Tom Swift and his Magnetic Silencer
by Victor Appleton
Summary:"Bless my potato patch!" exclaimed Mr. Damon. "Tom Swift, I never head of such a thing!" And no wonder! This time Tom seemed to be insane: his latest invention was a bomb that could be used to plant seeds. The bomb proved successful, but also dangerous: when Tom tried it at Mr. Damon's farm, the bomb went off prematurely and almost killed him.
Meanwhile, the government of Ruthenia tried to get Tom to build them the ultimate weapon: a completely silent airplane. Armed with this airplane, Ruthenia hoped to vanquish its enemies. Tom turned him down because the Army had already hired Tom to build the same thing -- but that didn't please Ruthenia any. It seems that another inventor almost has the secret...
Tom, though, has an edge. On a recent trip out West Tom found a peculiar ore that can literally absorb sound waves. Armed with this invention, Tom hopes to build the soundless airplane -- if he can find a way to extract the ore.
The ore proves highly dangerous: an early attempt at extracting it seriously poisoned the young inventor. Only the brilliance of Barton Swift, combined with the hearty music of an obnoxious band, saved Tom from an early grave. How Tom manages to perfect his ore and build a soundless airplane while dodging the vicious assaults of the Ruthenian Purple Shirts is told in the fascinating tale of Tom Swift and his Magnetic Silencer.
There are two major inventions in this book. The most prominent and important one is Bartantalum. Named after Tom's father Barton Swift, the metal is perhaps the most unusual ore Tom ever came across. Throughout the course of the Tom Swift and Tom Swift Jr. series Tom discovered a number of fascinating metals: there was the ore in the Giant Telescope that became invisible when energized; there was Inertite from the Caves of Nuclear Fire that could protect anything from cosmic rays; there was the super-strong Durastress from Tom's Triphibian Atomicar; the unbreakable glass from the Subocean Geotron; and so on.
Bartantalum, however, is the most incredible and unbelievable of all. I can believe unbreakable glass and Durastress. I might even be able to believe in the invisible ore and the radiation-neutralizing paint. But who ever heard of a metal that could absorb sound like a sponge? The Silentenna from the Sonic Boom Trap I can believe: there Tom invented a machine that created waves out of phase with the surrounding sound waves in an attempt to help deaden sound. That sort of thing occurs every day on airplanes: without such sound-neutralizing equipment a flight across the Pacific would be a harrowing flight indeed.
But absorb sound like a sponge? Sound isn't some kind of chemical; it's a wave -- a disturbance, really. Sound can be canceled out, but not absorbed. Compare this to light: if light strikes an object, it's possible to paint the object black and thus 'absorb' the light rays that hit it. What isn't possible is to build an object that sucks all the light rays out of the room and makes the room pitch black -- and that is precisely what Tom's Bartantalum did.
Tom went through several steps to process his Bartantalum. First, he crushed the raw ore:
As soon as Tom got back to the laboratory he told the giant to open the crate. Inside were several strong canvas sacks which held the ore, a mass of lumpy gray rocks speckled with streaks of glittering color. This was dumped into the hopper of a powerful crushing machine.
"Thanks, Koku. I won't need you any longer," said Tom, starting the mechanism which at once began chewing the ore into a fine powder
Once the ore was crushed, he put it in his "wonderful electric furnace" and melted it down:
As he finished speaking a whirring noise came from the crusher. Tom hurried over and turned off the motor. The powdered ore had fallen through the trap in the bottom and now was collected in a steel bin. Some of this the young inventor weighed out. Then, after putting on a pair on heavy gloves for safety he added this to the chemicals in the crucible. Next he stirred the contents together thoroughly with an iron rod, shoved the container well back into the furnace and closed the door.
"That's that," he announced, turning up the heat-control lever. "She'll cook along all night and sometime tomorrow ought to be ready."
