Tom Swift and His Giant Cannon, by Victor Appleton ISBN 1576462161
Four out of five stars
To appreciate the original Tom Swift books, it is necessary to view them through the eyes of a young reader at the time of publication. Which was in the early years of the twentieth century. Over a century of scientific and social progress has rendered the dialog and the quality of the inventions obsolete. However, to the adolescent child of 1913 when the airplane was brand new, the depictions of Tom flying was incredible.
In this book, Tom creates a powerful cannon capable of firing a shell for thirty miles, it was designated for the defense of the Panama Canal. This is another instance of the fiction predating the fact. In 1918 the Germans used a cannon that fired shells over 80 miles, allowing them to bombard Paris from a distance.
The earliest Tom Swift books portrayed him as more of a mechanic rather than as an original inventor. In this case, Tom is simply improving on a weapon of war, the guns on the battleships of World War I could hit a target nearly eight miles away. The primary engineering problems that Tom needed to solve are the casting of the barrel, finding a powerful enough explosive as well as the best configuration of the charge.
There are also two silly subplots, one involving an opal mine in Central America and the second an inept spy. Both could have been left out with no loss of significance in the story. One of the best things about the lengthy series of books featuring characters such as Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys is that you can read the different iterations and experience the social change over the years. In this case, you are there at the beginning.