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Volume 1421

Part I
Den Valdron
Part of the Exploring Barsoom Series


Thuria (Phobos)
Gino D'Achille art: Ballantine 1973
In Swords of Mars a pair of rival Zodangan scientists build sealed airships designed to travel into outer space.  One of them is piloted by an electronic brain susceptible to telepathic influence.

Gods of Mars 1st Edition cover art by Frank SchoonoverGods of Mars Ballantine Edition ~ Robert Abbett Art

All right, if we accept the concept of Barsoomian airships it should be an inevitable development that the Barsoomians should achieve near space travel.   Since their airship technology works on gravity repulsion, there is no reason they cannot leave the atmosphere.   In fact, in Gods of Mars an Airship which John Carter is on goes so high that the crew almost asphyxiates.  There is also Barsoomian folklore of an airship that made it all the way up to orbital levels and remains there with its dead crew, a tiny third satellite.   So, it is no surprise that Barsoomians make it into space, the only question is why didnít they do it sooner?

 One answer might be propulsion.   Barsoomian airship technology works by essentially negating gravity, but out in interplanetary space, there would be no gravity to negate.   Barsoomian science lacks an effective propulsion technology, and there is little evidence apart from their radium pistols, that their technology ever developed in directions which might allow such propulsion technology to evolve.  There is little or no evidence that Barsoomian technology, for instance, ever had a fossil fuels or hydrocarbon stage.    Rather, other methods were so much more efficient that  rival technologies were strangled at the outset.   Without such a technology, rockets or the equivalent, there would be no hope of reaching Earth, Venus or Mercury, or any other world.  A Barsoomian expedition would flounder in space.  For Barsoomian technology, travel further than Thuria and Cluros would be impossible.

 Despite this limitation, Barsoomian scientists are able to monitor Earth and to detect life on other planets.   With respect to Earth we are told the Barsoomian instruments can capture Earthly images as small as blade of grass.  With respect to Venus and Mercury, we are told that Barsoomians are well aware that life and intelligence exists on those worlds, but little else is known.

 This poses an interesting question.  Why wasnít the life John Carter found on Thuria known of on Barsoom?   Surely a telescope camera capable of photographing blades of grass on Earth fifty million miles away should have been able to spot signs of life, and of intelligent life on Thuria, a bare few thousand miles away.

 However, when John Carter arrives on Thuria, he discovers not just life, but civilization, and at least two races of sentient beings.   What theyíre doing on such a tiny world is another mystery.

 There is an interesting bit of discussion prior to the voyage where John Carter and Fal Sivas discuss the merits and hazards of Thuria.  Carter argues that proportionately, Barsoomians should be thousands of times stronger or larger than any hypothetical Thurians, adjusting for differences in size and gravity between worlds. 

 Fal Sivas responds that they will shrink upon approaching Thuria, until they are proportionately sized to that world.   What an odd contention!   It suggests that Carter and other Earthmen must have shrunk going to Barsoom, and that a Barsoomian might grow going to Earth.   More to the point, it makes absolutely no sense, it is physics for imbeciles, and certainly not borne out by any science existing in Burroughs time or after.

 Are we looking at a duel of scientific illiterates here?   In John Carterís case, certainly.  He is a fighting man, not a scientist.   In the case of Fal Sivas, we might have less confidence, but taking into account his rivalry, his cowardice, his insane schemes, we must conclude that he is not a true scientist, but that all too common related species: A crackpot.   He has had a couple of good ideas, and no shortage of bad ones.

 Allow me to offer an alternate theory of Thuria. 

 There is no special reason that Barsoomians could not have traveled to Thuria ages before before John Carterís time.   All the critical elements of technology were there, from anti-gravity, to artificial life support for a long long time.  The artificial life support domes of Okar and Panar, and the atmosphere plant, for instance, date to the time of the collapse of the Barsoomian ecology and civilization.

 In fact, there is substantial evidence that Barsoom had passed its technological apex and deteriorated by John Carterís time.  There are references to a number of feats which current Barsoomian technology could no longer duplicate, such as indefinitely glowing lights, or the  atmosphere plant.

