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I read a kid's chapter book from my school library in 1988. I remember it was 1988 because that was the year George H. W. Bush was inaugurated and the whole school watched it on TV, and that's the only year I was at that school.

The book was a science fiction chapter book, almost certainly paperback. I was in second grade and was a good reader, but this was a stretch even for me.

I only recall a little bit, because I didn't finish the book. There was an invisible alien spaceship parked in a field, and the main character somehow got on board. He tried to escape by jumping off the spaceship, but a force field bounced him back. There was possibly a second character, possibly a girl, but I could be imagining that bit. I don't recall any alien characters, but again, I didn't finish the book.

My recollection is that this book was set in the regular world. I.e., not in a future world where aliens and spaceships are commonplace. So the invisible spaceship and force field were a big deal.

So really, all I have to go on is:

  1. Kids or Young Adult chapter book
  2. English
  3. Published 1988 or prior
  4. Invisible spaceship
  5. Force field
  6. Jumping into the force field and being bounced back

I'm afraid I don't recall the cover art. I do have a mental image of a towering spaceship that looks more like a building with a balcony than a stereotypical rocketship or UFO, but I suspect that's my mental image of the scene where the kid jumps off the spaceship and gets bounced back by the force field. So, not actually the cover art.

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    As I remember George H.W. Bush was elected in November, 1988 and inaugurated in January, 1989. The typical school year the USA, and probably in many other countries, goes from about September in one year to June in the next year. Therefore, it is possible that you were in that school in 1988 to 1989 and not merely in 1988. Jan 17, 2020 at 17:45
  • Of course, you're right! 1989. Yes, it was 1989. I was in second grade, I started at that school after Christmas, and we watched the inauguration. So it would have had to be 1989, not 1988.
    – Kenny
    Jan 17, 2020 at 21:02
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    I'm flashing on a Sylvia Engdahl book. Enchantress from the Stars?
    – mkennedy
    Jan 19, 2020 at 8:22
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    Working on phone and can't edit my comment. Engdahl's book is for older kids than 2nd grade so unlikely.
    – mkennedy
    Jan 19, 2020 at 8:23
  • At first glance none of Sylvia Engdahl's books look familiar. I'll take a closer look this evening after church. I've been searching for this book literally for years, so anything is worth a shot at this point. Thanks for suggesting Engdahl. I'd never heard of her before.
    – Kenny
    Jan 19, 2020 at 15:34

1 Answer 1

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Long shot:

"The Sometimes Invisible Spaceship" by Charles Bowles (1988)

Solely on title and date

A review and details about the book can be found here: The Sometimes Invisible Spaceship by Charles Bowles

From the back cover:

During summer vacation from school, a brother and sister (Jeef and S.L. Strewbury) must work to help their widowed mother (Maria) make a living.

S.L. (Sabedora Louise) is younger than her brother; but, always speaking with clarity and volume, she is equally blunt, daring, and self-assertive. She is able, for instance, to drive a farm tractor though her legs are too short for her feet to touch the floor pedals.

Jeef (Jefferson Francisco) would rather fish or wander the woods with his dog Sam, but he recognizes the need to earn money. He has a stronger urge toward adventure than he will readily admit.

The youngsters become involved with a brilliant, conceited, and bumbling scientist (Professor Szrplqx) when they accidentally discover his secret base of operations. The professor has developed an unusual spacecraft, which he is testing before beginning an exploration of outer space. Among his other achievements is a device (amatrivance) he invented "on a whim," which can force any person or animal to like and obey its operator. When the professor's former assistant (Zarch) gains control of the amatrivance, the professor fears the entire universe will come under the rule of an evil dictator.

A mixed crew, made up of the Strewbury youngsters, Sam, the professor, and a greeble named Doctor Harkel, sets out to save the universe.

Vanity publisher

This book was published in 1987 by Aegina Press, a vanity publisher. It's well done. That is, it's been proofread for typos and such, and the paper and binding are fine. But the typesetting has very small margins for a children's book, and the cover is pretty spare. Still, not a bad effort.

Capital letters

The absent-minded Professor Szrplqx (pronounced Zerplix) is annoying, but not half so irritating as S.L., who always talks in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, and is continually announces that SHE"S HONGRY. Not hungry, HONGRY.

Plot

Professor Szrplqx has built a spaceship named GLOMBUS, and he takes Jeef and S.L. out to explore the galaxy. They rescue a pink alien named Doctor Harkel. Szrplqx has also invented a device called an amatrivance, which compells love and obedience. Of course the professor's nemesis, Zama Z. Zarch, steals the device and escapes in his own spaceship.

Szrplqx and the crew chase Zarch to the planet Kimera. They meet Sir Gruel, a medieval knight on horseback. It's like a whole renaissance fair planet. Kimera is ruled by Queen Whoomit I, and she sends one of her knights--Sir Quembly, because why not add more characters?--to help Szrplqx. The Professor and the children and the knight eventually catch Zarch, who turns out a be a woman. Yes, Zarch was a woman all along. She used to be Szrplqx's assistant, and she only stole the amatrivance to teach him a lesson about being responsible. She has no desire for conquest. Um. OK.

Of course Zarch and Szrplqx get married.

Cover art for The Sometimes Invisible Spaceship, by Charles Bowles. A white cover with line art depicting a yellow spherical spaceship over a farmhouse, destroying the farmhouse with a brilliant yellow ray.

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    Thanks. I can't find any cover art or plot summary of "The Sometimes Invisible Spaceship" on the internet, so I've requested it through inter-library loan. It looks like it was published in either late 1987 or 1988. I think that makes it unlikely it was my book--I read my book in the first half of 1988, and our library wouldn't likely have had new books--but it's worth a shot.
    – Kenny
    Jan 16, 2020 at 21:28
  • I could find nothing about it either. Jan 16, 2020 at 21:34
  • The librarian just informed me that they could not get the book through inter-library loan. So I guess I'll be scouring eBay and AbeBooks to buy a used copy.
    – Kenny
    Jan 31, 2020 at 3:34
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    I got "The Sometimes Invisible Spaceship" in the mail yesterday. I don't think it's the book I remember. I'll read it, maybe over the weekend, and let you know for sure.
    – Kenny
    Feb 6, 2020 at 17:03
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    Great idea @FuzzyBoots. I had written up a plot description for my own website and I've used that to update the answer here.
    – Kenny
    Aug 30, 2022 at 18:40

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