Rick Brant: Making Mysteries (Sort of) Scientific Since 1947

You ever find yourself thinking how much better the Hardy Boys would be if they were a little more like Tom Swift? Yeah, me neither. Yet Rick Brant did just that. And he completely rocks.

Rick Brant: Making Mysteries (Sort of) Scientific Since 1947

The Rick Brant series ran twenty-four novels from 1947 to 1968, all penned by John Blaine, which was, of course, a pseudonym. (The real authors were Harold Goodwin and Peter J. Harkins, but Harkins dropped out after three books.) The books were published by Grosset & Dunlap, who, yes, also published the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and initially billed the Rick Brant novels as "Electronic Adventures." Then "Science-Adventure Stories." And, finally, the least thrilling of all: "SCIENCE Adventures." I've always been partial to the name "Electronic Adventures," myself. Maybe it's because that's what the covers I grew up on said. Maybe it's because absolutely nobody else ever has tried to corner the market on juvenile detective fiction involving both adventure and electricity as the main selling points.

Rick Brant: Making Mysteries (Sort of) Scientific Since 1947

Be that as it may. The premise is simple: More science than the Hardy Boys, more realistic science than Tom Swift, whose main schtick, if you remember, revolved mostly around his improbable inventions that by today's standards sound pretty probable. (Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone, for example.)

Rick Brant: Making Mysteries (Sort of) Scientific Since 1947S

The Rick Brant tales revolve around—as you may have guessed—a teenager named Rick Brant, who lives on Spindrift Island, a scientists' colony off the coast of New Jersey. His father, Hartson Brant, works with "the electrical sciences" and is one of the leading minds of this idyllic research commune, and Rick himself likes to try his hand at scientific research. Most of the time, however, he finds himself solving science-related mysteries with his pal, Scotty. Scotty's an ex-Marine sergeant who served Tarawa, Saipan, and Okinawa. He's also a teenager. He explains this away by saying he lied about his age to join up, but I'm still trying to figure out how he pulled it off when he could have been more thirteen at most when he enlisted. Scotty functions as the brawn to Rick's brain, though, and does the handy things like asking people to explain things to him, not to mention saving Rick's ass with his Judo skills.

Rick Brant: Making Mysteries (Sort of) Scientific Since 1947

Eventually, the series sees the entrance of a few more supporting characters, such as Chahda, a street urchin from Bombay who's memorized the World Almanac, and Steve Ames, a young intelligence officer from JANIG. (The former is part of the argument that Jonny Quest was more intentionally inspired by Rick Brant than one would think.) Rick's younger sister also features—An attractive, blonde teenage girl named Barby, who's lucky her debut came twelve years before the fashion doll's.

It is, though, the scientific aspect of the books that separated them from their contemporaries. In an effort to make it realistic, a higher-than-usual level of research went into the books, but as to whether the science was more real and less speculative than Tom Swift, I'm going to have to say that at most, it's just better-researched speculative. For instance, the first page of Stairway to Danger introduces a robot:

"I'm like Rick," he [Scotty] said. "I don't doubt the scientific probability of this project, but the idea of a thinking robot is kind of hard to swallow. All I hope is that this robot doesn't have a wrong sense of humor. Imagine a machine pulling practical jokes!"

And the first novel of the series, The Rocket's Shadow (1947), unites the Rick-Scotty team as they try to stop the sabotage on the Spindrift rocket-to-the-moon project. The only real flaw I saw in the rocket plan was, unfortunately, the ton of explosives they planned to put in the rocket in order for it to cause an explosion on the moon's surface that will be visible from Earth. Because, well, that doesn't sound horribly good for the moon, although it does sound kind of awesome, if you're the sort of person who likes blowing things up. (And I am, sometimes.)

So the Rick Brant books are like the Hardy Boys, only better written. So they're full of science and inventions like Tom Swift, only with more plausible explanations. So what? So they're pure nostalgic fun. So they have titles like The Electronic Mind Reader and The Wailing Octopus. They also have rumors about being put up on Project Gutenberg and reprinted for the public.

Rick Brant: Making Mysteries (Sort of) Scientific Since 1947S

And they should be. If only because we need more books out there about living on an island of research scientists during the Cold War and getting chased by spies and thugs, all while somehow managing to make it all look no more threatening than a particularly intense episode of Leave It to Beaver. (If Rick is Wally, I don't think Scotty should have to be either Lumpy or Eddie Haskell though. Pity Wally Cleaver didn't have any teenage war veteran friends.) If only because we need more teenage detectives out there that make science look cool. If only because we need more teenage detectives out there, period. If only because we need more rockets to the moon and more robots and more volcano prevention. If only because we need to go to the Himalayas and Cairo and India, repeatedly and for no truly good reason.

If only because we need more Electronic Adventures.

"Scotty," he said. "I can't help feeling that the key to the whole business is right in our hands. And we're too dumb to see it."
-Rick Brant, The Rocket's Shadow