Tom Swift and the Stratemeyer Syndicate

I never read the Tom Swift novels as a kid; I was always more obsessed with the Hardy Boys series. Over the years, I’ve read bits and pieces about Edward Stratemeyer, the man who was behind the long-running book series, as well as those of Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins (a favorite of my mother’s), The Rover Boys and Tom Swift. He conceived of a character, put together a formula, and had a freelancer ghost write the novel before editing it. The process has always fascinated me, but when it came to looking into his background, an entire segment of early science fiction comes to light: the Dime Store novels, which created entire subgenres in their own right. More than that, they carried with them some real kernels of thematic material which have since propagated far into the future, which surprised and delighted me.

Another fun fact? TASER isn’t a word: it’s an acronym that stands for Tom A Swift’s Electric Rifle.

Go read Tom Swift and the Stratemeyer Syndicate over on Kirkus Reviews.

Here’s the sources that I used:

  • Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, Brian Aldiss – Aldiss talks about the edisonade stories briefly, noting the larger movement and announcing it as the first real American SF.
  • Science Fiction: The Early Years, Richard Bleiler – This book contains some biographical information on Victor Appleton (Howard R. Garis), as well as plot summaries of a number of the Tom Swift books.
  • Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction, James Gunn – Gunn provides some small bits about Tom Swift here and there, which helped me connect the dots, but what’s more interesting is how the character and juvenile fiction is largely overlooked.
  • Science Fiction after 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars, Brooks Landon – This was a very interesting book that talked quite a bit about the early SF, especially when it comes to Dime novels and where Tom Swift fits into all this.
  • Cultural History of Literature: Science Fiction, Robert Luckhurst – Luckhurst has some good contextual information on Tom Swift, mainly backing up Aldiss and Landon’s texts.
  • Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, Melanie Rehak – This was a particularly good read when it came to Stratemeyer himself, recounting his early life and how he came to become a major publisher.
  • Edisonade, John Clute – this article on the SF Encyclopedia is a good summary of Edisonade and an overview of some of its history.
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