Tom Swift and His War Tank, by Victor Appleton ISBN 1576462218
Four out of five stars
The only way to properly read this book is to first put your mind into the proper historical context. Styles of writing fiction for young adults were quite different in 1918 and this includes the portrayal of members of minority groups. This is a book in the set of original Tom Swift books, there have been five series published by the Stratemeyer Syndicate and they are a lesson in how literature for young people has changed over the last century.
Many people in science and technology have stated that the “Tom Swift” books were an inspiration to them growing up. It is alleged that the acronym TASER is from “Tom A. Swift’s Electric Rifle,” a book in the original series. The nerd in me hopes that this is true and there is evidence that other devices worked on by the various Tom Swift characters were the spark that led to other inventions.
There is no such original thinking in this book, World War I was raging when it was written and the armored tank was introduced on the battlefields of Europe. Tom really does nothing more than add some technical features to make a tank that is more powerful, reliable and durable. There are of course German spies and many expressions of anti-German fervor now that the United States has declared war on Germany,
The war hysteria even extends to criticism of Tom for not signing up for military service. When the military quite logically gives him an exemption from service, there are some people close to Tom that turn on him. All of course works out in the end and Tom rises above all his enemies and critics.
One feature of the books in this series that I find amusing is the presence of the black giant Koku. Portrayed as a simple-minded powerhouse, Koku is fiercely loyal to Tom, never questioning any request. As a fan of the “Mandrake the Magician” comic strip by Lee Falk, it is clear that the Lothar character is based on Koku. In the early years of the strip, Lothar also speaks a crude form of English.
The early years of the twentieth century was a time of the rapid introduction of motorized transportation and war machines. If you mentally put yourself into that timeframe, it is easy to understand how adolescent boys would be fascinated when they read the original Tom Swift stories.