Tom Swift and His Planet Stone
or, Discovering The Secret Of Another World
By Victor Appleton ©1935 Book #38
Review by JP Karenko, May 2006
Note: some of the language, references & attitudes, while acceptable at the time they were written, are not Politically Correct, today.
No official summary was ever provided with any of the old Tom Swift books. However, without giving too much away, the plot can be summed up as follows:
The story begins with Our Hero working on a new invention, the Metalanthium Lamp. This device is a Star Trek-type medical device that is used to heal the sick, raise the dead and otherwise cure incurable medical cases by bathing the patient in its' "mysterious, healing rays." Problem is, it doesn't work as planned, and Tom is stymied.
To add distraction to disappointment, Koku, Tom's faithful giant manservant, gets a letter from his long absent brother Tola. It seems that the twin giants are being recalled to their homeland to ascend to the throne as co-kings. Their younger (semi-evil) brother, Kosk, has died and the tribe requires new ruler(s) to govern them.
Tom is convinced to personally deliver the giants and attend the coronation. There is an added incentive that a large meteorite has fallen in Giant Land (later found to be named Ambolata. ) This allows Tom to mix business with (dubious ) pleasure, make the whole trip a tax write-off, and just perhaps find a solution to the problem with his magic lantern...
Developments follow that cause this tale to veer into the Twilight Zone. The remainder of the story is significantly more like fantasy than fiction.
The usual hazards of "life in the wild" are encountered, such as Tropical Tempests, Bad Beasties, Warring Wabawabas, Menacing Medicine Men and Dastardly Doctors. How these problems are resolved, you will have to locate a copy of the story to find out.
Cast of Characters (More or less in order of reference)
Wilson "Swatem" Goth-No actual description. American baseball's all-time home-run hero. He plays a secondary, but pivotal role as object of Tom's attention, late in the story.
Tom Swift-Intrepid inventor & mechanic. Plucky, lively, resourceful, brave and clever. Home-schooled at a college level by his father, Barton Swift. Athlete and hunter. Familiar with how to stalk game and firearms. Loves all things mechanical.
Ned Newton-Chum & companion of Tom. His description is never given. He continues in his position as Swifts' financial advisor and CFO (In this tome, "Manager") of Swift Construction Company (SCC).
Koku-Giant manservant of Tom. Devoted, loyal, and possessed of great strength, but apparently somewhat limited cognitive facilities. Described as "savage and only half-tame," he is antagonist and rival of Eradicate. In this episode, he is "servant & guard" at SCC. He has been called home to reign with his brother Tola, as tribal king. Previously described as over 9ft tall, in this tale he is eye-to-eye with 6ft Tom while kneeling in front of him.
Tola-Currently residing in Europe and touring with a traveling circus. Twin brother of Koku.
Kosk-Younger (and shorter) brother of Koku & Tola. Now deceased. Usurper King of Ambolata. On the throne due to political machinations executed during Tom Swift in Captivity.
Ambolata Prime Minister-No name or description. Contacted Tola with word of Kosk's demise. Does not appear in the story.
Dr. Hardman Bane-A short, stocky man about forty years of age, of dark complexion and wearing a small moustache. Behind his glasses, are two black eyes. Allegedly, a medical doctor "affiliated with a large New York hospital." Later found to be a "charlatan, a quack" and a thief. Practices medicine without a license. All around baddie and principal nemesis in this tale.
Nonymous Night Watchman-Faceless and nameless Swift security guard, called to lock up the lab after Koku is poisoned.
Nubile Nurse Nancy-No name or description, except "pretty and young." Attending poisoned Koku at Shopton Hospital. Easily intimidated by Tom & other hospital staff.
Dr. Chester Chilton-A newcomer to Shopton, was exceptionally well educated and a very likeable person. Attending Koku.
Dr. Preston & other unnamed hospital staff-Extras. No significant parts in the story.
Eradicate Andrew Jackson Abraham Lincoln Sampson, A.K.A. Rad-Aged stereotypical Negro manservant. Eradicate has now "become too old to be trusted on guard duty any more." He is now going deaf and is described as having "white hair in a fringe and is bald on top." He remains faithful to Tom and helps out where he can. Constant rival and antagonist of giant Koku. In this tale, he is said to be "soon to go to join his old mule Boomerang in the regions of the Beyond."
