Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Passport to Danger (#179)

Passport to Danger coverPlot: Frank and Joe accompany Fenton to Paris for a symposium on sports-venue security, and soon find themselves investigating sabotage at Le Stade de France. What are the odds?

“Borrowing” from the past: Frank and Joe go to Paris, which is a venue they’ve seen surprisingly rarely. They hit Paris on their way to war-torn Zebwa in The Revenge of the Desert Phantom (#84). As for the rest of France, they visited Provence in The Castle Conundrum (#168); Fenton was in Paris for a symposium then too. (Perhaps Fenton is a bit of a junket junkie.) Frank and Joe can get by with their command of French, although Frank seems to be a bit better at it. The only time they’ve had to deal with French is in The Ghost at Skeleton Rock (#37), when they could both read the language. Their only other trip to a Francophonic part of the world is when they go to Canada, where they meet French-Canadians even when they’re not in Quebec (especially then, really).

The villain nabs Fenton while he’s away from the symposium. Fenton’s been captured a few times before: most famously and effectively in The House on the Cliff (#2), but also in The Mark on the Door (#13), The Twisted Claw (#18), The Clue of the Broken Blade (#21), The Ghost at Skeleton Rock, The Secret Agent on Flight 101 (#46), The Bombay Boomerang (#49), The Clue of the Hissing Serpent (#53), and The Infinity Clue (#70). He was roughed up pretty thoroughly in The Mystery of the Spiral Bridge (#45) as well.

Huh. That’s a few times more than I figured a top-notch detective with ties to the federal government would be abducted by criminals (and survive).

Despite the claim that soccer is one of Joe’s favorite sports, it hasn’t ever been mentioned in connection to either Hardy. And why should it have been? In the days of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, soccer would have been seen for what it truly was: Communist kickball.

Good to be outstanding in your field: For the second book in a row, Fenton is called overseas to tell those foreign policemen how to do their job. This time, rather than exclusive cultural tours and exotic retreats, Fenton gets all sorts of free electronic gizmos and gadgets: night-vision goggles, tiny concealed microphones / recorders, a pseudo iPhone. Fenton also gets a car and driver to and from the symposium.

Frank and Joe, world tourists: In Paris, a foreign city renowned for its cuisine, what do Frank and Joe make a beeline for? Burgers. French fries. (Although Passport claims fries were created in France, their origin is disputed.) Pizza. Later, the boys make a token effort — croque monsieurs, sausage rolls and pastries, crepes — but you know their hearts aren’t in it.

Not to perpetuate a stereotype ...: Some of the French, including their new acquaintance Jacques, use the phrase “how do you say” or its equivalent. It smacks of laziness on the part of the author. Having Jacques aspire to the awkward title of “King of Computing” does the job much better. On the other hand, none of the English or French assault Frank for calling their national sport “soccer” instead of “football,” so perhaps it all works out in the end.

Remember to hit the tourist spots: Frank and Joe get to not only see Le Stade de France, the Louvre and Les Catacombes, but they get to see them after hours. Sure, they’re left to die in Les Catacombes, but they discover a secret passage in the Louvre. A secret passage in the Louvre! It’s like something out of a Dan Brown novel. Fortunately, neither “da Vinci” or “Code” is mentioned.

Hacking for the public good: When Jacques claims to be a hacker, it raises no red flags with Frank and Joe. Why should it? It might be technically illegal, but they do it, and they frequently convince their friend Phil Cohen to do it. It’s all in the pursuit of justice, much like the lockpicks they frequently use to break and enter.

Finally: practical advice from Fenton: Frank handcuffs a large, violent man using the techniques Fenton had taught and drilled him on. I can honestly say I can’t remember a single instance of Fenton ever teaching his sons the physical side of detecting. On the other hand, I also don’t think he’s taught his sons concussions are serious business, as Joe refuses to go to the doctor after sustaining a head injury.