 Given this, it is likely that Barsoomians did in fact travel to Thuria, or at least to outer orbits around Barsoom.   And in fact, there is one slight bit of folklore that suggests such travel might in fact have taken place - the myth that the Black Pirates are derived from Thuria.

 If they did travel, what did they likely find out there?  Probably nothing, barren rock.

 But letís speculate a bit here.  Perhaps the ancient Barsoomians were a little more ambitious.   Remember, even on its deathbed, with the environment in a state of collapse, oceans evaporating and green hordes making war, the besieged Orovars were still able to construct a gigantic atmosphere plant to stabilize the planet.   The Okars were able to construct at least one polar dome with its own atmosphere plant, as did the Panars.   These are the accomplishments of a desperate civilization literally collapsing as it was building.   What could such a civilization do at the height of its powers?

 I would argue that the ancient Barsoomians created the Thuria that John Carter encounters.

 How?   Well, letís be realistic.   Thuria is far too small to hold an atmosphere or any significant amount of water.  Life on the surface of Thuria is a dead letter from the start. 

 But how about inside?   Life could exist in pockets or hollows found or created inside Thuria.  Burroughs certainly had no problem with hollow worlds, as we have seen with Pellucidar.  Life might exist in a hollow Thuria.   All the Barsoomians would have had to do would be to make sure it was sealed, install a sufficiently effective airlock, and pump in whatever they needed. 

 With an adequate rate of spin, centrifugal force would have created enough gravity to be Barsoom normal.   Again, Burroughs was aware that centrifugal force could alter the effect of gravity.   The gravity of Jupiter at its equator is reduced to manageable levels by this effect in The Skeleton Men of Jupiter.

 What Iím suggesting is that ancient Barsoomians took Thuria, converted it into an OíNeill colony and populated it.   They may well have done the same with Cluros.

 This is obviously a titanic effort.  Why should they do something like this?   There are several possible explanations.

 Perhaps Thuria was already hollow.   Thuria and Cluros, or Phobos and Deimos are probably captured asteroids or comets.   They, or Thuria may well have been hollow naturally.  Or, they may have begun as comets, essentially snowballs of ice, rock, hydrogen and other volatiles, which over billions of years accreted a hard shell of rock and metal.   In either case, the Barsoomians would have found a near ready made project.

 Alternately, Thuria may well have begun as a mining project, hollowed out to give Barsoomians a cache of special heavy metals not found normally on their world.   In this case, the creation or re-creation of Thuria as an OíNeill colony would have followed a lengthy period of industrial use.

 How much space would we be looking at inside Thuria.  Difficult to say for sure.  But assuming Thuria was a cylinder 21 miles long and 7 miles diameter, we would be looking at a maximum interior space of approximately 460 square miles.   At 15 by 5 a maximum of 235.  And at 10 by 3.5 a maximum of 110. 

 These space estimates are only estimates.   Some adjustments have to be made for the thickness of the skin of Thuria.   Perhaps these estimates should be reduced as much as 30% for this reason. It is likely that some measures must have been taken to allow light in, large window slits as conceived in modern versions of OíNeill colonies would have reduced surface area by another third.  This gives us a minimum range of 150 to 30 square miles internal area.

 Alternately, Barsoomians might have arranged the internal geography to be folded or scalloped or looped, potentially doubling the surface area, giving a maximum range of 900 to 220 square miles internal area.

Finally, Thuria might have been considerably larger than Phobos or Deimos.  Consider that John Carter describes Thuria as appearing round from the viewpoint of the surface of Barsoom.  But we know it is actually oblong.  Is Thuria orbiting with its long axis parallel to Barsoom?  If so, it should appear oblong.  If it is orbiting in a tumble, it will grow and shrink.  If it is orbiting with its long axis at right angles to Barsoom, then a Barsoomian would only see the end, would only see the width, not the length.   A Thuria with a 15 mile wide base, 45 miles long (much larger than either of the current Martian satellites, but perhaps viable if an existing satellite was used as the raw material to construct a new, hollow one, would have a maximum internal area of approximately 2100 square miles.

