Sunday, April 27, 2008

The World's Ultimate Green Car

Last week, I finished reading Sam Steele's Adventures: The Amazing Bubble-Car by L. Frank Baum, the latest installment in Hungry Tiger Press' Pawprint Series.

This is the third title the story has taken. It was originally published in 1907 as Sam Steele's Adventures in Panama, the second of the two "Sam Steele" books that Baum wrote under the name Captain Hugh Fitzgerald. This series didn't catch on, so the next year, Reilly & Britton reissued it as The Boy Fortune Hunters in Panama with the author's name changed to Floyd Akers. The first book got a similar re-packaging. The series sold considerably well, and four other books followed.

Thanks to Hungry Tiger Press' reprints of the series, I have now read five of these books, and the one I haven't read should be available sometime soon.

The new title fits the book rather well. In truth, the story only has one "Boy Fortune Hunter," Sam Steele, Baum's energetic, rich, daring, resourceful, selfish, and pig-headed hero. (More on that in a moment.)

The story opens with Sam Steele and his father and their crew taking a well-earned vacation during winter, when the Steeles are approached to take a badly damaged (and badly repaired) ship full of steel to San Pedro, California. Sam decides to undertake the voyage, while his father stays behind.

We are reintroduced to the staples of Sam's crew: Naboth Perkins, Ned Britton, and Nux and Bryonia, two Sulu men who faithfully follow travel with Sam on all his adventures. Joining the crew on this adventure is inventor Duncan Moit, who has just finished what he calls "The Moit Convertible Automobile," shaped rather like a bubble on wheels, impenetrable to almost any attack, it can also run on water as well as land.

The most curious thing I found about Moit's invention is that it runs neither on gasoline nor electricity, instead, once an explosive glycerine starts the motor, it collects, stores, and dispells compressed air to make it run. (With this, you realize, Baum conceived the ultimate green car! I'd take one of those...)

When the hulk they're sailing wrecks, Sam and his shipmates explore the land they beach on, discovering a dead man's journal, telling them of a hoard of diamonds! The only problem? The land where the hoard lies is owned by the Techlas, natives who are hostile towards white men and are ready to kill.

Sam Steele is at his worst in this book. He is willing to kill innocent Techlas just to get the diamonds, as the narrator, he makes several comments that are less than flattering about the Techlas, their cruel king, and even Panama itself. He's literally in it for the money! And in the course of the series, he acquires so much wealth that he comments in the last book that he and his friends have more than enough money to last them for the rest of their lives. (Of course, this is at the opening of that story, so it goes on to relate how they get some more.)

All the same, at some point in every Sam Steele story (with the exception of the first), Sam or one of his companions seem to appreciate the people they're taking treasure from, so it is quite possible that Baum intentionally made Sam pig-headed as a parody of the adventure stories for boys that were being written at the time.

Anyways, this book is still intriguing and well-written and is definitely worth a read. Go ahead and get it!

EDIT 5/3/2008: The air-powered car is in fact in development! Follow this link. (LINK) (Thanks to Matt Bloom for finding this!)


Nathan said...

So, essentially, Sam got to ride in a Popemobile before the actual Pope ever did? {g}

I really haven't read that much of Baum's non-fantasy works. I probably should at some point, but they're not at the top of my reading list right now.

hungrytigerboy said...

Thank you Jared - Sam Steele and I much appreciate the publicity :)

David Maxine