Connections with the Other Fantasy. . . and Real Worlds. . . of ERB
Edgar Rice Burroughs devised connecting threads through most of the
stories of his various fantastic worlds. He peppered the introduction to
his Venus series with many references to already established characters,
places and events. The hero, Carson Napier, is son of a British Army officer
and a woman from Virginia. The choice of the name Napier was a nod
to an old military friend. He makes mention of Jason Gridley of Tarzana,
California, who had invented the Gridley Wave communications device already
used in the Pellucidar and Mars stories. Burroughs, himself appears
in the opening chapter of the first book of the series. Carson Napier visits
him and secretary Ralph Rothmund in the ERB, Inc. offices in Tarzana. Napier's
original plan is to travel to John Carter's Mars in a rocket ship.
Rice Burroughs: Grandfather of American Science Fiction
There are those who claim
there is very little that would qualify as actual science fiction in Burroughs'
books -- that he wrote only fantasy adventure stories. He certainly
cast the mold for this type of story with his first novel -- A Princess
of Mars of 1911 -- and inspired countless imitators in this genre.
A closer look at his body of work, however, makes a strong case for bestowing
the title: The Grandfather of American Science Fiction upon
this author. His Mars and Venus books especially, are rife with descriptions
of incredible futuristic inventions, many of which we now take for granted
as everyday devices. We have already compiled a list of the Barsoomian
"inventions and prophecies" in ERBzine
0459 In this second entry of the series we shall look at
the imaginative inventions, societies and flora and fauna he created for
his fantastic world of Amtor.
Early passing reference is made to the Gridley Wave -- a means of communication
invented by Tarzana's Jason Gridley and used in many of the Burroughs series,
including the Amtor titles. Also mentioned is the 0-220 Dirigible made
of the super-strong and light metal called Harbenite. This air ship had
carried Tarzan and others to the hollow Earth's core (Pellucidar) through
the north polar opening.
Napier spins his experiences as a movie stuntman and the resources from
his family fortune into research on Rocket Cars. To facilitate this research
he pilots a very modern amphibious aircraft between the US and Mexico.
Eventually he perfects a one-man rocket space ship and plans an interplanetary
trip to Mars. He builds a rocket base on Guadaloupe Island off Lower
California. Necessary trajectories are calculated and the rocket is launched
off a 1-mile-long track. The launch is successful but he is diverted off
course to Venus by the unexpected gravitational pull of the moon.
Carson Napier, who was raised in India by the mystic Chand Kabi, has
acquired a telepathic ability which enables him to converse with people
at a distance or to project mental images through space. He uses a Thought
Shape Projector to make his first contact with ERB. Later he sends
images and thoughts by telepathy across millions of miles of space.
He uses this as a means of sending his Venus adventures to scribe Burroughs.
Napier's Interplanetary Rocket
The ship contains a cabin with a heavily-stuffed chair on a framework
and track equipped with shock absorbers to absorb the g-forces, a control
panel, berth, table, chair, writing materials ? bookshelf, and a galley
behind the cabin. There is a wide-angle telescope/periscope and port holes
in the keel and port and starboard sides.
A compartment next to the cabin serves as a battery room, containing
storage batteries for lighting, heating, cooking, dynamos, and gas engine.
The stern of the ship contains rockets with an intricate mechanical
device by which they are fed to the firing chambers by means of controls
in the cabin.
A compartment in front of the cabin houses water and oxygen tanks as
well as odds and ends to make the journey more comfortable.
The ship is also equipped with parachutes to retard its speed as it
enters the atmosphere for landing. Carson descends through the heavy cloud
cover of Venus by means of a parachute -- this means of descent would become
the norm for real-life returning astronauts and cosmonauts many years later.
Ships guns are mounted on disappearing carriages behind sliding hatches
and have 15-foot-long barrels of 8-inch diameter with finger-size bores.
They have ingenious and complicated sights and no breech opening. A rotating
crank opens a shutter permitting radiation from element 93 to meet with
element 97, which releases a deadly T-ray that destroys all matter, unlike
the R-rays that destroy only animal tissue. Eventually the T-rays destroy
the gun itself, even though the metal in them is somewhat impervious to
the T-ray. This metal is, in fact, also used as armour under various situations
to defend against the T-ray.
Ship propulsion results from the meeting of Element 93 (Vik-Ro) with
a substance called Lor which is made up mostly of Element 95 (Yor-San).
This interaction results in the absolute annihilation of Lor, releasing
all of its energy. This is 18,000,000,000 times as much energy than what
would result from ordinary combustion. The fuel for the life of a ship
can be carried in a pint jar.
There are onboard instruments of extreme precision that can locate land
masses at great distances -- accurately indicating the distances. Other
instruments determine speed, mileage and drift as well as depth soundings
anywhere within a radius of a mile from the ship. All of these instruments
utilize the radioactivity of the nuclei of various elements to accomplish
their readings. "What we know as the gamma ray, being uninfluenced by the
most powerful magnetic forces is the ideal medium for this purpose. It
moves in a straight line and at uniform speed until it meets and obsruction,
where it is retarded. The instrument records this retardation and the distance
at which it occurs."
