Danny Dunn, Invisible Boy (Danny Dunn, #13) (Jay Williams) pdf, epub, doc

Danny Dunn, Invisible Boy (Danny Dunn, #13) ePub and PDF Available
With only two more installments in the series to go (as I said, I'm reading final copies for their e-book release and reviewing them, as I enjoyed this series as a kid) - this may be the BEST Danny Dunn book yet!

Despite the title, the book does not involve *actual* invisibility (in the "bending of light" sense - and Prof. Bullfinch even explains why that's highly unlikely to work), but what's surprising is that the book actually deals with virtual reality/videogame technology, military drones, surveillance/privacy issues AND throws in a peppering of 1974-era anti-authoritarianism, along with a dash of early 70's gender politics!Never thought you'd see that coming, did ya!

First - the basic set-up.A lab accident (is there any other kind?) leads to the creation of "Dunnite" (as Bullfinch chooses to name it) a powerful semi-conductor which allows Professor Bullfinch to miniaturize certain electronics and (inspired by a discussion with the kids) create a veritable form of "invisibility" (“There’s another kind of invisibility,” Joe put in) -a remotely-piloted miniature drone (nicknamed ISIT) that resembles a dragonfly and through which the pilot can see, hear and even feel what's going on. After using the device to catchSnitcher Harris at cheating to win the Spelling Bee and guilting him into confessing, things turn serious when the military turns up, demanding to commandeer the device from the Professor and putting Danny's household under lockdown.Can the kids scheme to steal the device from under armed guard actually work?Go read the book!

Now - there is a LOT in this installment as Jay Williams continues to up his game, not resting on any laurels when it comes to the long-lived series.There will be quite a few quotes below, just to show you how well-written and adult this is for a kid's book.

But let's get some of the incidental stuff out of the way first. Some time must have moved on in the series - the kids act more adult and have slightly more adult interests and personalities: Joe is still a chow-hound and complaining coward but also has developed a nicely laid-back persona along with his literary bent - he gets to distract a military guard with some wittily-composed poetry!Irene, who was always interested in Physics as a career, has now shifted her goals to becoming a biologist (perhaps influenced by events in Danny Dunn and the Smallifying Machine & Danny Dunn and the Swamp Monster? More below).The Professor is now officially retired from heading the Science Department of Midston University and lives off the money made from his inventions (an odd detail - the standard description of Bullfinch has been tweaked to note that he also appears "untidy").G.K. Chesterton (read by Joe) and Dorothy Crayder's She, the Adventuress (read by Irene - "It's neat") and "The Purloined Letter" are name-checked. There's a short digression into grammar (the use of "ain't") and, as the story is nicely small-scale, there's a bit more leisurely pacing and involvement in the personal lives of the kids (nice to see them playing in a baseball game!). Bullfinch calls Danny his "assistant", maybe for the first time. Some things stay the same - The Professor plays Bach on his cello to calm himself down, and says “You really must learn to count to ten before you act, Dan” and it seems like decades since he's said exactly those words (because it pretty much has been, in the Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine) even if the intention has been noted in every book!

Now, that point about pacing - in a somewhat atypical construction, quite a bit of time passes between the first and second parts of the book (enough for Bullfinch to design and build the machine, Danny even says the discussion that inspired it was "a long time ago" even though it happened in the second chapter!). More interestingly, although the series generally never acknowledges the other installments, there's really a case to be made that INVISIBLE BOY, in some sense, arises out of events in THE SMALLIFYING MACHINE and even (from an authorial point of view) may have been written to redress an imbalance expressed therein.You remember that in that book, the smallifier was basically assumed, at the climax, to be taken away and used for espionage by the U.S. Government? Well INVISIBLE BOY is all about scientific (and, one might think, kid-lit) responsibility, and sees Williams' wrestling with some of the social and governmental changes that have occurred since the series began as a well-intentioned Kennedy-era New Frontier-driven science-prop and has now aged into, and passed through, the Counter-Culture years and finds itself in the Nixon Era of "dirty tricks" and CIA Death-Squads.

Before I go into that - a brief aside. The technology of INVISIBLE BOY also builds off of SMALLIFYING MACHINE in interesting, if indirect, ways - the relocation of consciousness experienced in the Smallifier reappears here as the ability to actually inhabit the ISIT drone and feel what it feels (important for a very suspenseful climactic scene with Danny actually steeling his way through the remote-sensation of burning alive to complete his goal! - again, nothing I'd ever have anticipated way back in Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint!), allowing for a return of that dislocation/surrealistic distortion of scale that SMALLIFYING MACHINE captured so well (pretty trippy, in fact, given the era!).Here's Irene's first trip in ISIT:

***************************************************

“Touch the backward jet—the left one,” he was saying. “It will slow you down.”