The extracting process wasn't easy. Tom's first few attempts weren't exactly successful:
"Well, yes, that's the basic principle," admitted Tom. "But it's not so easy to put into practice. First the metallic salts contained in the ore must be broken down, then refined by fusing them with suitable chemical reagents. This is a pretty tough problem. All my attempts so far have failed. But with this fresh batch of ore and my new vacuum process I believe I'll get good results this time."
Eventually, however, Tom hit upon the secret:
"And do you know I got a couple of good ideas while we were out there! If the Bartantulum were fused with rubber and aluminum it would be much more efficient."
The Bartantalum worked splendidly; much better than Tom Jr's more realistic Silentenna ever did. When Tom first attatched the bullet-shaped Bartantalum cylinder on an airplane, however, it shorted the plane out and almost killed him. Tom fixed this problem by installing a cooling system. The plane worked as ordered: in the Army tryouts, Tom's plane carried the day!
Tom Swift's second invention in this book was his (as Ned called it) controlling bomb-planter. This is probably one of Tom Swift's wackiest inventions ever: basically, he filled a bomb with seeds (instead of shrapnel) and set off the bomb, thus planting seeds all over a field. An adaptation of the invention could be filled with insecticide.
The first trial of the invention on Mr. Damon's new farm didn't quite go as planned: the bomb went off a bit early and almost killed Tom and Mr. Damon. Neither were injured, but as Mr. Damon said: "I came very near smothering!" he complained. "Bless my oxygen tank, but this is scientific farming with a vengeance!" When Ned (who saw the explosion) found them, he was a bit confused: "Kernels of corn!" exclaimed Ned, picking up one of these. "Have you invented a way to make corn explode?"
Tom later explained in detail how the invention worked. I imagine that there are a few technical difficulties that the author forgot about (!) but I'll quote it here:
"All right," said Ned, "and while we work tell me more about your controlled bomb-planter."
"It's quite simple," replied young Swift. "I take a conical container of very light metal and put the grain to be planted in concentric chambers around the charge of explosive in the center. These chambers are weaker the farther they are from the center. This allows the seeds in the outer ones to be shot to a greater distance than those within."
"It doesn't sound simple to me," said Ned. "But it's wonderful."
"Arranged a little differently,' .went on Tom, "a charge of insect killer can be substituted for seeds and one or two bombs would bombs would be able to spray a large orchard."
I think that this invention is far more practical than Bartantalum. Sound just can't be soaked up: it can be cancelled out, but that is a radically different thing. I do believe that this bomb planter suffers from some serious flaws: I just don't think it could work as described. Bombs are built for destruction, not for planting seeds: I have a feeling that an explosion big enough to scatter seeds over a 10 acre field is big enough to do bad things to the seeds it scatters. Then there is the matter of damage to the fieldÖ
In terms of the series, this is definitely the weakest book of them all. The inventions in this book are ridiculous, the plot is painfully silly and thin, and the villains are the strangest I've ever seen. It would have been nice if the series could have had a good, solid ending like the Rick Brant series did, but that didn't happen.
In a way, though, the story doesn't end here; Tom Swift is still alive and well when the first Tom Swift Jr. book Tom Swift and his Flying Lab opens, and he is still inventing and acting when the series ends at Tom Swift and the Galaxy Ghosts. Eradicate, Koku, and Mr. Damon are gone but not forgotten: throughout the series they are mentioned from time to time as inventions are fondly named after them. Tom Swift's company grew over the years to fantastic proportions as he battled the evil Brungarians and expanded into outer space. Tom's inventions are referred to and occasionally used, and his son remodeled a few of the better ones (such as the Television Detector) to bring them up to modern times.
Counting the 40 volumes of the original series plus the 33 of the Tom Swift Jr. series, Tom Swift appears in 73 books -- not bad for an inventor! If he was born in 1893 (which is my best guess) he would be more than 100 years old now, with his son Tom Swift Jr (born around 1936) in his 60's. Their inventing days might be over, but he and his son have not been forgotten -- and here's to hoping they never will be.
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