Edgar Rice Burroughs (l875-l950) is known as
the Grandfather of American Science Fiction. He predicted the invention
of radar, sonar, television, teletype, the radio compass, the automatic
pilot, homing devices on bombs and torpedoes, genetic cloning, living organ
transplants, antigravity propulsion and many other concepts deemed totally
fantastic in his time. His soaring imagination, coupled with the sure instinct
of a master storyteller, assures him a position of honor among American
writers of the twentieth century.
Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) was one of the
great pioneers of modern Science Fiction, being one of the first writers
to consistently popularize extrapolations of the then-current science of
the early Twentieth Century. Much of his best SF occurred on the planet
Barsoom, the wonderful alternate Mars created by his fertile imagination.
Astronomically, he was describing Mars the way a lot of astronomers described
it at the time and his picture of a dying Mars with the ochre dead sea
bottoms, canals, exotic landscapes and an atmosphere factory which provided
an artificial atmosphere were almost plausible.
-- George T. McWhorter -- Curator, Burroughs Memorial Collection / Editor:
ERB was also one of the first to explore essentially
alien beings and their psychology and this was possibly his most lasting
impact on science fiction. The John Carter stories are characterized by
incredible scientific inventions, a disregard for the laws of nature as
we know them, and a somewhat male chauvinistic barbaric world. Despite
elementary plots which require constant suspension of disbelief and characters
who are shallow and predictable, the series has made immense contributions
to the field of serious science fiction.
Because of the sensationalist approach of the
Burroughs stories, he may never be appreciated as a great author by professors
of English, but Burroughs has made his mark on a potentially more influential
group of people: the deans of modern science fiction writers, who have
looked to Burroughs for inspiration and, at times, material. References
to John Carter and Barsoom abound in current fiction. Many famous authors
have cited the Burroughs works as profound influences upon their style
and perception of science fiction: Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ray
Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Carl Sagan and a host of lesser-known
Although the SF novels of ERB often have been
accused of being weak on science, a careful study of his body of work,
especially in the Barsoom and Amtor series, turns up an incredible array
of scientific predictions -- the fruition of which we now take for granted.
In the following document we have provided descriptions of the many inventions
and future technologies prophesized by Mr. Burroughs in those long ago,
early years of the Twentieth Century.
Scientifiction was the term coined in the
'20s to describe ERB's style of imaginative, fantasy adventure.
Barsoom was the name Burroughs applied
to the red planet Mars which he described as an often hostile place with
low gravity, and as having lost most of its oxygen and water.
Atmosphere Factory provides the artificial
atmosphere of Mars through the powers of the Ninth Ray -- a ray
which is an inherent property of all light. The factory is a huge, completely
unassailable building which covers about four square miles and towers 200
feet in the air. There is only one tiny door in the massive walls, which
are about 20 feet thick and the roof is guarded from attack by aircraft
by a glass covering five feet thick. Entry is gained through a series of
three doors, controlled by a set of nine thought waves. The Ninth Ray
is separated from the other rays of the sun by means of a set of finely
adjusted instruments on the sprawling roof of the factory, three-quarters
of which is used for reservoirs in which the Ninth Ray is stored. Certain
proportions of refined electric vibrations are combined with it, and the
result is pumped to the five principal air centers of the planet, where,
contact with the ether of space transforms it into atmosphere. There is
sufficient reserve of the stored Ninth Ray to maintain the present
atmosphere for 1,000 years. The only danger is that some accident might
befall the pumping apparatus, a battery of twenty radium pumps, any one
of which is equal to the task of furnishing all Mars with the atmosphere
compound. Each is used for a day at a time. Two men are in charge of this
plant, each of whom spends half a Martian year, at a time, alone in the
plant. The only real fears of attack are from the green Martians
or some demented red man, as all Barsoomians realize that the very existence
of every form of life on Mars is dependent upon the uninterrupted working
of this plant.
International air travel moves both freight
Full-Scale Air Battles between powerful
air fleets took place on Barsoom long before the importance of airpower
in war was accepted on Earth.
Airship hangars & landing pads on roofs
Eighth Ray or Antigravity Ray is the ray
of propulsion. It repels aircraft from gravity and is used in buoyancy
tanks. It allows all Barsoomian aircraft to hover anywhere. It is an inherent
property of all light.
Ninth Ray combines with the ether to create
a breathable atmosphere on Barsoom.
Sun Ray Tank: A tank in which light is trapped for later use
(as opposed to converting sunlight to energy). (WM)
Airships range in size from single
seaters to giant 10,000-man craft.
Equibilibrimotors or flying belts are one-man
flying machines, consisting of a broad belt, similar to an earthly life
belt, filled with enough eighth ray to equalize the pull of gravity. Attached
to the back of the belt is a small radium motor and controls are positioned
on the front of the belt. Projecting from each side of the upper rim of
the belt is a strong, rigid, light wing with small hand levers for quickly
adjusting its position. The Equibilibrimotors are rented out for public
transport. City guards fly patrol in them.
