Illustration by Charles Geer.
About a month ago I read and reviewed “The New Adventures of the Mad Scientists’ Club,” a second collection of stories about a group of boys in a small 1960s town, Mammoth Falls, who have clever and funny adventures. I’d first encountered the stories in the pages of “Boys’ Life” magazine as a child myself, and have long owned the first collection of those stories. The club is generally led by their head tinkerer and scientific genius Henry Mulligan, and they seemed to have all kinds of resources for creating amazing inventions, or adapting existing scientific ideas. These were often used to play practical jokes on their town and a rival gang, though at other times the Club helped solve crimes and assisted authorities. In researching that earlier review, I found Brinley had also written two novels about the Club, and I quickly ordered e-book versions of both. This is one.
“The Big Kerplop!” did see print in 1974, but shortly afterward the publisher went out of business, and not many copies made it out to readers. It was reprinted in 2003 with new pictures by Charles Geer, who had illustrated the two books of short stories, and I’m here to tell you it’s the best thing I’ve read in a long time. First, there’s the nostalgia factor: it brings me back to happy childhood days, not only because I was reading about the Mad Scientists then, but the way the kids are given the trust and freedom to do all the crazy things they get away with is very much like my own childhood in the 1960s. Second, you never know if a short story writer can succeed with the same characters in a novel, but Brinley does so brilliantly. Third, this book fills that fannish desire, it’s an origin story! In its pages we learn how the Mad Scientists came to be in a very satisfying way.
As in the short stories, the narrator is Charlie (last name finally revealed in this book), but Henry does not appear for some time. Charlie and his friends are out on a foggy Strawberry Lake fishing when they hear fighter jets from a nearby Air Force base making practice runs over the lake. Unexpectedly, something large and heavy falls from one plane into the lake. The boys don’t see it, but feel the waves of its impact and hear the kerplop. Right away they go into action, figuring out how to mark the place where the object fell. Later, back in town, word is out that the Air Force is restricting access to the lake while they investigate something. Before long, the boys figure out a nuclear bomb was the thing that fell from the plane, and the Air Force is looking for it. The boys decide they are going to find it first, and in some daring night excursions through the patrol lines, they succeed. Henry Mulligan’s scientific knowledge and ideas help a lot with that. The next problem is convincing the Air Force, or any responsible adult, that they actually have found the bomb, a task which takes up a good part of the book in many hilarious incidents.
This was so much fun. It would have made a great Disney TV series in the 1970s, and could still be a pretty good one today. Now I can’t wait to read the other Brinley novel, and will soon.