Tom Swift and His Big Dirigible, by Victor Appleton
Four out of five stars
Like all of the books in the original “Tom Swift” series, the modern reader should read this one with the historical context firmly in mind. It was first published in 1930, so some of the more blatant racist dialog and settings that appear in the earlier episodes are not present. The two black men of Koko and Eradicate are in the story, but their dialog and actions are subdued. The story is much better with that change.
As the title suggests, in this episode Tom Swift is commissioned to construct a very large dirigible that will be the fastest and most luxurious ship in the sky. A major scientific blunder is made on page 25, where the author clearly has their gases confused.
“The greater part of the oralum envelope, of course, was filled with a new and powerful lifting gas, perfected by Tom Swift and his father. It was not as explosive as nitrogen, but not quite as safe as helium.”
It seems clear that the author should have written “hydrogen” rather than the very unreactive “nitrogen,” the most plentiful gas in the atmosphere.
The invention featured in this episode is not a revolutionary one, by the end of the 1920s dirigibles had been around for some time, including being used as bombers in the Great War. The only significant difference is the size of the ship and the plan to use it as a luxury form of travel.
The writing is typical of the early Tom Swift books, there are attempts to generate tension, but the author does not always succeed. However, if you read the book after putting your mind into the proper decade, then it can be entertaining. If nothing else it is a flashback to how much of juvenile science fiction was written in the twenties and thirties.