One-man surfboard-like fliers are equipped
with a wind-screen and travel at speeds up to1000 mph.
Public flier taxis
Ground fliers are of two different designs.
In the north polar region the tires of this wheeled motor vehicle
are actually rubber-like gas bags filled with the eighth Barsoomian ray.
The flier is propelled along the ground by a motor-driven propeller. Throughout
most of the rest of Barsoom the ground flier is just a modified aircraft
designed for use on, or a short distance above the ground.
Military aircraft patrol the skies
Space craft guided by artificial brains
similar to today's computers were invented by Fal Siva, a scientist in
Spacecraft capable of reaching the moon Thuria
was developed by Gal Nar, a scientist of Zodanga. Dejah Thoris was abducted
and transported to the moon in such a vehicle.
Spaceship propulsion employs a technique
of combining a propulsion ray with the highly concentrated gravitational
forces of nearby celestial bodies and a concentration of Ray L (cosmic
rays) which are collected from space and discharged at high velocities
from propulsion tubes at the ship's stern.
Astral Projection: John Carter eventually
masters the ability to project himself between Mars and Earth at will.
Controlling Destination Compass is a directional
compass used for navigation in aircraft (this device was called a gyro-compass
in "Giant of Mars"). It is actually a computer-driven automatic pilot perfected
by Carthoris. The pilot sets the desired latitude and longitude and the
device then navigates to the location, shuts down the propulsion, and lowers
the craft to land. A warning bell is often incorporated to awaken the sleeping
Altitude Ranging is another feature of
the Controlling Destination Compass which was designed to prevent collisions.
Sonar or Radar devices are used by Fliers
to warn of approaching obstacles. The ship is brought to a halt until pilot
Air and Ground Traffic Control: All traffic
in Okar is controlled by intricate flight control systems similar to our
modern-day air traffic control networks.
Airship weaponry includes rapid fire
guns and the larger radium cannons which fire explosive radium
projectiles. A variety of bombs are also used.
Radium rifles are an extremely deadly weapon
with a range of 300 miles. They fire small calibre explosive radium
bullets which explode when exposed to light. The bullets are covered
with a thin coating that breaks on contact with the target, thus creating
an explosion. This is the principal firearm used by the green men. Many
models are equipped with wireless finders and sighters and the Therns
or white Martians use a model with an attached shield. This
lightweight weapon has a wood stock - a rare material on Barsoom - and
a long metal barrel composed of a specially tempered alloy of aluminum
Radium Pistols are a firearms with a shorter
range than the radium rifle.
Atom Gun is a somewhat different kind of
pistol or rifle described in "Giant of Mars."
Disintegrating Ray of Tul Axtar was invented
by Phor Tak, the scientist of Jahar. It destroys metal, wood, or flesh,
depending on the setting of the machine gauges. It is of a much shorter
range than the radium cannon.
Ghastly blue protective paint was later
developed by Phor Tak to negate the effects of the disintegrating ray.
Phor Tak's Flying Death is a guided missile
attracted to Tul Axtar's protective blue paint or other objects to which
it has been programmed to hit. The missiles were covered with invisible
paint but were never used as they were destroyed by conquering Helium.
Carborundum Aluminum was a lightweight,
impenetrable material used in the construction of Martian fighting ships.
Invisibilty paint is used on fliers as
a cloaking device. This invention by Phor Tak causes the line of vision
to pass completely around it, making the object to which it is applied
Invisibility Sand is a Sasoomian submicroscopic,
magnetic sand composed of prismatic crystals. It has the same characteristics
as Invisibility Paint. Its many uses include concealing aircraft and camouflaging
Magnetic tower of Kadabra - the Great Power
or Guardian of the North - is a gigantic electromagnet built over the
north magnetic pole in Okar. It has the power to desroy approaching air
fleets. It is controlled by the technician Solan.
Magnetic Elevator: A transport device that uses very powerful
electromagnets for propulsion.(GM)
Carrion Caves are a series of 27 caverns
connecting the hothouse cities of the North Pole with the outside world,
beneath the ice cliffs. Here the yellow men of Okar bring their dead so
that the stench will discourage any invasion of their territory.
Pumping Stations of the subterranean Omean
Sea: The only entrance to the Omean Sea is through a crater opening
in a flat-topped black mountain rising from the south polar ice cap. To
keep it from filling above a certain level, the Black Pirates have four
great pumping stations that force the oversupply back into the reservoirs
from which the red men draw the water which irrigates their farm lands.
Submarines are used in the Omean Sea.
Advanced Mental Powers were developed by
Lotharians who create imaginary bowmen for defence.
