Tom Swift and the Galaxy Ghosts

By Victor Appleton II

Summary: Extracted from one of the title pages of the book:

 

With his latest invention, the "Transmittaton," Tom Swift Jr. solves two baffling scientific mysteries. This ingenious device can atomize objects, send them great distances, and reassemble the atoms. What happens when Tom uses the Transmittaton to prevent a catastrophic invasion of Earth by ghosts from another galaxy is only the beginning of a series of spine tingling adventures for the young inventor.

At the same time, Tom and his father are asked to take on an important mission. They are to locate a prehistoric giant mammal believed to be entombed in solid ice in the Andes Mountains and transport it to the United States. Despite attempts by the Swifts' crafty, vicious enemies to sabotage the project, father and son accomplish their dangerous mission with the aid of Toms Transmittaton.

Unexpected thrills and high-voltage suspense fill every page of this gripping story.

 

(The description was e-mailed to me by Larry Scheflin, and the picture was scanned and e-mailed to me by Glen Rovinelli. Thanks a lot!) 

 

 

Major Inventions

 

The main invention in this book is the Transmittaton. According to Tom, the Transmittaton basically a glorified, deluxe Telesampler (invented in Tom Swift and the Mystery Comet).

 

How does the Transmittaton work? Well, from what I could understand, the Transmittaton works somewhat like the Telesampler. The Telesampler, in Tom's words, works by:

"Well, the antenna pulses out a concentrated beam that knocks particles loose from the surface of the target substance," Tom explained between mouthfuls, "the same way a beam of light makes a photoelectric cell give off electrons."

"How d'ye make them lil bitty party-cules o' the stuff come back to you?" Chow asked.

"They're in an ionized state, so the echo -- or reflected beam -- carries them back to the telesampler. And the tubing connected to the antenna dish is a wave guide that carries the particles to the tank--which is the box Bud was scooping the icing from."

However, the Transmittaton has a few features that the Telesampler lacks. For one, the Transmittaton does not need a line-of-sight fix on either the object that is being captured or the receiving tank. The Transmittaton also seems to have a few receiving difficulties -- Tom had to add a few pieces of equipment to keep the Transmittaton from creating hundreds of the objects he was beaming.

 

How feasible would it be to build a Transmittaton? It would be very, very difficult, if I understand it right. How can it possibly ionize all of the atoms of something the size of a wooly mammoth, beam them halfway around the globe, and then reconstruct it perfectly? There are untold trillions and quadrillions of atoms in something that large -- how could they be accurately be transmuted without completely destroying the object?

And how can it capture objects beyond or away from the line of sight? Wouldn't aim be very, very important with this invention? How could you possibly transmit objects to the opposite side of the globe?

Any ideas?

 

How much impact would a Transmittaton have on civilization? The impact a Transmittaton would have depends on two things -- how expensive it is to run, and whether or not it can transmit live creatures without killing them. If the Transmittaton is relatively inexpensive and can handle people we just might see a revolution in transport. Wouldn't it be nice if you didn't have to spend six hours on a plane and three hours in Pittsburgh just to get home from a business meeting? Oversea flights would be revolutionized -- no one would ever spend 30 hours on a plane trying to get from Little Falls, Minnesota to Shanghai, China again.

The Transmmittaton's impact in space flight would be very minimal, mainly because you have to have a receiving tank at the other end. After all, why beam a hundred million-dollar probe to Titan just to have it shoot on by because there was no tank waiting to receive it? If you did, somehow, manage to construct a receiving tank on the other end, space travel to that location would be enormously simplified. No rockets of any kind would be needed -- simply step on the platform, press a button, and you're there.

Cargo shipments might find benefits, but, as I said before, it depends on how much a Transmittaton would cost. Cargo always finds the cheapest solution, so it's highly unlikely that cargo would suddenly start being beamed all over the world.