Opinions: Passport starts intolerably slowly, and it threatens to get bogged down with the French and soccer. Thankfully, it develops into an old-school story: there’s a secret panel and passage into the sewers, Fenton gets captured, and there’s extensive use of gadgets (including lockpicks and penlights). And Frank and Joe use technology without using it to replace actual detecting, so it comes off as a successful book all around.

Grade: B+. It would be an A, but it still has an awful lot the French and soccer in it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Mystery of the Black Rhino (#178)

Mystery of the Black Rhino coverPlot: Frank and Joe accompany Fenton to a conference in Kenya and stumble over a poaching operation.

“Borrowing” from the past: The Hardys head to Kenya, which they’ve been to only once: they flew into Nairobi in The Revenge of the Desert Phantom (#84), the penultimate digest before the Casefiles started coming out. Other than that, there have been few trips to the Dark Continent. They journeyed to Egypt in The Mummy Case (#63) and Morocco in The Mysterious Caravan (#54). In Phantom, they also visited the fictional Zebwa.

Chet remarks, “It would be fun if we could all go” to Africa. In the past, Frank and Joe were often accompanied by their friends on their international jaunts. Frank and Joe act unaccustomed to traveling while on this trip, which they rarely did in the first 85 books — trips around the world were de rigeur for them.

Black Rhino makes a big deal of Frank and Joe being on the track team. This is not the boys’ best known sport, although it is mentioned more often than than basketball in the Stratemeyer stories. In any event, they head out west with “Cap” Bailey, their track coach, in The Secret of Wildcat Swamp (#31), and they’re described as “track stars” in The Ghost at Skeleton Rock (#37). Both are top sprinters in The Demon’s Den (#81) as well, and in the revised version of The Twisted Claw (#18), Joe sets a new record in the 100-yard dash and Frank wins the 440.

Track is a 365-day-a-year sport: Joe remembers the track coach giving the team extra time in the weight room just before the mystery begins after failing to perform up to expectations in the last couple of meets. But Frank remarks that Bayport won the state championship the month before. Frank and Joe should have moved on to the next sport in line already — baseball, or maybe tennis. And what’s to compete for as a team after you win state?

Showing their ages: Frank calls a couple of teenage pursesnatchers “punks.” What, is Frank 60 years old? Is he going to tell the kids to get off his lawn, or how he fought Adolph in Dubya-Dubya Two?

Literally, a Get Out of Jail Free card: When New York policemen mistake Frank and Joe for members of the pursesnatching operation, Frank uses his driver’s license to “prove” he’s Fenton’s kid. “Hardy” + “Bayport” = Fenton Hardy’s kids. Now that would be a fake ID worth having.

Tears! Like real organic beings!: Iola mopes and cries as Joe’s about to leave for Kenya, the boys consider buying souvenirs for their girlfriends while in Africa (but don’t to seem to actually do it), and the girls joyfully hug the boys when they return. Frank and Joe’s first thoughts as they come home is to go on a date. Callie is described as Frank’s “best girlfriend,” although they “hadn’t talked about any dates past the next prom.” (I’m not sure what that means, exactly; the next prom is probably almost a year away. Does that mean they hadn’t talked about a wedding date, or just that Frank’s trying to keep Callie from getting too clingy? “Now, you know we didn’t make a date for June 17 of next year, so you really have no reason to be upset about me going on a date with Belinda Conrad on that date. What?”)

On the other hand, when Callie and Iola suggest going on an African safari with the boys the next year, Joe says, “Sorry.” Iola sighs her disappointment but puts up with it.

Jack Wayne!: He doesn’t appear, but he’s actually mentioned as Fenton’s charter pilot. I can’t remember him coming up at all in these three-digit digests.

