Tom Swift and his Giant Telescope

by Victor Appleton

Summary: "It's magic!" Ned exclaimed, and in a way it was: the great inventor Tom Swift had developed a fantastic new type of lens that played tricks with light. Pass an electric current through the lens and it would vanish before your eyes: look through the 'vanished' lens and it would magnify objects with a power far in excess of any telescope.

The material that Tom used to make the lens was extracted from the planet stone which Tom found on a recent expedition to Koku's native land. Tom speculated that the meteorite he had found was launched to Earth by intelligent beings from Mars -- and Tom hoped that his Giant Telescope would enable him to settle the question of Martian life once and for all.

His quest to build the telescope was soon hampered by dangerous villains who were after Tom's secret formula for a completely flexible and yet unbreakable glass. At first the villains merely questioned Tom's lifelong friend Mr. Damon for information, but when Mr. Damon proved uncooperative they tried to kill him in a staged automobile accident -- and when their efforst landed him in the hospital they started making attempts on Tom himself.

Meanwhile Tom's telescope project was hit by a staggering blow: the only source of material for his lens was locked up in the planet stone he had found, and the planet stone was lost overboard while being shipped via freighter to the US.

Tom launches a desperate attempt to salvage the stone before shifting ocean currents hide the stone forever. The stone, though, lies three hundred feet beneath the ocean's surface -- and Tom's two salvage divers are forced into a vicious struggle for life when a deep-sea creature attacks them.

Tom must descend in person to rescue the divers and the stone from the clutches of the sea. How Tom retrieves the stone, builds the telescope and makes his astonishing discovery are told in Tom Swift and his Giant Telescope.



First, A Word on the Book Itself


Tom Swift and his Giant Telescope is the 39th book in the Tom Swift series, and as such it follows the Planet Stone in both publishing order and storyline. However, a number of drastic changes were made between the Planet Stone and the Giant Telescope.

First the Giant Telescope was written and published by Whitman -- the same company that published reprints of the last ten Tom Swift books. The Giant Telescope, though, looks nothing like Whitman reprints, because it isn't a 'normal' book at all: it's a Better Little Book.

The Better Little Books (called BLBs) are basically super-condensed stories that have an illustration on every page. The entire book reads like an old black and white movie: a page of words and a page of picture, followed by a page of words and another page of picture, and so on for 425 pages. All the familiar characters are still there, but the writing quality has seriously gone downhill; it doesn't read anything like, say, Tom Swift Among the Diamond Makers.

I don't know why Whitman chose to release a Tom Swift book in the mass-market Better Little Book format. Perhaps the Tom Swift market was dying, and they thought that he might have a chance as a Better Little Book character. At any rate, he did seem to have some sort of success: Whitman did release Tom Swift and his Magnetic Silencer, another BLB, some time later.

Both of the Tom Swift Better Little Books are extremely rare. Most likely, this is due to a limited print run and the wear and tear of half a century: the books aren't nearly as sturdy as their Grosset & Dunlap cousins, and the quality of the paper is quite poor. Of the two BLBs, the Magnetic Silencer is the rarer of the two -- which is fitting, perhaps, as it is the last book in the series.



Major Inventions


The major invention in this book is, of course, Tom's Giant Telescope. The development of his telescope was made possible by the meteorite Tom found on his expedition to South America in the previous volume (Tom Swift and his Planet Stone). It seems that the stone has an amazing mineral in it: in the raw, the mineral was a somewhat unattractive opaque green -- but run an electric current through it and the mineral became invisible.

What interested Tom even more was that the mineral had fantastic optical qualities: it had a resolving power far in excess of any telescope in existence. Even today's telescopes would pale in comparison: Tom's telescope could have read license plates on Mars -- had there been any license plates on Mars for him to read. That's not bad for a 10-meter lens!

Tom built his telescope in the Adirondack Mountains in order to avoid the smog and pollution that was a problem at lower altitudes. This practice is still common today: the search for a pollution-free sky is why so many telescopes are built in Hawaii and out in the desert.

 Strangely, most of Tom's troubles with villains did not stem from this extraterrestrial mineral: it came from Tom's attempts to make a flexible, unbreakable glass. Somehow a nearby glass company got word that Tom had developed a new kind of glass, and two ex-employees decided (of course) to try to steal the formula. As usual, Tom's security fence was ineffective; even his Chest of Secrets was unable to keep the dastardly villain out. This lack of security seems to be a genetic defect in the Swift clan: Tom Swift Jr. had equal difficulty keeping intruders out of Swift Enterprise and secrets out of his enemy's hands.

I thought that the idea of making a flexible, unbreakable glass sounded familiar, and I found out I was right: Tom Swift Jr. later invented something very similar in the book Tom Swift and his Subocean Geotron for a deep-sea aquarium. It's odd that Tom's own son would one day reinvent something that Tom had perfected long ago. Perhaps Tom's glass wasn't strong enough for Junior's purposesÍ

Tom Swift and his Planet Stone | Tom Swift and his Magnetic Silencer | Index