60. Thank You, Harold Goodwin

BOOKSI have a December birthday, which worked out well as a kid since books were my favorite gifts, and winter is a prime time for reading. The gifts I got were locally sourced and cheap, mostly published by Grosset and Dunlap, Whitman, or Golden. For anything by a normal publisher, I depended on libraries.

Heinlein’s juveniles were legendary, but he wasn’t the only writer of juvenile science fiction. Norton made a carreer of it before she branched into fantasy. Donald Wohlheim wrote a eight book series about a secret project of young astronauts called Quicksilver which shadowed the accomplishments of Project Mercury. Joseph Green wrote a six book series built around the character Dig Allen. All of them kept me entertained through long Oklahoma winters.

Nobody, not even Heinlein, did it better than Harold Lee Goodwin, although the comparison is apples to oranges. Heinlein’s juveniles were set in space and used future science reasonably  extrapolated from the present. Goodwin’s stories, with one exception, were set in the present and built on extant science.

If you’ve never heard of Goodwin, its largely because he worked under the pseudonyms Blake Savage and John Blaine. If he gets no respect, it’s largely because he was published by Grosset and Dunlap. That meant Goodwin’s Rick Brant books shared bookstore space with Tom Swift, Jr and the Hardy Boys – series that were written to outline by anonymous hack authors.

I read all three G & D lines as a kid, and enjoyed them because they were all I had. They taught me to read and to love reading. But when I try to reread Hardy Boys books today, they come off dull and dumb. Tom Swift, Jr. – well, I can’t force myself through them, although I still try from time to time.

Rick Brant holds up. A few years ago I reread the whole series from start to finish and they were as good as I remembered them. The same was true of Goodwin’s single outer space adventure, sometimes titled Rip Foster Rides the Gray Planet and sometimes Assignment in Space with Rip Foster.

Rick Brant lived the perfect life. I would have traded with him in a heartbeat. He had adventures, twenty-six eventually, which he shared with Scotty (Don Scott) who was the ideal older brother figure. They appeared to be seventeen and eighteen in the first book and were still the same age forty-three years later. That’s good work if you can get it.

Rick lived with his family on Spindrift Island where his father was the head of a diverse group of scientists. Each had a different specialty, allowing for a wide range of stories, and they formed a dozen of the best uncle figures any boy could imagine.

Rick was bright and a bit precocious, but he wasn’t a wunderkind. Elsewhere he might have seemed nerdy, but on Spindrift he simply seemed a bright young scientist among brilliant experienced older scientists. He was always learning. He often saved the day, but he never had to save the world.

In short, he seemed real.

I wish I could recommend Rick Brant to today’s audience. Certainly it would be hard to match the series’ quality, but the same timeliness that made it work on publication, makes it dated today. A kid with a smart phone is not likely to be impressed when Rick invents a miniature walkie talkie, and that’s just too bad.

Harold Goodwin was a diver, worked for Civil Defense, NASA, NOAA and other agencies, and said that his books “were often a spinoff from my technical work.” His lengthy obit is reprinted in Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/952280.John_Blaine

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