Thanks, Dad: Fenton’s idea of praise on a case where the criminal isn’t caught: “Your clothes will need a good washing after being in that smoke — I heard what happened. You boys never cease to amaze me with your bravery. Anyway, our flight leaves Nairobi in an hour.” In other words, you boys are brave but not too bright. Because of that, we have to leave this country without our usual high-quality souvenirs.

Kenya, Land that I Love: Fenton loves Kenya. He and Laura took a holiday in Nairobi before the boys were born, and he has “fond memories” of the trip. He and the boys stayed in the same hotel as he and Laura did, and I half expected him to say, “Look, Frank — that’s the room you were conceived in. Want to see if we can get in for a look around?” He also takes a quick vacation-within-a-vacation to an isolated island during the trip … while the boys had a death threat hanging over their heads, with another person who had been threatened already dead. Have fun, boys!

All Africa is next to each other: When trying to convince airline officials to let Frank and Joe to try a risky repair to a damaged airplane in flight, Fenton has them contact “important acquaintances” in Johannesburg, South Africa. Johannesburg is at the other end of sub-Saharan Africa from Kenya, 1,800 miles away, so I’m not sure why they would listen — and that’s a long emergency call to make when your plane is in the middle of crashing.

Master of disguise: To slip away from their police escorts, Frank and Joe don vikoi, native hooded robes. They don’t disguise themselves in any other way, but when Joe walks past a mirror, he doesn’t recognize himself. Joe probably has that problem frequently, and every morning, when he puts on a new t-shirt, he is shocked at the stranger staring at him in the mirror.

The Mystery of the Unfastened Bra, or The Case of Getting to Third Base: The book ends weirdly. “‘And who knows?’ Iola nudged Joe in the arm. ‘If you keep your eyes open, you might find another mystery to solve on the way to the theater.’ Frank and Joe looked at each other and smiled. That was a definite possibility.” I realize now what was meant, that the Hardys find mysteries everywhere. But for some reason, I could not help but read Iola’s words as double entendre — I think it’s the nudge that does it — and Frank and Joe’s reaction as weary acceptance of the rewards international crimestoppers are entitled to. Quite honestly, there’s no reason for me to write my own “erotic” Hardy Boys fanfic if they’re going to give me lines like this in the real books.

Opinions: This is not a very enjoyable book at all. It feels as if it were aimed at a much younger audience than usual. The book feels padded, with several expository passages that overexplain easy things (five paragraphs in the airport about choosing whether to eat before their flight.) This hearkens back to the international phase of the original canon, when the boys would gallivant around the world and describe the wonders they saw for a chapter rather than actually do anything. The boys seem like privileged SOBs as well; they get a police escort to JFK, they fly first class with hot towels, they get police escorts and exclusive tours around Kenya ... they deserve the last, but the first two makes them seem pampered, and quite frankly, the boys aren’t sympathetic enough in this book to pull that off.

The mystery doesn’t begin until halfway through the book, and Frank and Joe solve it only by accident. They save the black rhino through unsuspecting luck as well. Frankly, the best action sequence — lowering a passenger jet’s landing gear while the plane was in flight — is almost possible to take seriously. Most tellingly, a cel phone is conveniently forgotten when its presence would have shortened the book considerably.

Grade: D. Please, no more trips abroad.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

In Plane Sight (#176)

 coverPlot: Frank and Joe accompany Jamal Hawkins to an air show, where the plane Jamal is to pick up is stolen, and the air show is continually sabotaged.

“Borrowing” from previous stories: Frank obliquely mentions he has his pilot’s certification, while Joe only recently got his. Frank first flew a plane (under supervision) in The Mystery of the Flying Express (#19). In The Short-Wave Mystery (#24), both he and Joe get instruction from a pilot named Stewart, but Jack Wayne — Fenton’s personal pilot — doesn’t start teaching them until The Ghost at Skeleton Rock (#37). They both have pilot’s licenses in The Mystery of the Chinese Junk (#39). Joe mentions it seems like “ages” since they’d flown. That’s true; I can’t remember the boys piloting a plane in any of the digests I’ve recently read.