Jason-NLN or description. Tom's Shopton lab assistant & go-fer.
Dr. Morton-NFN or description. Hospital Chief of Staff. Prone to wild mood swings.
Red Faced O'Reilly-No real name or description. Shopton beat cop, called to arrest Tom for "practicing medicine without a license."
Mr. Wakefield Damon-Elderly & eccentric adventurer whose main purpose in life seems to be blessing everybody and everything near his person. Never fully described. In previous tales he was "portly" with a moustache and "tortoise-shell glasses." We also have learned he cannot stand being near onions in any form. In this tome, we find he is "a spry little man," quite bald and wears a luxurious white wig. This figures prominently in the story line. He appears to be quite wealthy. Previously a victim of travel conveyance trouble, (he wrecks whatever he tries to pilot) in this tome, he does not smash anything.
Professor Edward Bayley-No description. Horticulturist acquaintance of Tom from an earlier unspecified adventure. Looking for work. Associated with (unnamed) State College.
Nelson & Jagger-NFN's or descriptions. Swift pilot/mechanics who run the Sky-Train "locomotive."
Kirkfold-NFN or description. Lab assistant taken along on the SA trip to Ambolata.
Janberry- NFN or description. Colored cook/steward in charge of care & feeding of the travelers. Supposedly an old timer Swift employee. May have been the (unnamed) steward in Airline Express. (Vol. #29) Portrayed even more stereotypically as a "Darkie" than even Rad. Rolls his eyes a lot when frightened.
Amo-Koku & Tola's "littler" brother. Selected to be king if he can prove he is worthy.
(Under) Chief Malata-No description. Generic ruler of a particular tribe and village.
Trio of Wabawaba Warriors-Sent to do single combat against Amo. Killed and beheaded for their pains.
Menangerie of Menacing Medicine Men-The real power behind the Ambolatan throne. Start a revolt that cause Tom & Co. to exit Ambolata, quickly and ungracefully.
The following major characters either have only casual mention or are not present in this episode.
Barton "Bart" Swift-Tom's aged father. On the dust jacket of Chest of Secrets, his appearance is remarkably like that of Robert E. Lee, but with glasses. Widower. Wealthy and conservative. Inventor, master machinist and holder of numerous patents. In this episode, he has only a walk-on part and plays no significant part in the story.
Mrs. Baggert-Majordomo & housekeeper of the Swift Manse. In charge of "several" maids. Mother figure, she loves Tom like a son. Walk-on part in this tale.
Mrs. Mary Nestor-Swift-Radiant bride of Tom. Described as a "very pretty young woman with flashing brown eyes, and a sweet trilling laugh." Blushes easily, especially around her Beau. In this tale, she only has a walk-on part, welcoming Tom home from his adventures in Giant Land.
Garrett Jackson-No description given, but is spry and fit for his age. (Original volumes described him as an "aged." Engineer.) Swift Construction Shop Manager/Superintendent. Does not appear.
Helen Morton-No description. Love interest of Ned Newton. In this tale, she does not appear or even rate mention.
As is usual lately, many of these characters (especially the ones introduced late in the story) do not rate any development or even a description. They are brought forth and discarded after they do their bits to make the story flow.
The Metalanthium Lamp-Prisms, lenses, a glowing, hissing lamp, and a filter into which chemical compounds can be introduced. Said filter is made from a new metal called lanthium, and a screen made of borsidan. Lanthium is a soft metal used as a doping agent in manufacturing camera lenses. The name is derived from the Greek lanthana to lie hidden. Borsidan is a fanciful element that does not really exist.
Compounds ABC and XYZ-XYZ is a liquid solvent, highly toxic and a contact poison. ABC is the antidote, which can be administered by mouth or intravenously.
The Enhanced Sky Train-Now able to hover without visible means of support courtesy yet another new and improved "lifting gas that is safe as Helium, but much less expensive." A Laboratory Car, equipped for all things analytical, is first in line behind the powered "locomotive" aircraft. Now equipped with "wireless telephone."
Electric Handgun-Pocket-sized version of the famous Plasma Blaster. Has all the capabilities of its' bigger brother, plus concealability. (The Brady Campaign To End Handgun Violence would go nuts if this ever hit the market...)