It's important to remember, though, that the Transmittaton is NOT a Transporter. In Star Trek, the Transporter can materialize objects without there being a receiving tank on the other end, leaving open all sorts of interesting possibilities in both peace and war. The Transmittaton needs that receiving tank, so a world that had it would not be in danger of atom bombs suddenly materializing over their cities. They might have to watch out for spies, though, as a receiving tank in the heart of Washington could do a lot of damage÷

 

 

How I happened to read this book and why I think something should be done about it

 

One day as I was at the library it struck me that, somewhere in the land, there should be a copy of Tom Swift and the Galaxy Ghosts in the hands of a library. If this was the case, then it should be possible for me to special order it from the library. This I did, and I found out that the Texas A&M University Library had a copy of this book, which they loaned to my local library, who then loaned it to me.

The book that I got had, unfortunately, been re-bound in an unattractive (but very sturdy) blue hardcover binding. All the pages were intact and in perfect condition. The only flaw that I could see was an ink stamp on the side of the pages that read "TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY LIBRARY". Other than that, there was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about the book. Except, that is, for the story inside it.

I had been forewarned that the story was badly written, and it was. It was terribly written. Obviously, the person who wrote this book was not a Tom Swift Jr. fan. All sorts of boners were pulled throughout the book -- such as the "refilling of the Cosmotron Express' fuel tanks" just to name one (for those of you who haven't read book #32, the Cosmotron Express works by solar energy and atomics -- it has no fuel tanks).

But, boners aside, the book was still bad. No emphasis to speak of was put into the science of the inventions, or on the problems Tom had trying to work out his inventions, or on pulling jokes on Chow, or on the trouble Tom invariably gets into when he tests the inventions. Tom didn't work late at night in his laboratory trying to get his Transmittaton to work. Nope. Instead, Tom was afar off into the Andes or somewhere else chasing after Brungarians spies while his father or some other unknown scientist worked out the bugs of his invention. This unique behavior on Tom's part is entirely out of character -- nowhere, nowhere, in all of the other 32 books did anything like that occur. In other books, if the invention itself wasn't already around when the book started (as in book #1) Tom always insisted on working on it himself and spent many long, hard hours at the laboratory doing so. This book reminded me of the new Hardy Boy books that you can still buy on the shelves today -- it's all glitter, but the glitter is only electroplated -- there is no gold to be found. Tom, in this book, had utterly lost all of his character.

The cover of this book, I think, emphasizes this point. Now, I'll admit that most of the covers of Tom Swift books do not completely agree with the story inside them. This cover, however, is so bad that I think that it deserves special merit. First of all, there is the little fact that the Transmittaton doesn't even faintly resemble the device pictured on the cover. Secondly, there is the little fact that the scene on the cover never happenned in the book -- if it had, the radiation from the Galaxy Ghost (which is that little whispy creature supposedly being emitted form the Transmittaton) would have instantly killed Tom.

Beyond the scientific flaws with the cover, however, there is the radical change in Tom. I recently received a letter that expresses the radical change in Tom very well, and since he has agreed to let me post it, here it is:

 

Dear Jonathan,

 

This morning was the first time I have ever seen the cover of the Galaxy Ghosts. I was sickened to the point of nausea, for several reasons:

1. "Tom" is just standing there. There is no display of excitement or conflict at all.

2. "Tom" has a full head of "1970's hip" hair (including sideburns) instead of his standard crew cut. Has he been recruited by the Communists?

3. "Tom" appears to be wearing makeup, eyeshadow, or both. He does not look like your typical scrappy inventor, to put it nicely. In fact, he looks like a rich kid spoiled by the commercial success of his inventions, and perhaps he has been spending too much money on clothes. What happened to his striped T-shirt?

 

After reading the synopsis of the book, maybe this is a fitting cover, after all.