The Hardys are back in the Jewel Ridge, Conn., area, although Jamal calls it the “sticks” rather than the technology hub it was in A Game Called Chaos. Jewel Ridge, a couple of hours from Bayport, was last seen in Trouble in Warp Space, which also featured the filming of a television show in Kendall State Park. The boys unwillingly explore the state park in Plane after skydiving in pursuit of a criminal and being shot at. Interestingly, there is a real Virginia Kendall State Park Historic District, but it’s in Ohio.

When Jamal comments on his footloose dating relationship, he comments, “You know how college girls can be.” Frank and Joe shrug, because no, they don’t; as the narration comments, “They’d been dating Iola Morton and Callie Shaw for a long time.” This is true. Frank and Callie have arguably been dating since The House on the Cliff (#2), when Callie was presented as an “object of special enthusiasm with Frank.” (“Special enthusiasm” has to be a euphemism for sex. It just has to be.) Iola becomes Joe’s “special favorite” in The Secret of the Caves (#7). Neither “date” or “girlfriend” is used until The Secret of Skull Mountain (#27), when Franklin W. Dixon admits Frank dates his “good friend” Callie whenever he can. For Joe and Iola, the word comes up in The Yellow Feather Mystery (#33), when Dixon admits Joe dates Iola for school dances. On the other hand, Frank and Joe accompany the girls to a school dance in The Crisscross Shadow (#32), which is a date in all but name.

Frank and Joe use their pocketknives to make torches. They used to have pocketknives in their pockets all the time, starting with The House on the Cliff, but they’ve fallen out of fashion in the digests. Their friend Phil Cohen, retrofitted into being a computer expert, is mentioned in the book and asked for a favor, but he never appears on the page, gets a line of dialogue, or talks to the Hardys, even behind the scenes. Phil first appeared in The Tower Treasure (#1) and was seen in about a third of the Stratemeyer Syndicate (#1-83 or 85, depending on who you ask) books after that.

Jamal Hawkins is: Tony Prito, Jack Wayne, and Chet Morton, all rolled into one. Tony, in that he works for his father (although Tony doesn’t work for his father in the later digests, he does in the original canon); Jack Wayne, in that he’s the Hardys’ pilot when they need to be somewhere; and Chet, because he worries about being punished for whatever the plot is supposed to be. In this case, it’s the plane he was supposed to pick up getting stolen, which is something to worry about, although it’s not his fault. He’s also dating a college girl, although not necessarily exclusively — which probably means she’s already told Jamal she will be having drunken hookups while on campus.

Because “Hardy” is such an unusual name: When Frank and Joe are introduced to the organizer of the air show, the first question she asks is whether they are related to the “famous detective” Fenton Hardy. She’s certainly not the “Son of Fenton Hardy” tattoos they have on their foreheads because the police don’t immediately make the same connection; they haul Frank, Joe, and Jamal in when they don’t have another viable suspect for the vandalism and thefts at the air show.

That word … I do not think it means what you think it means: The author frequently calls the control column, used to change an airplane’s pitch and altitude, the “yobe.” The correct term is “yoke.” From what I can tell, “Yobe” is an area of Nigeria, which would make it difficult for Joe to grasp it while flying.

At one point, Joe says another character doesn’t strike him as a “sharp whip.” It’s smart as a whip, Joe. Perhaps you’re not really a sharp whip either, which may help explain his anger issues as well; he threatens one of Jamal’s father’s business rivals with a beatdown after some banter, but when a security guard dismisses everything he and his brother claim about a break-in and lets a crook get away, he’s meek as a lamb.