 These are all tiny by planetary standards, but at the same time, it is comparable to the surface area of the Kamtol valley, or the northern domes of the Okar and Panar.   In short, just large enough to sustain a viable pocket ecology and culture.   And large enough to sustain an adventure.

 As to the life found on Thuria, it is difficult to say for sure whether it is related to Barsoomian life, Burroughs barely describes most of it, and tends to describe it mostly in general and vague terms.   Thuria has forests, plants, animals and sentient creatures.

 Only one animal is described.   A four-legged creature with membranous wings and scaly skin.   Although not apparently known on Barsoom, it would not have appeared out of place there

 There is one suggestive overlap in the botanical sphere.   A man-eating vine, similar to the man-eating plants of Barsoom.

 The Tarids are simply Orovars with blue hair.  Whether this is a mutation which spread through an isolated population or whether this was actually a part of the Orovar genome is uncertain.  We know that bluebirds on Earth are not actually blue, their colour is actually light refracting through a lack of colour.  The Orovar appear to lack pigment compared to other Martian races, so perhaps this is the cause.   Tarid society seems to be organized roughly on the same lines as Barsoomian society, even to the point of the titles of Jeds and Jeddaks.  And like the Barsoomians, the Tarids have strong telepathic abilities. 

 A particularly interesting overlap is that the Tarids have mastered the art of psychic invisibility.  Down on Barsoom, the denizens of the cities of Invak and Onvak appear to have also mastered a form of invisibility.

 The biggest obstacle are the Masena.  Simply put, there is nothing like them on current Barsoom.   The plant men are one eyed, like the Masena, but so biologically different as to be unrelated.   The ears are set high up, as with the Green men and White Apes, but otherwise they share no characteristics.  The Masena are distinguished by a double mouth, a single central eye, and prehensile hands and feet.

 The prehensile hands and feet can be dismissed quickly as an arboreal evolution, or possibly an adaptation to lack of gravity.   The Masena may have originally been low gravity or zero gravity labourers on the early stages of mining and excavating Thuria.

 The other features are more difficult.  The upper mouth may simply be a modified enlarged nose, perhaps with a flexible lips to seal around breathing tubes. 

 The single eye seems unique.  Such creatures could not have effective binocular vision.   Does the comparatively huge single eye provide for a more detailed visual picture?   It is likely that the Masena, with its huge lens and cornea has a strong visual sense.  But there is little to explain it on Barsoom.

 My best guess is that the Masena may, on the evidence of the high set ears, be a modified dwarf version of the Green man/White ape stock.   Certainly the six limbed stock have substantial variations in eyes - we have the bizarre compound eye of the apt, the protruding eyes capable of independent movement of the Green men.  So, this may have been a variant. 

 We also note that many of Ras Thavas' hormads possessed variant features, including asymmetrical eyes, which may imply that the Masena may be a form of hormad that bred true. 

 Finally, Rykors who are effectively headless, and the Kangaroo-like Marsupials demonstrate the extreme plasticity of Barsoomian humanoids.

 This theory gives us a fascinating glimpse into the heights reached by the Barsoomian Orovar civilization, and leads us to speculate further.   Did the Orovars make it to Earth?   Are there Martian genes in terrestrial humans?   Perhaps this explains why, despite differences in anatomy and apparent evolutionary antecedents, John Carter was able to interbreed.   Did the Barsoomians make it to the Moon?  To Venus?  To Mercury?  To Jupiter?   Each of these worlds share human normal populations with unquestionably alien local populations, and even non-human intelligences.  Are the human appearing populations of those worlds transplanted Barsoomians, or at least, host to Barsoomian DNA?

 Consider the similarity of Poloda, the name of the world system in Beyond the Farthest Star to Polodonna, the Barsoomian term of Equator.

 Or, consider humans faculties for transmogrification between worlds.   At least two humans, John Carter and Ulysses Paxton, have been able to transport themselves from Earth to Mars.   And there appears to be at least one case of transport from Earth to Venus.  Perhaps terrestrial DNA has influenced the emergence

 Irregardless, we must contemplate that Thuria means the ancient Barsoomians were able to extend themselves and their technology into space, and there are more than a few suggestions that ancient times saw some greater degree of interplanetary travel.

~ Den Valdron
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