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Literature / Tom Swift

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The first Tom Swift book
1910's to 30's Stratemeyer Syndicate kids' series following the adventures of boy inventor Tom Swift. Each book began with Tom inventing some new gadget that conveniently proved essential to resolving the plot. Invented or popularized many Gadgeteer Genius tropes.

While popular in his time, Tom proved to have less staying power than his Stratemeyer stablemates Frank and Joe Hardy and Nancy Drew, perhaps because of how quickly his "cool technology" was superseded in the real world. An Atomic-age attempt to revive the franchise in the mid-1950s with a new series starring his son failed when people started questioning the wisdom of atomic-powered airplanes and automobiles. If anything Tom Swift Jr.'s Gee-whiz tech went obsolete even faster than his father's did.

Revived IN SPACE! in the early 1980s, in Southern California in the 1990s and in the first person in the 2000s.

Origin of the "Tom Swifty", such as "Pass me the shellfish," said Tom crabbily or "How was your colonoscopy?" asked Tom probingly. This is something of a Beam Me Up, Scotty! (or "Play it again, Sam") situation, as while Stratemeyer was eager to employ adverbs and reluctant to use the plain verb "said", actual "Tom Swifty" puns were rare.



  • Alternate Universe: In one of the 90s books, Tom accidentally swaps places with a Mad Scientist version of himself from one of these due to a black hole experiment gone wrong, with many of friends' analogues being criminals in the alternate universe (and his best friend being a police officer and implied recurring nemesis of his).
  • Androcles' Lion: Prior to the second book of the fifth series, Swift Enterprises executive Yvonne Williams was kidnapped by anti-technology terrorists. One of her guards was dying after being bitten by a snake, and Yvonne used her cellphone battery to shock him back to life. The next day, that guard let her escape.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: Inevitable, due to the time they were written.
  • Bad Boss: Roscoe in the final 90's book is willing to brianwash his henchmen, use them as test subjects for a forcefield device (while using bullets) and even outright shoot a loyal one who hasn't done anything just to make his own attempted escape go smoother. And while none of this is completely unique to the series, Roscoe is a lot scarier because of how he succeeds in killing multiple people.
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  • Big Bad: David Luna, during the 80's series and Xavier "The Black Dragon" Mace in the 90's one, both Corrupt Corporate Executive's out to crush the Swift's.
  • Brains and Brawn: George and Len (whose names are likely a Shout-Out to Of Mice & Men), the henchmen of Tom's evil alternate universe counterpart in the 90's book "The Negative Zone", and get tricked into helping the real Tom when he ends up there.
  • Bluff the Imposter: in the 90's book Monster Machine in the aftermath of the main cast being kidnapped Tom and Rick are trying to rescue their girlfriends from a room when a computer sensor tells them it's filled with poison gas. They ask the girls to answer specific (trick) questions which they are unable to do. A little later, when they find the real girls (wearing gas masks) they ask the same questions just to make sure and this time they know the right answers.
    Tom: Mandy, tell me what color bathing suit you wore on our date last Friday.
    Mandy: Tom, what are you talking about? Nobody wears a bathing suit to the movies, not even in California!
  • Character Name and the Noun Phrase: Probably the Ur-Example.
  • Deconstruction: Intentionally or not, many of the 1990s books did this to "For Science!" as a motivation for Tom's various inventions. Many of them prove to cause all manner of unforeseen problems for Tom and his friends to deal with. Tom can come off as a younger more idealistic version of a Mad Scientist.
  • Either/Or Title: All of the books in the original series, such as Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle; or, Fun and Adventure on the Road
  • For Science!: Because what else would a supergenius teenager get up to in a series of adventure novels?
  • First Contact Math: Tom Swift Jr. and his father communicate with aliens this way.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Possibly the Ur-Example of this trope too.
  • Impersonation-Exclusive Character: In "The Space Hotel," a scientist invited to the eponymous location is kidnapped and replaced by an Eco-Terrorist. While the real scientist is rescued, this happens off-screen, and he never meets Tom. 
