The Rick Brant adventure books
I have explained on my page about the junior library that I wondered if my high opinion of the Rick Brant books I read as a child was justified. Since they are still to be found in second hand book dealers, I bought some and read them. Yes, they are every bit as good as I remembered them being. I've made a list of the books with comments about the plot and the science and technology featured in them. Blaine/Goodwin's other life revolved around technological development, and I discovered that he also produced a book - Rick Brant's Science Projects - explaining some of the incidental technology from the stories. So I bought that, too.
John Blaine was one of the pen names used by Hal Goodwin. He first used it for the name of the lead character in his earlier historical novel "The Feathered Cape". Also, I have heard that the first three books, including, of course, The Rocket's Shadow, were co-authored by Peter J Harkins. The heroes of the Spindrift stories were Rick and Scotty, a science enthusiast and an ex-marine. Hal Goodwin had served as a marine before moving into a life of science (and writing!).
The two main characters in the classic setup (one at home with supportive family, the other an orphan) are Rick Brant and Scotty (Donald Scott). Base of operations is an island (where else would be as interesting for a boys' story?) complete with house, laboratory and airstrip. The island - Spindrift - is where the Brant family lead a scientific research foundation. That foundation is the springboard for most of the boys' adventures.
The other significant characters (and their disciplines) include:
Rick's father, Hartson Brant (electronics)
Rick's sister, Barby Brant (girly intuition)
Rick's mother (food supplier)
Zircon Hobart (physics)
Julian Weiss (mathematics)
Tony Briotti (archaeology)
John Gordon (rocket design)
Howard Shannon, (natural sciences)
Walter Miller, and daughter...
Jan Miller (friend for Barby)
Parnell Winston (cybernetics)
Chahda (almanac student)
Steve Ames (intelligence agent)
Jerry Webster, local newspaper reporter
Dismal (aka Diz) the family dog
In common with many fictional settings, the lead characters don't really seem to get any older: Dismal the puppy never stops being a pup, for instance, though the world around them changes. Notice how electronics moves from valve (tube) technology to transistors, the Piper Cub gets replaced with a Sky Wagon and the Jodrell Bank radio telescope puts in a cameo appearance. The books somehow manage to convey a sense of morality. The reasons for doing or not doing something are very often explained; right and wrong are implicitly assumed throughout. That is perhaps one of the series' attractions.
With the original publishing, the titles had the tag "A Rick Brant Electronics-Adventure story" in later books and, I think, later printings of the earlier books, this changed to "Science Adventure" which better reflected the range of technological ground covered. By 1958, Grosset & Dunlap (the publishers) were producing the books as hardbacks with pictorial covers but, sadly, with perfect binding as used for paperbacks.
1 The Rocket's Shadow (1947)
Introduces the characters and sets the scene. The story is about the Spindrift scientists attempting to win a cash prize sufficient to keep them in business by hitting the moon with a rocket. The project is threatened, apparently so that someone else can win the prize, but is eventually saved by the valiant efforts of Rick and Scotty.
The action takes place just after World War 2. Atomic energy is public knowledge, rocketry is the new technology, and radar is almost commonplace... The concept of escape velocity is described (though not by that name), but the flight time to the moon is rather underestimated. The age is still pre-transistor and at one point the boys need to acquire some triode valves ("tubes" in the US)
2 The Lost City (1947)
The second book takes our heroes to India and Tibet where they are to set up a base station to test a radio data relay via the moon. The adventures start long before they get to India when they have to deal with sabotage on the ship. When they land in India they meet Chahda, an Indian lad who will become a firm friend and share this and other adventures.
3 100 Fathoms Under (1947)
This story centres around deep sea exploration, and a search for an ancient temple which has been submerged. The team are using a miniature submersible exploration vehicle for the task, but first they have to get it to the area, then fend off rebellious natives and... (I won't give it all away!)
The concepts of water pressure are explained quite well.
4 Sea Gold (1947)
Mineral extraction from sea water
5 The Whispering Box Mystery (1948)
The possible effects of ultrasonics and countering ultrasonic weapons with anti-phase systems
6 The Phantom Shark (1949)
Pearl growing, underwater exploration
7 Smuggler's Reef (1950)
Sea navigation, infra-red for covert night vision
8 The Caves of Fear (1951)
book codes, heavy water, Geiger counters,
9 Stairway to Danger (1952)
millimetric radio waves (line of sight), printed circuits and screen printing, voice recognition circuits and capacitor charge memory, miniature (acorn sized) valves
End of the Piper Cub (a two seat aircraft which was referred to as having side-by-side seating. It should have been tandem seats, I think).
10 The Golden Skull (1954)
Our friends Rick and Scotty, along with Chahda help Tony Briotti to search for a fabled golden skull lost on the Philippine island of Luzon. They take the new Sky Wagon (think Cessna 180) with them. The action starts very early on, and so to does the science with Tony using his knowledge of physiology and ethnology.
Ground penetrating radar, rice growing
11 The Wailing Octopus (1956)
An ear catching title, and an exciting adventure story where much of the action takes place underwater as the Spindrifters go a-hunting of pirate treasure in the Caribbean - The Virgin Islands to be precise. We are introduced to the sport of scuba diving and the wonder of marine life as the mystery is introduced. Quite a lot of additional diving information is fed in as the story progresses and the treasure hunt gets tangled up with a security operation. We are also taught a little about sonar and about infra red cameras (first introduced in Smuggler's Reef), though I think the infra red viewing system is a little unreal.