Spooktacular? Prize? What the hell?: Frank says he’s glad they won a prize from a “Halloween Spooktacular,” which allowed Joe to finish his pilot’s lessons. This shakes the foundations of everything I know as true. First, Joe already has a license. Second, if he needs lessons, either he should dip into his reward money or Fenton should just have one of the millions of people he has aided over the years give him lessons. And thirdly, do I want to know what they had to do at the “Spooktacular” to win a prize? I assume it was a costume competition, but it never says. Maybe they investigated something and were given a … no, that’s a reward, something Frank and Joe are quite familiar with. Decoration? Scaring the candy out of people? I don’t know. Is this in one of the other digests or perhaps a Ghost Stories?

(ETA: It turns out this is a reference to the previous book, Trick-or-Trouble. Frank and Joe (and Callie) are awarded flying lessons as a reward for discovering who was sabotaging a Halloween prize contest, although they solved it only as the contest was ending and most of the possible damage was done.)

Mighty Mighty Housekeepers: Joe notes the run-down airport could use a year of cleaning from Mighty Maid. That might sound like a made up company, but there actually is a “Mighty Maid” in Woodbridge, Conn. There’s also “Mighty Maids” in Chicago. Can’t really blame the author (unless he / she were trying to put in a plug for the actual business): probably going for a play on “Merry Maids,” and the name’s certainly generic enough.

Hey, it’s the ‘50s, and Frank and Joe are late for the pep rally: Frank and Joe wear their letterman jackets on the trip. Since they were camping near the airport, you’d think they’d have parkas with down or some space-age material. But no, they go for the epitome of Eisenhower-era fashion and comfort instead. Way to keep it real, boys. I’m not even sure Frank and Joe wore lettermen jackets when they were common.

Outward Bound from the uterus: Frank and Joe use “their knowledge from years of scout camp” to build a fire. It shocked me that Frank and Joe went to scout camp; I figured they just came out of the womb knowing this stuff.

Frank and Joe are obviously mammals: They actually have to shave. I can honestly say I don’t remember them ever shaving before, despite being nominally healthy, pubescent males.

Opinions: Decent mystery, although the story of the missing airplane should have gotten better play. When you throw in a plot twist about a stolen vintage plane, a vanished criminal, and a fortune in missing coins, you don’t bury that in the middle of the story. You play that sucker to the hilt. But the solution’s satisfying enough, and there’s some nice action onboard planes and on the ground. I could do without the skydiving without a parachute — it was used in Extreme Danger as well, and it was even more ridiculous there. That silliness aside, it’s a solid, average mystery, with the plight of their friend Jamal giving the book a little extra oomph.

Rating: B. Could’ve been higher if Jamal had used his mack daddy moves on the young millionaire genius.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Speed Times Five (#173)

Speed Times Five coverPlot: After Frank and Joe enter the Speed Times Five, an extreme endurance race, they begin to fear the “accidents” in the extreme race are actually sabotage.

“Borrowing” from the past: Chet’s appearance on the cable show Warp Space (Trouble in Warp Space, #172) is alluded to when Joe calls him a TV star. The network that airs Warp Space, UAN, covers the Speed Times Five race.

Frank and Joe use tons of outdoor experience — mountain biking, hiking, rapelling, “years” of kayaking experience. There’s not much of that in the original stories, really, despite the claim they have tandem kayaking experience (whatever that is). They’ve always had camping and tracking skills out the wazoo, though it wasn’t until recently that it had to be extreme. Frank and Joe mention having hiked to the top of Lion Mountain “a few years ago” in The Hooded Hawk Mystery (#34). They climbed a cliff with pitons and hatchets in the revised Mark on the Door (#13). Slightly before the beginning of The Mystery of Smuggler’s Cove (#64) — quite possibly the most quintessential Hardy Boys title — Frank and Joe hiked the Appalachian Trail in Maine, and they also start End of the Trail on the AT. The most directly analogous to this story — remarkably close, really — is The Roaring River Mystery (#80), in which Frank and Joe say they’ve done a lot of backpacking in Maine and “quite a bit” of whitewater rafting. They even get involved in a whitewater rafting race in Roaring River.