 

David Smith

 

But even when you only have the bare plot itself left and ignore everything else, the book is still disappointing. No contact was ever made with the Swift's space friends, and Tom's entire canon of wonderful inventions is left to waste. Take, for example, the time [in book #33] when he was driving along in a car and was almost bullied off of a cliff. What was Tom, the inventor of the Triphibian Atomicar, doing riding a normal automobile? Or take the time [in book #33] when the frozen mastodon was lying on the bottom of the sea. Why in the world did Tom go after it in the Jetmarine, which is the most primitive of all of Tom's undersea craft? Why not use the Dyna-4 Capsule or the Diving Seacopter? Both of these inventions are far more suited to exploring the depths than the Jetmarine ever was. And why did÷well, you get the point.

This book could have finally solved the many unanswered questions that kept popping up in the books and been a showcase of all of Tom Swift Sr.'s and Tom Swift Jr.'s inventions as well. The author could have used his skill to show just how earth shattering some of those inventions really were. Wouldn't it have been neat to have a scene where the space friends finally came to earth, or a scene in an America that had put Tom Sr.'s and Tom Jr.'s inventions to use? Surely the author could have spared a chapter or two and described how Tom's inventions had completely changed his world. I know that I have not as yet discussed all of his inventions in my home page, but even the ones that I have mentioned -- the repelatron, the Cosmotron Express, the Dyna-4 Capsule, the anti-gravity gas, the Triphibian Atomicar, and the atomic power capsule -- show that his world would have been completely changed.

 

Therefore, I think that something should be done. Matters should not have gone this long without someone addressing them. One of two things should be done:

    1. This book should be re-written to satisfy Tom Swift Jr. collectors everywhere and republished, or
    2. Another book (#34) should be written and published that will finally and satisfactorily end the series.

There are, however, many (mostly legal) problems associated with this. Recently, I received the following e-mail from the Tom Swift expert James D. Keeline that helped highlight the problems with putting out a new book:

 

Like many other series books, the Tom Swift Jr. series was produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Today, we would call this entity a "book packager". As you probably know, the Syndicate hired writers to complete book-length manuscripts from brief outlines -- ranging from a couple of sentences to several pages. For this effort, the ghostwriters were paid a flat fee for all rights. Between 1904 and 1984, the Stratemeyer Syndicate produced over 1,600 series books. Some of which were very popular and others are all but forgotten today by the general public. Ever hear of the White Ribbon Boys series? Edward Stratemeyer, who founded the Syndicate, died in May 1930. Thereafter, his two daughters, Harriet S. Adams and Camilla Stratemeyer Squier continued the business operation. Camilla withdrew in 1942 after her marriage and became a silent partner. Harriet continued to run the Syndicate until her death in 1982. The Syndicate was run for a couple of years by the junior partners who were around. However, they decided to sell the company to Simon & Schuster in 1984. All of the existing series were stopped. Some were resumed (like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series) under the new Minstrel imprint of Simon & Shuster. When the Syndicate was still in operation, these titles were published under the Wanderer imprint. Eleven Tom Swift stories were published between 1981 and 1984 under the Wanderer imprint.

Nearly three-quarters of the Tom Swift Jr. series was written by James Duncan Lawrence (1918-1994) -- specifically volumes 5-7, 9-29. Other authors wrote the remaining volumes. The volume you mention, TOM SWIFT AND THE GALAXY GHOSTS (1971) was written by Vincent Buranelli, who also wrote some Hardy Boys books during that time period. This was his only Tom Swift book. I think the Syndicate was in a state of denial and did not believe that the series would end at this point even though they did not announce a new title at the end of the story.

There were several reasons for the demise of the series. First, the Baby Boom Generation had out-grown the books. The same children who made the series a virtual best seller in the 1956 to 1961 time period were approaching 20 by 1971 -- far too old to be interested in Tom Swift Jr. There were fewer children born after 1952 and many of these would be entertained by television of the 1960s rather than series books. The sales of all series books plummeted at this point. It killed many series before 1971 (Rick Brant in 1968, Ken Holt in 1964, etc.).

