The Wailing Octopus. I bought this book just for its perfect, perfect title.
My main concern about the Wailing Octopus was that there might not be an actual octopus. There was a good chance that it was the name of a submarine, or a secret code, or an organization of evil spies. (Actually it is a really good name for an evil spy organization.)
(It's the best title in its series.)
I found this book in an antique mall while I was traveling this summer, and I read the whole thing out loud to my husband on the long drive home. So I can now reveal the answers to my questions: 1. I still don't know why Rick's adventure is electronic. He has no super powers of electricity, although he does invent an underwater camera. 2. THERE IS AN OCTOPUS. 3. There is also an evil spy organization that missed a wonderful naming opportunity.
(See? An octopus.)
Most importantly, I read the Wailing Octopus out loud to my husband for two days in a row in the car, and we both enjoyed it. It's a great trip book, especially if you used to love boys' science adventure books when you were young. (I was a fan of the Mad Scientists' Club and the Danny Dunn books.) The Wailing Octopus is that kind of book. It's from 1956, it's one in a series of 24 books, and it's kind of like a Hardy Boys adventure with extra science.
(And extra sharks.)
I think we both knew we were going to like this book when it opened with young Rick Brant flying a plane full of scientists over the Caribbean:
"The Sky Wagon droned through Caribbean skies, following a compass course that led to Charlotte Amalie, capital city of the Virgin Islands. With eager interest, the four people in the small plane watched the blue water below. In a few moments they should pass over the island that was their ultimate destination.
Rick Brant, in the pilot's seat, turned to the husky, black-haired boy next to him. 'See anything yet?' he asked.
Don Scott had been surveying the far horizon through binoculars. He took them from his eyes and shook his head. 'Nothing but water. You sure there is an island called Clipper Cay?'"
(Later in the book, Rick and Don will take out a bad guy by stumbling into him.)
Why is someone always "husky" in one of these books? Don is like the Bess Marvin of the Rick Brant books.
Anyway, Rick has his own plane, and it's called the Sky Wagon, and he's going to a Caribbean island where he's going to dive for pirate treasure. There are a million things to envy about Rick. He lives on a private island owned by his father's research foundation, the Spindrift Group. Don, his best friend and adopted brother, lives there too. Rick and Don get to be part of everything the foundation does, which is mainly sending rockets into space, exploring remote corners of the world, searching for rare artifacts, and thwarting villains. The Spindrift Group scientists have the best jobs.
(Okay, it's not tropical, but it still looks pretty nice.)
We both thought that the Wailing Octopus was like one long episode of Jonny Quest. And we're not alone; lots of people think that Jonny Quest was heavily influenced by the Rick Brant books. Check out this list of similarities (FAQ #11) at the excellent fan website Spindrift Island.
(Rick gets to fly his own plane, though.)
What makes the Rick Brant books different from Jonny Quest, and from all the other science adventure series from around this time, is the technical expertise of Harold L. Goodwin. Goodwin and co-writer Peter J. Harkins wrote the first three Rick Brant books under the pseudonym John Blaine. But Goodwin wrote the rest of them by himself, including the Wailing Octopus (#11), and no one could be more qualified to write in this genre. His whole life was a science adventure. He served in World War II, he worked for NASA, and he was part of the US Information Agency. He developed the National Sea Grant Program, which is like a real-life Spindrift Group, only with less pirate treasure and more actual studying of the ocean. So what I'm saying is that Goodwin didn't have to invent much in the Rick Brant books. He had experience in everything from scuba-diving to spies.
(He also wrote a lot of science non-fiction.)
You can see in the Wailing Octopus that Goodwin really was an expert. He writes about scuba-diving so clearly, and in such detail, that it's like taking a class. I feel like I could test my equipment, set up my air tank, and maybe even fire a spear gun. (But -- and I'm putting this in for my mom -- I'm not actually going to.)
(I could also probably win an underwater fight with these evil divers.)
You can get the Rick Brant Science-Adventure Series, which includes the Wailing Octopus and ten other Rick Brant books, as a $1.99 ebook. I paid twelve dollars for the 1956 edition, but it was totally worth it. I just wanted to look up at my bookcase, see the title, and dream about being on a diving adventure with octopi.
(Science + adventure + bizarre touches of whimsy = awesome.)