Frank and Joe head to Canada — Quebec, specifically. They previously headed to the Great White North in The Twisted Claw (#18), The Short-Wave Mystery (#24), The Mystery at Devil’s Paw (#38), The Viking Symbol Mystery (#42), and The Demon’s Den (#81). Demon’s Den is the only time they specifically made it to Quebec. Frank and Joe don’t seem to understand the French radio broadcasts; they can’t follow a French movie in The Mysterious Caravan (#54) either, even though they’re in a French class.

I’m going to stop mentioning martial arts unless there’s something interesting about it. Yes, they use it here as well; no, I don’t care. The same goes for first-aid training, which isn’t mentioned as often but is time consuming when it is.

Jamal Hawkins is …: Back, baby. He gets no love, though: he’s mentioned as “Jamal Watkins” on the back cover. Pretty silly, really. Despite being as much of an athlete as Frank and Joe in Slam Dunk Sabotage, he’s relegated to the support crew, just like Chet Morton. The black man always has to serve — because of his pilot skills in Danger in the Extreme (#152), and because he’s the only one who can translate French here. But at least in Danger in the Extreme he got to compete as well.

Everybody had to pay and pay: Rather than using real brand names for certain products related to the competition, the author uses, well, echoes. Tuffy is a brand of bikes, SeaZoom provides personal watercraft, and Quick Aid is a sports drink. However, the X Games are mentioned by name.

What you see is precisely what you get: A few minutes after meeting Frank and Joe, one of their competitors calls them “boring and straitlaced.” I have no comment.

Frank Hardy is Sylvester Stallone as Rambo: To bring down a helicopter that’s threatening to help a crook escape, Frank tosses a competitor’s helmet into its rear rotor. That bounces the helmet into the main rotor, which causes the craft enough damage it has to fly away. The word ridiculous is thrown around so much lately, so I’ll just let that image stand by itself.

Will you be laughing when Jamal’s in Guantanamo?: Chet makes a crack about Jamal’s driving getting them in trouble with the Border Patrol, and everyone laughs. In this post-9/11 world, however, you can’t be sure that the combination of Jamal’s name and skin color wouldn’t get him into trouble all by itself.

Smuggling for Dummies, Idiocy to the Rest of Us: If you can come up with a better way to smuggle stolen pharmaceuticals across the U.S. / Canadian border than to dupe competitors in a cross-border extreme endurance race into carrying them for the entire race, then stealing the pharmaceuticals back, give yourself ten points and the right to slap this Franklin W. Dixon across the typewriter, should you ever meet him (or her).

There are thousands of ways to get small stolen items across the border, even in the unlikely event your vehicle is searched. You could put them in prescription pill bottles, since customs officials are unlikely to know exactly what the pills are by sight; if you are able to give a good alternate explanation, you are home free. Put them in recapped Coke bottles. Build a smuggler’s hold in your Chevy van. Put them in your spare tire. There are thousands of ways to do it, and unless you act suspicious at the border, 99.999999 percent of them are likely to work.

Opinions: Honestly, had the author ever been over the U.S. / Canadian border? If what you are smuggling is smaller than a breadbox, then you are likely to be able to get it across, no problem. Even if you are searched, there are ways to fool the border guards. Unless you are in a crappy comedy, you are unlikely to get into trouble.

There’s enough competence in the writing to keep Speed Times Five from a failing grade, but … well, the plot’s pretty stupid. Extremely stupid, actually. But at least the Hardys are fighting smugglers, unlike what they’re seeing in Undercover Brothers.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of stereotyping; the “coed” is the member of the collegiate team who has an accident in the kayaking portion of the race (not her two male companions), the Native American is stoic, they’re confronted by a bull moose in Canada, they just happen to mention Expo ’67 in Montreal, and the Canadian thugs are named Pierre and Jacque. (Actually, that last is par for the course when it comes to the Hardy Boys; they once faced a Canadian villain named Pierre Pierre. I wish to God I were making that up.) They also can’t get any English-language radio broadcasts, even close to the American border. That kind of stereotyping is par for the course, though.

