Review: Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle

Inventors are popular characters in the world of fiction. You only need to look as far as Tony Stark and the movie ‘Rainy with a Chance of Meatballs’ to know that they are characters beloved by the consumer. This was no different back in 1910, when a series of books about a young inventor called Tom Swift was first published. The series has been reinvented over the years, indeed a 5th series ran for a year in 2006.

These books, written under the pseudonym Victor Appleton, are written as stories for young boys, full of action and adventure, and yet have had massive influence on science-fiction (inspiring authors such as Isaac Asimov) and even on science itself. One of the books: ‘Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle’ even led to the creation and naming of the TASER (Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle). It is this book that is the focus of this review.

Despite the influence of the series, I have to say, I was not really all that impressed. The book was written in a style specifically designed for the audience of young boys – it was clear, and simple which made it a very easy book to read. There was plenty of action and even some high-stakes moments, and the plot was not boring. If you judge it on this and this alone, I could say it is a good book, and an entertaining read.

However, I can’t just judge it on those factors. While the book was easy to read in the style of writing used, the content was difficult and unbelievable. It was arguably one of the most racist books I have read. Not once were the Black characters portrayed as intelligent; in fact, near the beginning of the book it was implied that the Tom Swift’s servant could only do things once Tom Swift had shown him how (case in point: stuffing a scarecrow with straw). The use of accents and speaking mannerisms also added to the racism and ignorance that I found to permeate the book (a fact which also applied to the German characters who acted as Swift’s long-time enemies).

It was clear very little research had gone into the book with regards to the setting and plot in general, with the description of elephant herds, and there is no indication of where in Africa this is set. The location is only ever referred to as Africa. I also found it unbelievable that the title character and his friend could suddenly join a hunting trip without a second thought and partake in the slaughter of an animal species for ivory. While I understand this is a children’s book that was published in 1911, I still found it unrealistic, distracting and a little disturbing.

I read this book for the simple reason that the Taser was named after it, and after reading, I would not recommend it at all. It can be interesting, if just to gauge society’s views of the time, but it was difficult to read as a result of those views.

Rating: 1/5


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