Incidental encouragement is given for concise accurate reporting and that has to be a good thing!
12 The Electronic Mind Reader (1957)
EEG, brain waves as electromagnetic patterns
13 The Scarlet Lake Mystery (1957)
Rocketry, remote controlled flight, space shuttle, g-forces, life-sign monitoring, transistors
14 The Pirates of Shan (1958)
Slings (weapons), no real science
Very minor clanger of spark plugs with diesel engines
15 The Blue Ghost Mystery (1960)
spinthariscope, back projection, dry-ice, crystal radios
16 The Egyptian Cat Mystery (1961)
There is a big radio telescope in Egypt that needs a little technical help tracking down the source of an irregularity in its received signals. Rick and Scotty get to go, but not before they've been persuaded to take an object - a prototype of an stylised Egyptian cat - with them. The story introduces the character Hassan, an Egyptian taxi driver-cum-guide known as a dragoman. He proves to be a reliable and resourceful helper as our young heroes try to find out why everyone seems to be trying to steal the cat off them!
The story was written before electronic calculators were invented and rightly depicts scientists using slide rules for calculations. Jodrell Bank and other radio telescopes, however, were up and running and their basic principles of operation are explained. Extra terrestrial intelligence is considered.
17 The Flaming Mountain (1963)
The Spindrift scientists, plus Rick and Scotty of course, get to deal with the problem of a volcanic island that is threatening to blow itself, and its inhabitants, to oblivion. In the course of this challenge, they meet some rather unexpected opposition. Who would want them to fail, and why? Dealing with the problems that crop up with limited resources is an interesting political problem that has to be dealt with during the resulting clash.
The technical issues that are presented here are vulcanology, mineralogy and the peaceful use of nuclear explosives.
18 The Flying Stingaree (1963)
Satellite telemetry, rocketry, weather monitoring balloons, crab fishing
[Here ended my budget for a while...]
19 The Ruby Ray Mystery (1964)
This story sees our heroes trying to look after a scientist, the inventor of a new laser device, appears to have been kidnapped. The resulting chase takes in a large chunk of Europe, involves cold-war secret agents and rock climbing at night!
Outline of the workings and uses for lasers, radio direction finding
20 The Veiled Raiders (1965)
A different use of lasers leads Rick and Scotty (and Tony Briotti) to Africa. Where they promptly get kidnapped. The ensuing harrowing events do not prevent the successful outcome of the project.
Some useful cultural explanations arise in this tale, which majors in adventure rather than science.
21 The Rocket Jumper (1966)
The story opens with Rick testing his new machine - a personal rocket pack similar to the one actually produced by Bell Aerosystems at about the same time. The machine is obviously due to be a star in the story as it soon gets packed to go with the boys (and girls, this time) on their next adventure holiday - or rather, vacation job. The plot revolves around espionage, with a sub-plot of budding romance...
Technical issues introduced are ramjets, supersonic flight, micro-miniaturised computers for flight control, directional microphones and the concept of nuclear deterrence.
22 The Deadly Dutchman (1967)
The story opens as a thriller and stays a thriller. The story telling feels different from the previous books: the use of dad instead of father, naming streets in detail when previously general directions would have been used. The story is interesting though.
The only science content comes briefly as hypo- and hyper- are used in contrast. Technology only gets referenced with jet airliners, pressurised cans of cream and the police now using computers (though with punch cards!).
23 Danger Below! (1968)
The Spindrift adventurers return to the underwater realms. The story is less complex than some, but better written. The action starts with the Spindrifters watching an oil drilling platform being towed past the island as a hurricane hits them. The rig sinks. Accident or...?
If you are interested in the technology of deep sea diving, the attention to detail here should be satisfying. Subjects dealt with include navigation and triangulation, underwater pressure and how it can cause physiological problems. Passing references are made to the space program and computer controlled machines.
24 The Magic Talisman (1990 - Yes, 21 years after it was written)
The writing in this book feels polished and the tale is very well told - not as obvious as some of the earlier ones - and an intriguing tale it is. The action for this last story takes place near Spindrift Island. A mysterious old mansion, rented by stage magicians as a venue for their theatre and restaurant, is the main scene. Things that go thump in the night and strange appearances and disappearances occur in abundance before the mystery is solved and the Spindrifters get to live happily ever after.
Scientific ideas touched on include infra-red, ultra-violet and the possibilities of extra-sensory perception. Statistical analysis gets a mention.
Also of note: Rick Brant's Science Projects was published in 1960, just after The Blue Ghost Mystery, and details real projects which demonstrate such scientific/technical subjects as:
crystal radio (The Blue Ghost Mystery)
slings and bows (The Pirates of Shan)
For more information and the books:
www.rickbrant.com lists the Rick Brant series with thumbnail pictures of each book linking to a larger picture and the book's original dust jacket synopsis/appetiser. Elsewhere on the site are a reported interview with Hal Goodwin, and an extract from his obituary.
Peakirk Books supplied the first few books I bought. They are a small company with a very friendly service.
The Independent Booksellers' Network is a grouping of booksellers, and provides a useful glossary of the terms used to describe books.
If you don't mind roaming the globe in search of books, the Advanced Book Exchange will keep you busy!