The Danny Dunn books were sf adventures written in the 1950s and 1960s for children, about the adventures of impulsive Danny Dunn, whose mother was the housekeeper for the all-purpose scientist professor Bullfinch, gloomy Joe, and sensible Irene. (Irene was my favorite.)

Though dated now, they worked as fun adventures that featured accurate science – that is, while they had anti-gravity paint and smallifying machines, the information about subjects like gravity and surface tension would be correct and presented in a clear, easy-to-grasp form. In fact, I learned about surface tension from the part of Danny Dunn and the Smallifying Machine in which the shrunken kids had to break the surface of a water droplet in order to drink.

In this one, Danny keeps daydreaming about space flight in class, prompting his teacher to assign him the task of writing, “Space flight is a hundred years away” a hundred times. But when his homework gets accidentally taken aboard the top secret spaceship painted with the anti-gravity paint Professor Bullfinch recently discovered, and so happens to be in Danny’s backyard, he goes to retrieve it and accidentally launches himself, Joe, and two professors into spaaaaace!

This is technically a re-read, but I think the last time I read this one, I was nine. The only reason I know that I read it at all was that I remember Danny presenting his teacher with the hundreds of sentences at the end. This is # 2 in the series and Irene isn’t in it; I missed her. It’s kind of wobbly and uncertain in tone and pacing, unlike the more assured later entries. My favorites are the ones that have more of a sense of awe and wonder, not to mention Irene: The Smallifying Machine and The Ocean Floor.

Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint

Danny Dunn on the Ocean Floor No 9

Danny Dunn and the Smallifying Machine, No. 1
I had originally planned to write about these novels in the same entry merely because I read them in quick succession, and also because they're both utterly obscure novels by writers who are better-known for other books, so most likely no one but me has read them. But as I began to write, I realized that they do have some interesting parallels and anti-parallels.

John Christopher is best known for the TRIPODS trilogy, an effectively terse YA series in which three-legged aliens have taken over the world and mind-controlled most of the inhabitants, and only a handful of guerillas (including our boy protagonist) can fight back. I liked those as a kid, but was frustrated by the lack of female characters who did anything but look pretty.

(In a lapse from his generally thoughtful portrayal of the aliens, he has them take strong boys as slaves and beautiful girls as museum exhibits. Why would giant green tentacled three-legged aliens think _any_ kind of girl is pretty, let alone have the same standards of human beauty that humans do?)

His other post-disaster YA trilogy, THE SWORD OF THE SPIRITS, is memorably grim, and also has no women who do anything but look pretty.

SWEENEY'S ISLAND could also be considered a post-disaster novel, but it's really in the "people stranded on an island" genre. There are two ways that story goes: either it's JONATHAN CRUSOE and they build things, or it's LORD OF THE FLIES and they kill things. If the latter, they generally begin by setting up a fascistic social order headed by a strong man who crushes intelligent but physically weak members of the society, and end by worshipping some creepy god they make up right before launching into a sexualized, ritualistic, cannibalistic killing orgy. I'm not sure why making up a god is so commonly seen as the last step before people make a complete reversion to savagery, but so it goes.

SWEENEY'S ISLAND is a pretty standard example of the "kill things" genre, livened up with some sf elements (mutant animals on the island). The women are a selection of embarrassing stereotypes: one good but weak woman who needs a male protector, one woman who almost becomes evil because she so desperately wants a baby and her caddish husband won't let her fulfill her natural instincts, one evil woman who enjoys sex and immediately attaches herself to the strong man. (Before the obligatory cannibalistic ritualistic killing orgy.) Ick.

The key difference the outcomes of these books is why the authors wanted to write an island book in the first place. Either they want to write about exploration and survival, in which case they pick an isolated area as a kind of sandbox for their heroes to play around in; or else they want to prove that the rule of law is all that keeps us from savagery, and so they pick a place where there is no law.

THE PEOPLE OF THE AX, by Jay Williams, is also about people struggling to survive in a harsh world, and cooperation vs. might makes right. But this one is good.

Jay Williams is best known for the charming Danny Dunn books, and the even more charming fantasy THE HERO FROM OTHERWHERE, which really ought to be reprinted.