She remembered, then, and pressed her left thumb down just for a second, and felt her movement slowing. She could feel an upward push of air, and as she slid into it, it lifted her lightly. Balancing as if she were on a tightrope, she let the air carry her on a wide spiral path toward the ceiling.

Now she was getting the knack of it. She found she could sense the different layers of air, some lighter and warmer, some heavier and colder, and feel the movement of their currents. She began to enjoy herself. It was like one of those wonderful dreams of flying. She turned easily in a half-circle, and glancing down, saw that she was above the Professor and the two boys. They were staring up with strained faces.

She saw something else—something that made the whole thing even more dreamlike. She saw herself, sitting on the stool next to the Professor, her head covered by the closed helmet, her hands inside the gauntlets, grasping the levers on the box.

**********************************************

Now, we know from Danny Dunn and the Heat Ray that Professor Bullfinch is essentially a pacifist (he says here: “I’m the last person in the world to get a medal, and if anyone tries to give me one, I’ll turn it down anyway. I don’t approve of medals.") and believes that science should only be used to further mankind, not destroy it.Thus, the crux of the matter in INVISIBLE BOY, comes when blowhard General Gruntle essentially demands Bullfinch's device:

**********************************************

The General got to his feet. “Professor Bullfinch,” he said, “I am going to have to take this machine to Washington. Colonel Twist!” The Colonel leaped up. “Take charge of it.”

Before Colonel Twist could do anything, the Professor stepped forward, clapped his hand on the control box, and said, “Stop!”

“Look here—” the General began.

“No, sir,” said the Professor. “You look here. You are in my private laboratory, and this machine is my property. You do not have the right to touch it without my permission, and as far as I know, I haven’t yet given you my permission.”

General Gruntle began huffing with anger. Controlling himself with an effort, he said, in a voice just a little less than a bellow, “You don’t seem to understand the importance of this thing to the national defense. You have invented a weapon which will make the army supreme in espionage. Just think of the uses for it! It’s a perfect machine for spying. It can be used to penetrate all enemy defenses and with a few modifications could be used to blow up ammunition dumps, ferret out enemy secrets, or even assassinate enemy leaders.”

He paused, and another idea struck him. “Even more important, just think of all those people right here at home who don’t approve of some of the things we want to do. With a few thousand of these machines, we could keep an eye on any such disloyal elements. Why, no one could do or say a thing that we wouldn’t know about. It would put us in the driver’s seat, that’s what it would do. It’s your patriotic duty to turn the thing over to me.”

The Professor scratched his nose thoughtfully with his pipe stem. “Please calm down, General,” he said. “I admit that what you say puts a different light on my invention. I never thought of it as a weapon. It’s true, it might have some uses that way. But even more to the point, I certainly never thought of it as a way someone could spy on American citizens. That seems to me a violation of our right to privacy.”

“That’s not what I meant—” General Gruntle began.

“Perhaps ISIT would be a valuable weapon,” the Professor went on, as if the other hadn’t spoken. “But what you say makes me realize how dangerous it would be if it fell into the wrong hands. I don’t necessarily mean you. I mean someone—anyone—who wanted to find out what everyone was thinking and doing so that he could have the power to control us all. It’s just because I am patriotic that I see how bad that sort of thing could be. Surely, you can see it, too, General?”

General Gruntle opened his mouth several times before he could get any words out. Then he roared, “Rubbish! Ridiculous! You talk like one of those long-haired, wild-eyed, dreamy idealists. Come down to earth, man! I tell you it’s your duty to give up the invisibility machine.”

*********************************************

and after putting the household under armed-guard:

*********************************************

“Just a moment, General,” the Professor put in. “Do you mean to say I can’t go into my own laboratory? I’ve already given you my word—”

“I’m taking no chances, Professor. If I’ve heard about your invention, the Other Side may have heard also.”

“The Other Side?” said the Professor, in surprise.

“Them,” said General Gruntle mysteriously. “Just let ’em try to get in and steal it, that’s all. Twist! Give those men orders to shoot to kill if they see or hear anything suspicious.”

*********************************************

Which leads to this discussion by the kids:

********************************************

“They claim it’s going to help them spy on everybody. The Professor doesn’t think they should use it that way.”

