cue ball.

So. Dilemma. Do I read the earlier books in the series? They’re available for free on Gutenberg. I seriously doubt that I’ll learn about the winged rigid airship that had nothing to do with the book.

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The Rocket’s Shadow by John Blaine

The Rocket's Shadow (A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story, #1)The Rocket’s Shadow by John Blaine

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After reading Harold Goodwin’s The Real Book About Space Travel, I tracked down some of his Rick Brandt Science-Adventure books. Written under the pseudonym John Blaine, I can imagine this would have thrilled a post-WWII 1947 boy – yes, they were gender-binary in their targeting back then; girls had Nancy Drew and boys had the Hardy brothers. Ten years before Sputnik, the rocket to the moon in this tends more toward Swift’s or Verne’s imagination. Still, there are the elements of science that do make this a “Science-Adventure”. One serendipitous to only me cross-over, Blaine/Goodwin had the teen character Rick fiddling with a Model-T ignition coil and some batteries to deliver an electric shock and Thomas Willeford’s Steampunk Gear, Gadgets, and Gizmos: A Maker’s Guide to Creating Modern Artifacts used one in one of his steampunk creations. Not to shock, but for it’s geek value, of course!

Fun stuff I never read as a kid. I’ll keep the series in mind for a diversion or three this year.

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