Danny Dunn and the Fossil Cave
by Jay Williams & Raymond Abrashkin
Review by Paul Haggerty
Wildside Press Kindle Edition ISBN/ITEM#: B01MROR50T
Date: 22 November 2016
In the sixth entry in the Danny Dunn series, Danny and his friends are searching for a cave that Danny had run across sometime earlier, but could only find again by retracing his original meandering route. Along the way they happen across Dr. Tresselt, a geologist and friend of Professor Bulfinch, who was supposed to be coming to stay with the Professor but, being the stereotypical absent-minded professor, got off the train and sucked right up into the hills by the seductive rocky outcroppings.
Luckily Danny, Irene, and Joe found him, because, as he admits, he has no idea where he is, or how to get back to town. And even now, he'd much rather stay out in the hills, taking samples. It's only a heavy layer of guilt about disappointing people, spread thickly by the teenagers that convinces him to return to town and see the people he was supposed to meet earlier in the day. And as they turn to leave, Danny sees the tree that marks the entrance to the cave ... a point that will prove important later.
Once back at the professor's house, we are introduced to the invention-of-the-book, The C-Ray, a radarscope which is similar to a continuously scanning x-ray, but specifically described as having no negative side-effects. It has the ability to dial up the distance desired, up to seventy-five feet, and see what's happening there, regardless of what lies between. The professor hopes to be able to use it to look through rocks and see what's inside. Dr. Tresselt is skeptical but willing to give one of science's grand traditions a try. Namely: Let's give it a shot and see what happens. Professor Bulfinch was expecting Dr. Tresselt to take it with him on his next expedition. But, when Danny mentions that cave they were looking for, the perfect opportunity for a quick field-test arises.
So the three teenagers and the two scientists pack food and supplies and head out for an afternoon of spelunking. Sure, nothing should go wrong, but if nothing did, this wouldn't be a Danny Dunn book. First Danny brings along some slightly radioactive crystals and a Geiger counter. The idea being that instead chalking the walls to find their way back, he can just drop a few crystals. Bulfinch and Tresselt love the idea, which is a good indication that it's not going t be as brilliant as everyone thinks. Then, while strolling through the magnificent beauty of the cave, Bulfinch and Tresselt are so deeply engrossed in their conversation (and ignoring the cave) that they end up putting too much weight on a rock bridge, which breaks, stranding the party underground. Later, due to a slip and slide accident, the C-ray scanner is broken. And finally, when the time comes to return to the rock bridge and try to find a way to cross it, Danny discovers that the whole cave is weakly radioactive, and the Geiger counter is useless in retracing their steps.
So, with limited supplies and no way to find their way back, how will our intrepid heroes survive to meet again in book seven? In a word, science. Well, and a couple of carefully pre-planned MacGuffins. And note that, in a somewhat rare circumstance, a fashion mishap gets our heroes into trouble, and fashion also gets them back out, fixing the C-Ray, which in turn saves the day.
As is normal in a Danny Dunn book, Jay Williams consulted a variety of experts, which shows in some marvelous descriptions of geology in general, and cave systems in particular. This book has the added benefit of predicting a device similar to the sound-wave scanners paleontologists now use to do pretty much the same thing before digging up a fossil specimen. First, there's science fiction, which becomes science fact once some bright spark starts thinking how to make the magic actually work.