Second, the Tom Swift Jr. vision of the future was not borne out by reality. I contend that not one of the major inventions in the Tom Swift Jr. series was realized in any form in the real world. This is unlike the original Tom Swift series where nearly all of the major inventions were realized in some form or another ... Synthetic Diamonds, Picture Telephones, Television, Motor Homes, etc. By 1969, the Saturn V rocket, not Tom Swift Jr.'s gyroscope-shaped Challenger, was the vehicle that took men to the Moon. Even the premise of the "scientific background" for the series has not seen reality. We did not expect to have Tomasite. However, we also don't have a repelatron either. The repelatron was the basis for many of the Tom Swift Jr. books. They were science fantasy -- not science fiction as they are often described.

Simon & Schuster has published two Tom Swift series. The one from 1981 to 1984 and another, better series published between 1991 and 1993. Even though some of the titles were ridiculous, like CYBORG KICKBOXER, the stories went back to the original Tom Swift mantra -- extrapolate on ideas in current science publications and popularize the ideas. When superconductors were in the news, Tom was making a hoverboard out of it. In one case, when I read the latest story MOONSTALKER, it described a computer-controlled mirror to adjust for the atmospheric disturbances. After an all-night read, I woke up to the morning newspaper to find that scientists at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory had performed a similar accomplishment using the same technique described by "Victor Appleton."

Both Tom Swift series were not popular with young readers. They did not sell well and are sought only by fans of the other two Tom Swift series. Simon & Schuster has given up on publishing new Tom Swift stories but they are unlikely to look the other way should someone try to publish a new story based upon characters whose trademarks and copyrights they own. Even though the story would be new, there would be a trademark infringement through the use of the character names and situations.

Simon & Schuster, through it's permissions department and Kevin Sullivan, have sent strong letters to editors of hobby magazines, like THE WHISPERED WATCHWORD when they ran an article psychoanalyzing Syndicate characters. Rather than viewing this as parody (which is generally protected under the first amendment and existing copyright law), they saw it as a trademark infringement. In the end, nothing came of it. However, the trademark laws require the owner to "vigorously defend" their trademark properties lest they slip into the public domain through common usage. For example, the Baum family did not have a role nor did they object to the 1939 MGM film. As a result, there isn't a trademark for the Oz characters. However, the Burroughs family has worked pretty closely with any films using the Tarzan character, preserving their trademark. It's much more complicated than this and I don't begin to understand it all.

Going the official way with S&S's permission department is tough too because of the stiff licensing fees they require. Bob Cook, who published a TOM SWIFT AND HIS AMAZING WORKS CATALOG had to pay a fee to S&S and is only allowed to publish 900 copies of his Catalog. The only thin he uses is the name Tom Swift, a couple of photographs with thumb-nail sized photos of the book covers, and the list of titles in English and foreign languages. He does not like to disclose the amount, but it was high enough to discourage me from continuing work on my own TOM SWIFT "COMPLETE" ILLUSTRATED BIBLIOGRAPHY which had much more article content describing the history of the series, production methods, unpublished titles, etc.

Karen Plunkett-Powell had to pay licensing fees for the photographs in her NANCY DREW SCRAPBOOK (St. Martin's Press 1993?). It's a tough nut to crack. In the end, could a satisfactory conclusion to the series be written by someone who had nothing to do with the original series? Would anyone care? Vincent Buranelli is still alive, though getting up there in years. Most of the other Tom Swift Jr. ghostwriters, including James Duncan Lawrence, are deceased. It is a different situation from the leftover manuscript by Hal Goodwin for the Rick Brant series --which took about 5 years to sell 1,000 copies -- not good.

I have many internal documents from the Syndicate describing the profiles for the characters, locales, etc. But until you get some sort of permission, there isn't much of a point.

James D. Keeline

 

This letter does a good job of pointing out the difficulties of giving the series a satisfactory ending. What can be done? I, for one, am not sure. The series still needs a good, solid ending, but it looks like the legal side of the matter will prevent this from ever happening. Any ideas, anyone?

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