Robert A. Heinlein: Reinventing Series SF in the 1950S (1) (Science Fiction) (Critical Essay) - Extrapolation

Robert A. Heinlein: Reinventing Series SF in the 1950S (1) (Science Fiction) (Critical Essay)

By Extrapolation

  • Release Date - Published: 2006-03-22
  • Book Genre: Language Arts & Disciplines
  • Author: Extrapolation
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Robert A. Heinlein: Reinventing Series SF in the 1950S (1) (Science Fiction) (Critical Essay) Extrapolation read online review & book description:

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the inventor and, especially, the mechanical engineer were heroic figures in the American cultural worldview. Such men, for most of them were men, carried the Industrial Revolution forward in western Europe and North America in particular. Heroes in the culture, of course, become heroes in literature as well, and while the town-taming sheriff and the Indian fighter are among the most obvious cultural heroes who made the transition from real life to American popular literature in the late nineteenth century, the engineer made that transition as well. Perhaps the best known fictional nineteenth-century American engineer is Hank Morgan, the main character in Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Early twentieth century literature for boys fairly exploded with engineer heroes, and they proved so popular that series books appeared bearing not the name of the main character or characters but the kind of engineering at which they were accomplished: The Radio Boys series, The Airship Boys series, The Boy Inventors series, The Motor Boys series, and the like appeared from the early 1900s through the 1940s. There was even a series entitled The Young Engineers. (2) The most popular inventor-engineer series, of course, the original Tom Swift series, was forty volumes long, the first volume, Tom Swift and His Motorcycle or, Fun and Adventures on the Road, appeared in 1910, and the last, Tom Swift and his Magnetic Silencer, in 1941. In many ways, The Tom Swift series is the archetype of the technological series fiction for boys that Francis Molson has called "both prelude and bridge to science fiction" ("Technological Fiction" 19). The plots of the Tom Swift books are pretty standard: Tom invents or develops something and then uses it to foil the plans of some evil-doers, sometimes evil-doers whose primary objective is to steal Tom's invention for themselves and sometimes evil-doers, often from some fictitious eastern European country, who have more large-scale objectives. The characters are flat and static, although Tom does age, slowly, throughout the series, and much of each book is taken up with the invention itself--how it is developed, how it works, how to fix it when it breaks down, how much fun it is to use, how handy it is for rescuing friends in peril, how effective it is against the evil-doers, and so forth. More important, the books really do not build upon one another to any great extent, almost all of the main characters are introduced in the first book, Shopton, NY, is the home base for all of Tom's activities, and as Molson notes, only the last two books explore science fiction topics--"interplanetary travel and the possibility of extraterrestrial life" ("The Tom Swift Books" 6).

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