Amtorian Inventions and Conventions
serum injections kill bacteria and allow people to live for hundreds of
years or forever. This "serum of longevity" was perfected on Venus a thousand
years before Carson's arrival. " It is injected every two years and not
only provides immunity from all diseases but insures the complete restoration
of all wasted tissue."
Strict birth control is enforced so as to keep the population constant.
Salves are used to prevent the growth of beards. The heads of criminals
are treated with this salve -- they are all recognized by their bald heads.
Doctors have to file records of their cases that are accessible to the
public. No one goes to unsuccessful doctors.
Cloth and cords are made from the strong silky fibre called Tarel collected
from the webs of the giant Targo spider. Targo hunters use javelins with
attached Tarel cords so that they can be retrieved.
Ray handguns fire R-rays. The weapons contain an element that
emits a destructive ray of extremely short wave length when it comes in
contact with another rare element. When fired they give off a sound similar
to that of an x-ray machine. Several metals impervious to these rays are
used in shields and as small shutters in the weapon. The ray is destructive
The most popular game on Amtor is Tork.
Burroughs imaginative description of the Amtorian
city of Havatoo:
The city of Havatoo practices selective breeding. Child raising is only
allowed by those fit to raise children -- only those physically, morally
or mentally fit. No defective infants are allowed to live in an attempt
to eradicate bad genes and to promote good genes.
Politicians have been replaced with the greatest minds of Havatoo. The
government has no laws and no single ruler. It is ruled by a Quintumvirate
that just guides and judges. The Sanjong (5 Kings) consists of a biologist,
psychologist, chemist, physicist and soldier. Since they write exams every
two years, any citizen can become a member. They are governed without laws
-- only natural law -- because they have bred a race of people, who know
the difference between right and wrong. Everyone is equal and they all
take turns doing harder labour.
A great deal of imaginative thinking has gone into city planning. Cities
are laid out in districts of specialized hubs. Pedestrian traffic is limited
to second level walkways connected by viaducts at all intersections.
The motors of the cars require no warm-up period and are silent and
vibrationless. Vehicles are energized from a central power station
from which power is transmitted in four frequencies.
The rooftops of the buildings are reserved for gardens.
Illumination in Amtorian buildings comes from small suspended devices
which provide light as bright as sunlight but with no glare. The streets
are lighted by brilliant but soft artificial lights with no apparent source.
They give off no heat and only soft shadows.
War has been replaced by stadium blood sports -- a result of the realization
that aggression and violence are natural human emotions and that it is
better to channel these passions through being spectators of violent sports.
"Our pyschologists discovered that man must have some outlet for this age-old
urge. If it be not given him by wars or dangerous games he will seek it
in the commission of crimes or in quarrels with his fellows. It is better
that it is so. Without it man would stagnate, he would die of ennui."
The Chemists of Havatoo have produced lightweight synthetic wood and
steel and fabrics of incredible strength and durability. Using these materials,
Carson was able to build an amazingly light and powerful aircraft -- the
Anotar -- which he powered by the elements vik-ro and yor-san. Their interaction
brought about an atomic type reaction which totally annhilates the substance
lor that is contained in the yor-san. Carson claims that he could hold
enough fuel in the palm of his hand to last 50 years -- the projected lifetime
The communications system is wireless, transmitterless and receiverless.
A rival jong, Skor, in his search for the secret of life, reproduced
body cells which instills synthetic life into the dead taken from graves.
There is no blood in their dead veins. Their dead minds are automated only
by thoughts Skor sends to them through telepathic means. He has made himself
jong and created his own subjects.
In Carson of Venus the Amlot theaters were of a most unusual
nature. The audiences, seated with their backs to the stage, observed the
action as it was reflected in a huge mirror placed on the back wall:
"[This action] by a system of very ingenious lighting stands out brilliantly.
By manipulation of the lights the scenes may be blacked out completely
to denote a lapse of time or permit a change of scenery. Of course the
reflections of the actors are not life size, and therefore the result gives
an illusion of unreality reminiscent of puppet shows or the old days of
silent pictures." This odd method of watching a play had originated in
the past when the acting profession was in disrepute; to be seen on the
stage was considered a disgrace, and accordingly, this system was devised
so that nobody could stare directly at the performers.
Burroughs also hinted at the airplane bombing
raids that played such a major role in WWII a few years later. Both Carson
and Duare, whom he teaches to pilot a plane, fly over the Zanis (Nazi-like
attackers) and drop the deadly R-ray and T-ray bombs. His description of
the Zanis is a biting satire of Hitler's Nazis that would plunge the world
into global conflict a few years later.
