Monday, July 22, 2013

Old Friends

I greeted some old friends a couple of weeks ago, and it was as if we'd never been separated.

My ex-wife is apparently selling her house, and in cleaning out the garage she found a box of my books that had been stuck away for more than 25 years. Turns out they were my complete set of the Rick Brant Science Adventures, which I'd read as a boy.

Think Hardy Boys, but with science. They were published by Grosset and Dunlap, the same house that published the Hardy Boys, in similar volumes. The 21 books in the series told the story of Rick – the son of a famous scientist – and his pal Scotty and the adventures and mysteries they had while taking part in amazing scientific expeditions around the world.

The first was written in 1947, and the idea of an unmanned rocket to the moon was amazing. My childish scrawl on the inside shows I got my first one in 1963, and for the next seven or eight years I could count on at least one every year for my birthday and Christmas. The last – "Rocket Jumper," in which Rick builds a jet pack and uses it to foil the villains spying on the Nevada rocket base and escape a raging forest fire – was published in 1966.

I'm told one more was written a few years later and only released as a private printing of 500. When one of them occasionally finds its way onto the market, it usually goes for four figures. So I won't have the "complete" complete set until I win the lottery or something.

I have been catching up, and they're not bad. Much like their better known stablemates, the Hardy Boys, the Rick Brant stories have an earnestness to them, what I can only describe as a '50s-ishness. The science is terrifically outdated of course, sometimes almost comically so, but there's still a kernel of science fact in there. The author, John Blaine, apparently was motivated to write them because he really wanted to make science interesting, and he went to great lengths to make sure it was accurate.

It's been fun catching up. And I and picked up one or two ideas I can steal – I mean learn from and use – in "Scurvy Dogs," which is slowly coming into shape.

The main thing I remember about them is not the characters or the stories or the excitement of the adventures. It was the pride of possession. I grew up in a house with hundreds of books. Regular visits to the local library was part of our weekly routine.

But of all the books in the house, these were mine. A few of my friends were readers, some of them were big on the Hardy Boys. No one I knew read or cared about Rick Brant Science Adventures, but that made no difference to me. In fact, that sort of made them even more special.

As I scanned through them, I was surprised every now and then to see they were the source of some phrase or way of thinking I still use today. If someone mentions a person I've seen several times and know without actually having met or spoken to, I say "We've howdied but we haven't shook," which I was surprised to see came from "The Flying Stingaree." And a bit of legal phraseology that lawyers use when they mean, "He didn't say anything else" – "Beyond that deponent sayeth not" – is another phrase I use, and see that I got it when Scotty was being facetious in "The Electronic Mind Reader."

Also in the box was "The How and Why History of the Civil War." This was notable because it was the first book I ever bought with my own money. And considering I was seven at the time, it wasn't bad. In fact, my mother, a fifth grade teacher – borrowed it from me and used it in her class library for years.

I had also forgotten that one of the Rick Brants takes place in the Caribbean – in the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. Thomas in the 1950s ain't exactly St. Croix today, but who knew? "The Wailing Octopus."

I've been an omnivorous reader as long as I can remember, and the reader turned into a writer because of the love of a good story. And these books are part of the writer I am. It's good to have them back. They'll have to stay in the box for a while, but as soon as I can arrange it, they will fill a special place on our shelves.

No comments:

Post a Comment