I think THE PEOPLE OF THE AX was published as adult sf, but it reads YA-ish to me. Arne (a boy) and Frey (a girl) are tribal teenagers who have just been initiated as Human Beings, in a ceremony where they gain a limited power of empathy. Because of this, their people may count coup on other tribes and squabble within their own, but they don't kill each other. But another race of people, the crom, may be killed at will, for they have no empathy and thus, to Arne's people, no souls.

But when Arne discovers a crom with an iron club-- a weapon no crom should have the knowledge to make-- he and Frey are sent on a quest to find out what happened. And then a lot of cool, cleverly thought-out, and surprising stuff happens. This is quite a good book, and one which is actually thought-provoking rather than merely preachy. But good luck finding a copy-- I've only ever seen one.
I had originally planned to write about these novels in the same entry merely because I read them in quick succession, and also because they're both utterly obscure novels by writers who are better-known for other books, so most likely no one but me has read them. But as I began to write, I realized that they do have some interesting parallels and anti-parallels.

John Christopher is best known for the TRIPODS trilogy, an effectively terse YA series in which three-legged aliens have taken over the world and mind-controlled most of the inhabitants, and only a handful of guerillas (including our boy protagonist) can fight back. I liked those as a kid, but was frustrated by the lack of female characters who did anything but look pretty.

(In a lapse from his generally thoughtful portrayal of the aliens, he has them take strong boys as slaves and beautiful girls as museum exhibits. Why would giant green tentacled three-legged aliens think _any_ kind of girl is pretty, let alone have the same standards of human beauty that humans do?)

His other post-disaster YA trilogy, THE SWORD OF THE SPIRITS, is memorably grim, and also has no women who do anything but look pretty.

SWEENEY'S ISLAND could also be considered a post-disaster novel, but it's really in the "people stranded on an island" genre. There are two ways that story goes: either it's JONATHAN CRUSOE and they build things, or it's LORD OF THE FLIES and they kill things. If the latter, they generally begin by setting up a fascistic social order headed by a strong man who crushes intelligent but physically weak members of the society, and end by worshipping some creepy pagan god they make up right before launching into a sexualized, ritualistic, cannibalistic killing orgy. I'm not sure why making up a god is so commonly seen as the last step before people make a complete reversion to savagery, but so it goes.

SWEENEY'S ISLAND is a pretty standard example of the "kill things" genre, livened up with some sf elements (mutant animals on the island). The women are a selection of embarrassing stereotypes: one good but weak woman who needs a male protector, one woman who almost becomes evil because she so desperately wants a baby and her caddish husband won't let her fulfill her natural instincts, one evil woman who enjoys sex and immediately attaches herself to the strong man. (Before the obligatory cannibalistic ritualistic killing orgy.) Ick.

The key difference the outcomes of these books is why the authors wanted to write an island book in the first place. Either they want to write about exploration and survival, in which case they pick an isolated area as a kind of sandbox for their heroes to play around in; or else they want to prove that the rule of law is all that keeps us from savagery, and so they pick a place where there is no law.

THE PEOPLE OF THE AX, by Jay Williams, is also about people struggling to survive in a harsh world, and cooperation vs. might makes right. But this one is good.

Jay Williams is best known for the charming Danny Dunn books, and the even more charming fantasy THE HERO FROM OTHERWHERE, which really ought to be reprinted.

I think THE PEOPLE OF THE AX was published as adult sf, but it reads YA-ish to me. Arne (a boy) and Frey (a girl) are tribal teenagers who have just been initiated as Human Beings, in a ceremony where they gain a limited power of empathy. Because of this, their people may count coup on other tribes and squabble within their own, but they don't kill each other. But another race of people, the crom, may be killed at will, for they have no empathy and thus, to Arne's people, no souls.

But when Arne discovers a crom with an iron club-- a weapon no crom should have the knowledge to make-- he and Frey are sent on a quest to find out what happened. And then a lot of cool, cleverly thought-out, and surprising stuff happens. This is quite a good book, and one which is actually thought-provoking rather than merely preachy. But good luck finding a copy-- I've only ever seen one.
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