And that’s not even mentioning that a) Frank and Joe think every incident that happens, over hundreds of miles of rugged, wilderness terrain among dozens of competitors, is sabotage (who can blame them? It always has been before), and b) Frank and Joe have no real endurance problems when hiking (jogging with a backpack, really), mountain biking, rapelling, kayaking, and speed bicycling hundreds of miles through mountains, forests, and river rapids despite devoting most of their time to amateur detecting. It strains credulity past the breaking point, then repairs credulity just so it can break it again. And they don’t really do any investigating — there’s a nice chase scene in Montreal, but that’s about it. And the one time the author could show Chet and Jamal doing “support,” Frank and Joe handle it instead, transparently giving them a chance to fight the saboteur by themselves.

Grade: D-. If you thought the villains’ plot in The Melted Coins made no sense, well, have I got a book for you!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Trouble in Warp Space (#172)

Trouble in Warp Space cover

Plot: Iola wins a small role in the cable TV show, Warp Space, in a contest, and Frank, Joe, and Chet accompany her to the accident-prone — or is it sabotaged? — set.

“Borrowing” from the past: Curiously light on the past continuity, although it should be noted that the Morton siblings appear and Callie is at least mentioned.

Weary and wary of finding himself in another mystery, Frank mentions it feels like he’s “been chasing criminals for seventy-five years”; Trouble in Warp Space was published in 2002, the 75th anniversary of The Tower Treasure, the first Hardy Boys book. Frank uses a karate chop against a crook; he’s used several styles of Asian martial arts over the years, but he first used karate in an original text in The Clue of the Hissing Serpent (#53). Frank and Joe mention their rescue training, which they have used many times over the years; Joe’s is first mentioned all the way back in The Secret of the Caves (#7), while Frank has to wait until The Disappearing Floor (#19) to “emergency” bandage his father (I think after a tiger attack) and The Mystery of the Flying Express (#20) to attend to the victims of a massive train derailment.

Jewel Ridge, Conn., appears again, this time as the location of Warp Space’s home studio. Although the state isn’t mentioned, it’s obviously the same Jewel Ridge Frank and Joe invaded in A Game Called Chaos (#160).

Dixon knows sci-fi: There are quite a few allusions to sci-fi shows, movies, actors, and books, although I’m quite sure I didn’t pick up on a lot of them. Warp Space is heavily influenced by Star Trek, with “Spacefleet” standing in for Star Trek’s Starfleet, for instance. Iola plays a green-skinned girl from Betelgeuse, calling to mind Star Trek’s green-skinned Orion slave girls (Betelgeuse is a star in the constellation of Orion), although I assume Iola was wearing far more clothes than a scantily clothed slave girl. Female co-stars Jerri Bell and Claudia Rajiv allude to Jeri Ryan, Star Trek: Voyager’s resident Borg, Seven of Nine, and Claudia Christian, who played Commander Susan Ivanova on Babylon 5. Stan Pekar, the venerable and honored effects and makeup expert for Warp Space, calls up Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor, make-up artist, and film director Stan Winston. (And possibly someone else; is Pekar someone / nearly someone?) And I’m sure the Slayer from Sirius is an allusion to something, but I can’t think of what. Can anyone help me out?

The best, however, is when Jerri and Claudia take the chums to Club 451, a restaurant that obviously takes its name from Ray Bradbury’s classic sci-fi novel, Fahrenheit 451. Incidentally, Fahrenheit 451 has one of the best opening lines in literature: “It was a pleasure to burn.”

Dixon doesn’t know sci-fi: On the other hand, there’s a lot here that makes Warp Space sound horribly camp. I mean, Jerri Bell’s character is named Ensign Allura, for Crom’s sake.