Commentary on Society, Attitudes, Environment & Errata
Reading the old Tom Swift Sr. series has really given me an appreciation of all the modern gadgets that I've come to take for granted. It also has given me a grasp of just how technologically and culturally unsophisticated the average reader was in even the 1930's.
Attitudes and Prejudices- Some clews (although that term was not used in this story) that were detected as to the author of this tale: This tale reeks with the usual string of coincidences that are required to allow the story line to progress. The story also requires foreboding, in this case, literal prophecy, to prepare for events that make the plot flow. Characters are introduced and discarded with abandon. Many important players are not present or at best are relegated to walk-on parts. The author's engineering knowledge is minimal. (Her) knowledge and references to earlier inventions and events in the Tom Swift Universe are mostly accurate, although capabilities have been improved, such as the Sky Train being able to "hover," and there now being a handgun version of the Electric Rifle.
The look-and-feel of the text is very familiar and formulaic. The similarity in writing style and attitudes in the past few episodes points, in my judgment, to a consistent author. It is stated elsewhere that Harriet Stratemeyer gave up editing these tales to raise her children, and only picked up the pen again, after her father's demise. The choices of names and places in the tale (Parana-piranha, Hard-Man Bane for the antihero, Wilson-of sports equipment fame-ABC and others,) smacks of someone who is either distracted or perhaps out-of-practice and in a hurry to crank out a tale to make some quick cash.
Real-world events are mostly blissfully ignored in this tale. The Great Depression, winding down in America was still rampant in Europe. The 2nd World War is winding up with Germany well on its' way to Naziism. Neither event is mentioned. On the other hand, baseball-embodied by Wilson (check the brand-name on that ball you toss around with the kids) Goth-is very important to both Tom & Ned. Goth seems to be an amalgam of Babe Ruth ("The Sultan of Swat") and Lou Gehrig ("The Iron Horse.") Goth suffers from an incurable fatal disease that can only be healed by-guess who? Gehrig, was apparently not yet openly suffering from the ALS that took his life, and played his last full season in 1938, three years after this tale was published. He was diagnosed in 1939. While it's possible "Goth" was created as a tribute, it's scarier to think how prophetic the idea of a terminally ill baseball great was.
Interesting to also note that while concern was expressed for the welfare of lab animals (no vivisection was involved in Tom's experiments,) several were dispatched during the course of experiments with the Metalanthium Lamp. Others were killed when encountered in the jungle. There were also numerous native fatalities during the tribal war late in the tale.
Ambulances have gongs, not sirens. "Old-fashioned blood-letting" is still practiced in hospitals. (Shudder!) Automatic elevators are used in public buildings, but are slow and can be outraced by an athletic inventor, running up the stairs.
Koku and his countrymen now appear to be negroid, with "dark skin." Previously, Koku's appearance was described as "dusky" at most, and he is pictured in several book jackets as merely a very tall "white" man, possibly with no more than the bronze skin tone of many Amazon-area Indian tribes. In this tale, he and his people have been relegated to the status of Tarzan-style black savages, running around the jungle half-naked, poking spears into each other, pounding tom-toms and being frightened and amazed by the white man's juju when Mr. Damon doffs his wig. (Any medicine man worth his spirit rattle should know about wigs, as the fright-mask is a tool-of-the-trade in jungle-land "medicine.")
Errata-There is a running gag throughout this series. Mr. Damon's home keeps flip-flopping between Waterfield and Waterford, NY. Sometimes it is in neither, and several times in both places, at once. This is partly due to the enforced poor communication amongst the many ghostwriters at G&D that contributed to this series.
There are now 4 distinct categories. In this tome Mr. D's home is not mentioned.
The tally for 38 volumes, to date is:
Waterfield-17, Both places-2, Waterford-10, and Neither Place-8.
Typos and malapropisms were infrequent. Either the editing improved, or the author's skills did. Since this was an e-book version, some errors may have been either corrected or others introduced during transcription. One in particular sounds like an "autocorrect" error. Prof. Ed Bailey is referred to as Ted, twice in the paragraph following his introduction. Spell check would pass this. A proofreader should not have.