  • Kid Detective
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: In the nineties series, The Black Dragon attempts to recruit Tom, claiming that Tom is actually his son, from a past relationship between the villain and Tom's mother. After rolling the idea around in his head for a short bit, Tom decides he takes entirely too much after Tom Sr. for the Black Dragon's claims to be anything but an attempt to mess with his head.
  • Mad Libs Catch Phrase: Mr. Damon in the first series always said some form of "Bless my [noun]!"
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: One of these characters appears in "Mutant Beach".
  • Might Makes Right: In Mind Games, the human antagonist, Gary Gitmoe, says, "The strong get what they deserve. So do the weak."
  • Minovsky Physics: The radiation-blocking Tomasite plastic can block radiation, and is a good neutron reflector. Period. Apart from that, it's just a strong, hard plastic. The repelatron device can do one thing: Push on the specific combination of elements it's been tuned to. The potential complications and the difficulties of keeping the things properly tuned are not ignored.
  • MST: Tom Swift's War Tank is one of the more extensive MSTings available. It has its own tropes page, here.
  • Parrot Exposition: Notoriously overused in the earlier novels and the source for much of the humor in the aforementioned MSTing.
  • Raygun Gothic including the inevitable Zeerust
  • Reality Ensues: Particularly in the 90s series.
    • Invoked in Aquatech Warriors, in which the Big Bad plans to use a massive conventional bomb to raise an island into the sea he can call his own. After his plan is thwarted, Tom tells the gang what would have happened if the plan had succeeded: No new island nation for the Big Bad; "only" a tsunami that would have hit Jamaica, killing upwards of 50,000 people.
    • In Death Quake, being only eighteen, Tom has a difficult time being taken seriously by a visiting adult scientist.
    • In Quantum Force: Tom Swift uses his newest invention to exact some payback on some muggers — and gets grounded as soon as he gets home for doing something so stupid.
  • Revival: Tom Swift Jr. in the 1950s, and again in the 1980s, and again in the 90s, and for good measure in 2006.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: The adventures of Tom Swift the Somethingth, interstellar traveller.
  • Said Bookism
  • Sidekick: Mr. Damon and Ned in the original series, Bud in the 1950s, Ben in the 1980s, Rick in the 1990s. Given who they're playing the Sidekick to, they also get to be The Watson.
  • Story Arc: The "Jr." novels had an ongoing arc about Tom's interaction with the alien "Space Friends". Since the arc never really went anywhere before the series ended, it's arguably also an Aborted Arc.
  • Swiss Cheese Security: In one "Jr." novel (the one with the giant robots) a villain knocks out a Swiftworks who resembles him and walks into their plant with the mans security pass, boasting that their security "makes a bank job look tough."
  • Teen Genius: Tom, of course, and his twin sister as well in the 90's version. Tom is probably the Ur-Example of this trope as well.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: The mutated assistants of the mad scientist i the 90's book "Mutant Beach".
  • Tom Swifty: Trope Namer, though as mentioned actual examples are rare.
  • Uncertain Doom: In the 80's book, David Luna is presumed dead in the fourth book along with a sympathetic alien pursuing him during a dangerous hyperspace jump. Luna returns alive but his pursuer's chances were less good.
  • Ungrateful Bastard:
    • Zigzagged in "The Aquatech Warriors" from the 90's series. After Tom and the others save the surviving crewmen from The Black Dragons undersea base from drowning, they end up held at gunpoint. The leader of the group says its not that they aren't grateful, it's just that the'd prefer not to stand trial for privacy and murder by going quietly, although they do plan to leave Tom and the others with the materials to make a raft of their own (on the rapidly sinking land platform) as well as the scientific data which had brought Tom to the area in the first place. Naturally though, Tom and the others turn the tables.
    • Played completely straight in "Moonststalker" also from the 90's, when the Big Bad and one of his men pull a gun on them after being rescued from their own destroyed spaceship and attempt to murder Tom and the others.


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