But the author makes quite clear: Frank and Joe aren’t geeks. No, sir. That’s what makes their jokes so horrible: they’re throwing around random sci-fi buzzwords they heard somewhere.

Affection? Really?: After the shocking flirting and touching in The Test Case, the dirty, dirty overfriendliness between Joe and Iola continues here. Iola calls Joe handsome; Joe says Iola’s “as beautiful” as Jerri or Claudia, then gives her a hug. Iola gives Joe a kiss on the cheek, and Joe later gives her a another “quick” hug. Joe even grabs Iola … under the arms! Sure, it’s to keep her from falling into water and being electrocuted, but weak excuses like that are open invitations to sin.

A new dimension in their relationship: On the other hand, there are points when it’s obvious Joe and Iola are at least reasonable facsimiles of teenagers. Joe admires how Iola looks in a Spacefleet uniform, and I don’t believe he’s thinks she looks merely “cute.” Normal, sure, if tame. But later, they are “dancing amid the … pulsing,” and they disappear for half an hour while they “looked for suspicious characters.” I’ll bet I know what they were looking at, all right. Most damning, though, is Joe forgoing a trip to the cafeteria with Frank and Chet, saying he’ll “‘do lunch’ with Iola.” I know why “do lunch” is in quotes — it’s Joe clumsily trying to sound like someone in show business — but I have this picture in my mind of Joe giving Frank a nudge in the ribs while saying it, complete with air quotes around “do lunch” so Frank knows exactly what Joe will be doing.

The law is a plot device: For once, Joe actually wants to call the police — contrast this with Daredevils (#159), when Frank and Joe avoided the police at all costs because they wanted to solve the case themselves. Of course, the stakes were different; in Daredevils, it was multiple attempts at murder, while Warp Space only has assault, theft, and sabotage. Such low stakes — no wonder Frank and Joe want to hand it off.

When Frank and Joe need contract details about some of Warp Space’s crew, the executive producer, Sandy O’Sullivan, balks, saying she doesn’t think it’s legal. Please, Sandy — Frank and Joe had, at that point, just broken into a man’s apartment and his private locker. Your concern is quaint. The law is what Frank and Joe want it to be. So much so, in fact, that Joe is shocked when yelling, “Hold it, you!” fails to get a fleeing crook to stop.

So young, so cynical: When Chet and Joe examine the fridge after a large meal — Joe says it’s in case the urge for a midnight snack strikes — Iola storms off, after yelling, “Men!” Iola, babe, you don’t know the half of it — and if I remember later Hardy Boys books correctly, that’s literal: Joe liked to flirt with the ladies while on vacation in strange lands. On the other hand, maybe she does know; Frank mentions the trouble Joe would be in if Iola saw how he was looking at Ensign Allura, alluding to Iola’s violent streak, which was seen in Past and Present Danger (#166).

In response, Joe says Callie would give Frank double. Maybe that helps explains Frank’s relative constancy and the lack of physicality between him and Callie. Your eyes or hands strays, Frank, and all the karate in the world won’t save your little detective and its chums from Callie’s wrath.

Opinions: Despite the hokeyness of Warp Space, this one comes across well. There’s a little too much set up, both in the exposition about the show and television in general, and a shortage of investigation time. But that’s made up for by the unusual touches: Joe and Iola act like a real couple — well, one that has signed an abstinence pledge and have spent most of their time together on supervised church “dates,” but still one that could be found in nature. Frank and Joe get their asses handed to them by a single crook, who knows — wait for it — kung fu. Kung fu obviously trumps karate, then. And Chet does good work on one of his outlandish jobs, succeeding after getting a spot as a stuntman in a costume. Who knew his association with the Hardys would come in handy here? A willingness or maybe even a desire to hide himself after all the fat jokes and the ability to take multiple punches turn out to be future job skills, not just fun hobbies.

Grade: B