Thursday, October 17, 2019

How did the world forget the Mad Scientists Club?

On a whim, I revisited The Mad Scientists Club, a children’s series by Bertrand R Brinley. It’s probably been at least twenty-five years since I last read it. I’d pretty much forgotten about the stories and, after rereading the first book, I have no idea how.

Hoo boy, rereading the first volume was a trip. It was like seeing a car wreck involving Mark Twain, Danny Dunn and a Boy Scout Manual. The books follow the misadventure and hijinks of a group of boys who are, in no particular order, explorer scouts, master engineers, and inveterate pranksters. All told by a narrator who has all the folksiness and self-awareness and snark of a modern day Huck Finn.

And the boys get themselves into some crazy messes, including making a fake lake monster and competing in a hot-air balloon race and saving a crashed Air Force pilot. The boys’ adventures are just a little larger than life. Almost all of them are grounded in reality and while their technology is cutting edge for the 1960s, it’s still in the ‘big trip to RadioShack’ range.

I have to note that, while the boys aren’t scoundrels and will help those in need, they’re more likely to pull pranks than save folks. I’m not saying that their moral compass is worse than my cats (and cats are born opportunists without a moral bone in their fuzzy bodies) but I find it surprising how non-preachy these stories that were written in the 1960s and for Boy Scouts are.

The books are far from perfect. They are dated, not just in technology but by the fact that if the club pulled half the tricks they pull anytime in the last thirty years, they’d be looking at serious time in juvenile hall. And while there are seven members of the club, I could only tell four of them apart. The other three could have been rolled into one character without losing anything.

That said, the voice of the narrator, being folksy and snarky and self-aware, is a lot more rounded and rich than a lot of stories I’ve read from the same time period. The setting may be dated but the tone is fresh.

I’m amazed that these books seem to be lost gems of children’s literature. The plots are fun and clever and the voice of the books is genius. There is some serious charm going on here. The quality of the writing definitely holds up and I’d recommend anyone even slightly interested to hunt them down.

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