Setting: ERB's Fantastic World of Amtor
of Amtor by ERB (click)
Amtor (Venus) is a hot, cloud-covered, greenhouse-like world covered with
huge towering trees and lush vegetation. The inhabitants, the Amtorians,
believe that Amtor, a vast disc, floats on a sea of molten rock which occasionally
penetrates the surfact through volcanoes. They are also convinced that
there is fire above since when there is a break in the cloud cover they
glimpse the fiery sun and feel its consuming heat. When rents in the clouds
occur at night they believe that the myriad stars are sparks from the eternal
fiery furnace. "The relative proximity of the sun lights up the inner cloud
envelope brilliantly, but it is a diffused light that casts no well defined
shadows nor produces contrasting highlights. . . . the result is a soft
and beautiful pastel."
"There is no Amtorian word for "universe," neither is there any for
"sun," "moon," "star," or "planet" as they cannot see beyond the thick
cloud cover that envelopes the planet. Their maps of Amtor
show three concentric circles. "Between the two inner circles lay a circular
belt designated as 'Trabol,' which means warm country. Here the boundaries
of seas, continents, and islands were traced to the edges of the two circles
that bounded it, in some places crossing these boundaries as though marking
the spots at which venturesome explorers had dared the perils of an unknown
land. . . . [Trabol] entirely surrounds Strabol, which lies in the center
of Amtor. Strabol is extremely hot; its land is covered with enormous forests
and dense undergrowth and is peopled by huge land animals, reptiles, and
birds, its warm seas swarming with monsters of the deep. No Man has ventured
far into Strabol and lived to return." The outer band beyond Strabol, called
Karbol ". . . lies in the cold country. There it is as cold as Strabol
is hot. There are strange animals there, too, and adventurers have returned
with tales of fierce human beings clothed in fur. But it is an inhospitable
land into which there is no occasion to venture, and into which few dare
penetrate far, for fear of being precipitated over the rim and into the
molten sea." . . . "Amtor is a huge disk with an upturned rim, like a great
saucer. It floats upon a sea of molten metal and rock, a fact that is incontrovertibly
proved by the gushing forth of this liguid mass occasionally from the summits
of mountains, whenever a hole has been burned in the bottom of Amtor. Karbol,
the cold country, is a wise provision of nature that tempers the terrific
heat that must constantly surge about the outer rim of Amtgor. Above Amtor,
and entirely surrounding her, above the molten sea, is a chaos of fire
and flame. From this our clouds protect us. Occasionally there have occurred
rifts in the clouds, and at such times the heat from the fires above, when
the rifts occurred in the daytime, has been so intense as to wither vegetation
and destroy life, while the light that shone through was of blinding intensity.
When these rifts occurred at night there was no heat, but we swaw the sparks
from the fire shining above us."
Gravity is about 12% less on Venus than on earth.
"Hundreds of years ago the jongs of Vepaja ruled a great country. It was
not this forest island where you now find us , but a broad empire that
embraced a thousand islands, extending from Strabol to Karbol. It included
broad land masses and great oceans; it was graced by mighty cities; and
it boasted a wealth and commerce unsurpassed through all the centuries
before or since."
The Amtorians have a strange alphabet with which ERB has added for decoration
in the margin around the Amtor map he has drawn and included as an illustration
in the books. The alphabet consists of twenty-four characters,
five of which represent vowel sounds, and these are the only vowel sounds
that the Venusan vocal cords seem able to articulate. All the characters
of the alphabet have the same value, there being no capital letters. Their
system of punctuation differs from ours, and is more practical; for example,
before one begins to read a sentence, he knows by the mark which precedes
it whether it is exclamatory, interrogative, a reply to an interrogation,
or a simple statement. Characters having values similar to the comma and
semicolon are used much as we use these two punctuation marks; there is
no colon; the character that functions as does our period follows each
sentence; the question mark and exlamation point precede the sentences,
the nature of which they determine. A peculiarity of the Venusan language
that renders it easy to master is the absence of irregular verbs. The verb
root is never altered for voice, mode, tense, number, or person; distinctions
that are achieved by the use of several simple, auxiliary words.
The Amtorian day consists of 26 hours, 56 minutes, 4 seconds of earth time.
This is divided into twenty equal periods called te, roughly equivalent
to the earth hour (80.895 earth minutes). On shipboard the hours are sounded
by a trumpeter with a distinguishing bar of music for each hour of the
day. The first hour, or one o'clock, corresponds to sunrise. One of the
common units of time measurement is the Vir, which is equivalent to four
"The Amtorians divide the circumference of a circle into a thousand
parts to arrive at their hita, or degree; and the kob is one tenth of a
degree of longitude at the equator (or what the Amtorians call The Small
Circle), roughly about two and a half earth miles; therefore a thousand
kobs would be about two thousand five hundred miles."
The Amtorian greeting is "Jodades" which
The response to this greeting is: "Ra jodades."