I 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 books 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.
Nobody, not even Heinlein, wrote better juveniles than Harold 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 authors.
I read all three G & D lines as a kid. 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.
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. You won’t find Rip in a used bookstore, although he shows up occasionally in antique stores, right next to the BB guns and old, rusted roller skates. (See Monday’s post for a source.)
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.
The same timeliness that made the Rick Brant series perfect for its time makes it seem a bit dated today. A kid with a smart phone is not likely to be impressed when Rick invents a miniature walkie talkie, and that’s too bad. However, if you have a kid with an e-reader, and you can’t keep him supplied with enough good books, Rick Brant is available on the internet. For fifteen minutes of your time and no dollars, you can send him to Spindrift. The experience might surprise both of you.
Or maybe you remember reading one or two of these books yourself and want to indulge in a little nostalgia. Christmas is a good time for that. I’ll give you the details tomorrow.