Advanced Hypnotic Powers were developed
by Kaldanes who control others through mind control.
"Canals": What appears as canals through
our Jasoomian telescopes are actually fertile, irrigated strips of farmland.
Water is collected in immense underground reservoirs at the poles from
the melting ice caps.This water is pumped through long conduits to the
various populated centers where it is distributed to farms and cities.
Along either side of these conduits, and extending their entire length,
lie the cultivated districts. They are divided into tracts of about equal
size, each under the supervision of one or more government officers. Instead
of flooding the surface of the fields, and thus wasting immense quantities
by evaporation, the water is carried underground through a vast network
of small pipes directly to the roots of the vegetation.
Underground transport links the Twin Cities
of Helium which are 75 miles apart
Pneumatic tube transport systems are part
of the rapid transit system between the Twin Cities. Passengers are propelled
through the 75-mile tubes in eight-foot-long bullet-shaped cars.
Pits & passageways under cities
Ramps are much more common than stairs over
most of Barsoom.
Home Security is achieved by using hydraulics
to lift houses up at night for safety.
Door Locking Mechanisms are controlled
by a series of light rays of varying intensity for specific lengths of
Surveillance cameras are used in Zodanga's
Directional lighting: In Barsoomian
street lighting, the light leaves the lamp, goes around in a circle, illuminates
everything in its path and then returns to the lamp. SM
Torches of Horz are cylindrical portable
lighting devices with a central core which glows when exposed to air. The
secret technique of producing this central core has been lost for centuries.
Forandus is the hardest and lightest metal
on Barsoom. It is commonly used in the making of wall panels.
Radium Light Bulbs are the principal means
of artificial lighting on Mars. They are hemispherical glass bowls, filled
with radium powder, which gives a clear but glareless light almost indefinitely.
The bulb is never extinguished, but is fitted with an opaque cover when
not in use.
Telescopic Cameras are capable of taking
pictures of Earth objects as small as a blade of grass. PM11
Glass-Domes are used to cover whole cities
in northern polar regions. Here, solar energy is trapped and stored in
Solar Energy used in northern cities for
heating and a source of energy.
Concentrated energy food tablets
Food Automats prepare and serve food entirely
by a mechanical apparatus. The diner selects the food to be served by pressing
Healing powders and ointments of remarkable
powers can heal wounds of any severity.
ID Rings WM
ID Machines are used in northern nation
of Okar to measure, weigh and photograph people. Copies of this information
are reproduced instantly in offices all over the region.
Dance of Barsoom One-Stringed Instrument
is an exotic instrument made of skeel (a Barsoomian hardwood) and shaped
to fit the left forearm of the dancers. Characters are inscribed upon it
denoting the pitch and length of its tone. There is also a ring wound with
gut which is worn between the first and second joints of the index finger
of the right hand and which, when passed over the string, elicits the single
tone required of the dancer.
Invisibility Tablets are used by the invisible
warriors of Invak and Onvak in the Forest of Lost Men. It renders them
invisible except under special artificial lighting in their cities. A tablet
takes effect after an hour and lasts for one day.
Radio Technology: There is a great variety
of radio-related equipment from large to miniature with various modes of
transmission & reception, secret frequencies, transmission codes,
Nerve Index Machines control the bodies
of people. This machine was invented by scientist Myr-lo for the Jeddak
of Kamtol who holds all his subjects and slaves in absolute control. The
machine is keyed to their nervous systems via shortwaves and enables him
to kill all escapees or rebellious subjects with the simple pushing of
Photostatic copiers which reproduce images
in an instant are used in the Temple of Knowledge.
Computer Fax and Teletype Machines record
and transmit data.
Gridley Wave is a type of radio wave discovered
by Jason Gridley of Tarzana, California, and is also used by Barsoomian
scientists. Ulysses Paxton transmitted the story of Tan Hadron of Hastor
to Burroughs via this medium.
Longitudinal Positions (Central Meridian)
are reckoned from the ancient city of Exum.
Through Ras Thavas of Toonol, the Mastermind
of Mars, ERB presented a long string of innovations long before they appeared
Transplanting of Organs through sophisticated
Restoring of Severed Limbs
Multi-Focal Lenses in eye glasses
Sophisticated Hearing Aids
Intricate Brain Surgery
Instruments to study thought waves of inhabitants
of distant planets
Freezing and Reviving of Bodies, i.e. suspended
Homads - synthetic men
Malagors - a recreation of extinct huge flying
birds on which the Homads rode
Television - invented by Ras Thavas
The illustrated version of this feature appears
0247: ERB Future Visions - St. John Barsoomian Gallery I
0248: ERB Future Visions - St. John Barsoomian Gallery II
0249: ERB Future Visions - St. John Barsoomian Gallery III