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August 2005
 
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Peter Graves: An Extraordinary Adventure, By William Péne Du Bois (1950)

FOURTEEN-year-old Peter Graves is the only boy who's brave enough to ring the doorbell of "Horrible Houghton," the local eccentric. But this reclusive man is really Houghton Furlong, inventor of an antigravity alloy called Furloy: a silvery metal with positive mass but negative weight. A sphere of Furloy the size of a golf ball weighs minus fifty pounds, so Houghton keeps his Furloy balls leashed to the floor with leather straps as they plummet toward the ceiling.

Houghton has also made an aluminum sphere with a Furloy core, so it has a considerable mass but weighs only a few ounces. When Peter drops the sphere, it bounces higher—and harder, and faster—with each successive bounce. When the bouncing sphere demolishes Houghton's house and lab, Peter vows to use the six remaining Furloy balls to make enough money to repair the damage. But if a Furloy ball is unleashed outdoors, it will fall into the sky.

Eventually Peter and Houghton triumph, performing the Indian Rope Trick and other antigravity feats. But they run afoul of a limping stranger who rejoices in the name Llewellyn Pierpont Boopfaddle…and his henchman, the professional wrestler Lord Ivan Big Bulk.

William Pène du Bois (1916 – 1993), an American artist and author raised in France, wrote and illustrated Peter Graves as well as his 1948 Newbery Award-winning steampunk novel The Twenty-One Balloons. In his foreword to Peter Graves, Pène du Bois predicts that some day we'll all travel via matter transmission.

—F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre

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