It has previously been de rigueur for Tom to "rescue" someone, anyone, at least once per episode. In this tome, he follows the formula, saving Koku from poisoning, a native from a Jaguar, Prince Amo (yet another brother of Koku & Tola) from injury and finally, the famous baseball hero, Swatem Goth. Busy guy...
Engineering and Science, Fact vs. Fantasy
Metalanthium-Tom's Magic Lantern. - Oh, the magic of science...Mysterious rays from the device can fix most anything that ails you. This device alone, if realized, would have made Tom's fortune and won a Nobel Prize (or several) for him. No details are given, except as noted, above. I could do an entire review about quack medicine in the 20th century-but as they say, "That's another story."
Compounds ABC and XYZ-XYZ is a "solvent," concocted by Tom. Highly toxic, hallucinogenic and causing a "mysterious" malady, up to and including coma and death, it also seems to have the power to induce prophetic dreams in the victim. Koku accurately predicts future events crucial to the story line as he lies near death in the Shopton hospital. In spite of the toxic nature of the liquid, it is stored in a glass container with a simple stopper and on a shelf where said container could be upset or broken. (OSHA would have had a field day and would go thru SCC like grease thru a goose...) In spite of its "mysterious" symptomology, an antidote to XYZ, the ABC solution, is available and on hand to save the day just before Koku expires. ABC is administered via mouth or injection, and reverses the effects of XYZ almost instantly. Lucky thing for Koku it was on hand...
Meteorites From Mars-It's 1935, and Orson Wells has not yet scared the living bejeebers out of a significant portion of the American public with his radio "documentary" of a Martian invasion in Grover's Mill, NJ. (Coincidentally only 39 miles as the space-rock flies from the Stratemeyer homestead in East Orange.) H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds is well known at this point, and in that story meteors containing life from another planet (Mars) were said to have landed on Earth and sprouted horrors beyond imagination. Now, we can't have yet another Martian invasion, (that's plagiarism...) so the "life" in the Planet Stone will have to be beneficial, rather than inimical. Seeds, viable seeds, from another world travel for who knows how long through cold, airless space, and end up within reach of Our Hero. They are comfortably packaged in an insulated pocket buried in the center of a 1-ton chunk of Nickel-Iron. When they sprout, things Just Get Better. (Anybody remember Day Of The Triffids?)
Fast forward 60 years: Meteorite ALH84001 is being analyzed and behold! Fossilized "Martian bacteria" and crystallized "Martian atmosphere" are "discovered." ñOr at least that is what some of NASA's finest have concluded. The jury is still out in my book...Some of these guys change their expert opinions oftener than their underwear. Some really good theories also seem to evolve best in smoke-filled rooms that have the lingering aroma of burning hemp. More info is available at http://www.lpi.usra.edu/lpi/meteorites/alhnpap.html
Tom's Rock Is A Crock?-BTW, (By The Way) when this 1-ton chunk of near-molten iron (I'm being conservative-it took 8 giants, each with a 400# lift capability to transport this thing-that's 3200lbs. ) landed, only Koku's kid-brother Amo was injured. Meteorites generally arrive one of two ways: They explode into celestial shotgun pellets and create devastation similar to the Winslow, AZ meteor crater, or they stay intact and dig a deep hole. Either way, a 1-ton rock falling from orbit is going to lay waste to a significant portion of real-estate. I think in real life, Tom & Co. would have been lucky to find a toasted grease spot, rather than a more or less whole, but critically injured giant prince. Also, what happened to his Royal Entourage??? Royalty rarely travels alone, even in the jungle.
Below is one of the best-known examples of an impact crater, The Barringer Crater in Winslow, AZ. The heavenly body that dug this hole is a wee bit bigger than Tom's Pet Rock, but I think you get my point. I want to be elsewhere when a Planet Stone arrives...
Photo courtesy of David Roddy, USGS
Geography- Ambolata remains in an unspecified location of South America, but some additional details are revealed about its topography. Pabalo is the capital village. The Parana (piranha?) river runs through it, and it is said to have a "temperate climate" in spite of being located in a sub-equatorial / tropical region. That would lend it to being in a location at some altitude, although "jungle" vegetation is typical in the story, and mountains are not mentioned.. The country is 3-days' flying time from Shopton, via Sky-Train traveling at a moderate speed. This would put it in the northern half of South America, by my calculations.
JP Karenko, May 11, 2006
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