“But maybe they’re right,” said Joe. “I mean, if the Professor had invented some kind of weapon, like a giant cannon or a death ray, it would help the army if there was a war, so—”

“But ISIT isn’t a weapon, and there isn’t a war,” said Danny. “What General Gruntle said was that this would let the army keep an eye on people here in America, so that they could find out what everybody was saying or doing. My gosh, I wouldn’t want somebody snooping on me all the time. Would you?”

“They might find out some awfully peculiar stuff,” said Joe. He shivered. “No. I guess I wouldn’t.”

“There’s no telling who would be doing the snooping, either. Suppose it was somebody like Snitcher?” Danny went on. “Anyway, that’s not the main point. The thing is, ISIT belongs to the Professor. He invented it. They don’t have any right to just walk in and take it. He should have the right to say what he wants to do with his own invention.”

*******************************************

Again, a highly surprising discussion for a kid's book in 1974, and it fuels the kids' decision to bamboozle the Pentagon's intentions!Bullfinch's desire to resist the weaponization of science and its responsibilities lies at the heart of the book and it concludes with this:

******************************************

“Certainly. We tend to jump into things without thinking—a bit like my dear friend Danny, here. Don’t blush, Dan. There’s plenty of excuse for you. But there’s not much excuse, for instance, for people who build atomic reactor plants before they have worked out the problems of waste disposal for radioactive materials. We used DDT for years without first carefully studying its effects on our ecology, and found out its dangers almost too late. We have hurried into all sorts of technological improvements and then found later that we were poisoning our water supply."

... The Professor reached out and put an arm around Danny’s shoulders.

“It may take some time for us to learn how to handle all the power of new inventions,” he said. “Here’s the future, Grimes. Let’s give it a chance.”

*******************************************

Finally, regarding gender issues - Williams was always supportive from her first appearance of Irene's (and by extension, all girls) right to be interested in science and to be educationally supported in same, but in INVISIBLE BOY he also goes out of his way to acknowledge some of the cultural changes brought about by the Women's Movement:

********************************************

At last, Danny said to Irene, “I’ve been thinking about what Snitcher said. Does it bother you much to be the only girl on the team?”

“Some,” Irene admitted. “I get the feeling that everybody is looking twice as hard at me as at anyone else. They expect me to do worse than everybody else—or maybe better. Either way, it makes me nervous.”

“You’re not thinking of quitting, are you?”

“Certainly not.”

“Good. Don’t let it get you down.”

Joe tipped his head back to admire his neat lettering. “You know, it’s funny,” he said. “There’ll be both boys and girls in the spelling bee, and nobody thinks anything about it. There’ll be boys and girls with exhibits in the science show—if there were only boys, people would think it was peculiar. So why should they think it’s so strange if there are boys and girls playing baseball together?”

“It’s because girls aren’t supposed to be good at games,” said Irene.

“No, that’s not it, because girls do play all the games boys do and everybody knows it.”

“Well, boys are supposed to be better at them.”

“Whoever made up that rule didn’t know about me,” Joe protested. “The only game I’m any good at is checkers.”

**************************************

and so, later in the big game:

*************************************

Irene walked to the plate and picked up the bat.

Her first time up, she had singled. It had gone for nothing when Billy Carver had been put out. But as she was walking in to get her mitt, she overheard a man sitting on the grass say, “They ought to send her back to cooking class. Next thing you know, they’ll try putting girls in the Little League.”

The words had stuck with her and made her more nervous than angry. They were with her now, as she stood waiting at the plate. She hadn’t fully realized that there would be grown-ups watching who felt that strongly about her playing.

As a result, she froze. Snitcher sent the first ball down, and Irene found she simply couldn’t move. She stood with her bat ready, but all she could do was flinch as the ball passed her. The umpire called a
strike.

“I’ve got to swing!” Irene told herself. “Even if I miss, I’ve got to swing!”

But she couldn’t. A second strike was called. A man’s voice shouted jeeringly from the sidelines, “Give her a rolling pin—that’ll make her more comfortable.”

That did it. Snitcher sent another straight, fast pitch down, and Irene lashed out at it with all her might. The ball went whistling out to center field.

******************************************

Oh, and Irene's Mom is vice-president of Midston's League Of Women Voters!

So, all-in-all, this may be the most interesting installment in the Danny Dunn series ever, with lots and lots to chew on.I remember it fondly from my youth, back in the late 70's, and now I realize why, when early VR tech discussions came along, it all seemed so familiar to me. Now, on to Danny Dunn, Scientific Detective!





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