Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine
by Jay Williams & Raymond Abrashkin
Cover Artist: Ezra Jack Keats
Review by Paul Haggerty
Wildside Press Kindle Edition ISBN/ITEM#: B01AX9WADW
Date: September 18, 2015
Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine is the third volume of the Danny Dunn series, which was published between 1956 and 1977, and introduces the third primary character in the person of Irene Miller who moves in next door to Danny. Irene's father is the new head of the Astronomy Dept. at Midston University, and Irene is every bit the scientist Danny is, although with a great deal more common sense. While Joe Pearson serves as the best friend that always has Danny's back, even when he doesn't agree with him, sometimes especially when he doesn't agree with him, Irene is the solid friend that is willing and able to argue with Danny as an equal when she feels he's going too far.
In this third installment, after a brief period of getting the three friends together, we're introduced to Professor Bulfinch's new invention, a computer with a few special improvements that take it from being the size of a room to the size of a desk. The Professor is flying off to Washington D.C. and asks Danny to finish loading data from various scientific journals into the computer. Danny is happy to oblige, especially since he's gotten the idea that, using the computer, he, Joe, and Irene won't have to do any homework for the rest of the year. As usual, Danny's brilliant idea doesn't go entirely according to plan, not only because he didn't think it all the way through, but also because his nemesis, Eddie "Snitcher" Phillips decides that this is the perfect time to get his revenge. The fact that Eddie's a bit smitten with Irene, and she won't give him the time of day doesn't improve his mood.
As with all the Danny Dunn books, the Professor is more than willing to allow Danny to help out with his experiments and inventions. And while headstrong and impulsive, Danny reciprocates by taking the Professor's trust seriously. Sure, things go wrong, but nothing that can't be solved with a bit of friendship and the scientific method of observations, theorizing, and testing. And while other adults may try to treat the three friends as nothing more than children, the adults closest in their lives always have their backs.
Given that the book was written in 1958, the authors were forced to make a few bold guesses as to the future of computers and got them hilariously wrong. On one hand, they foresee computers being able to hold up to 50,000 items of information, an infinitesimal fraction of reality. On the other, they foresee people being able to program computers by simply speaking to them in normal English, something that is still strictly science fiction. They also take some pains to stress that computers can never be creative, and will never be able to replace artists. Whether this was a personal bugbear of the authors, or something percolating within society, I'm not sure, but I think would be interesting to look into. But, with these small mistakes in prognostications aside, the science of Danny Dunn holds up remarkably well given the decades of change.