Official Edgar Rice Burroughs Tribute Site
Since 1996 ~ Over 15,000 Webpages & Webzines in Archive
Volume 1498

Den Valdron


click for larger image
Early Barsoom, Pre-Drought
The Beginnings of the End, or the Ends of the Beginning
The Planetary Crisis
The Shape of Modern Barsoom
Is Barsoom's Fate Inevitable?


Frazetta Doubleday Book Club ed.John Carter enters a strange new world when he wakes on Barsoom.   It is a world of contradictions, slavery and feudalism live cheek by jowl against rifles with exploding shells and anti-gravity sleds.   It is a world of unparalleled technology, but which still manages to cling to traditions of personal honour and swordsmanship.

It is a world that is past its prime and is arguably dying.   Certainly it is a world that has experienced a cataclysm, and this cataclysm now shapes the society and individuals who live in the aftermath.

But beyond a few particulars, the fact that the planet dried up, the shape and nature of this catastrophe is not at all clear.   In some stories we hear of whole nations fleeing across dried sea beds, looking for safety.  In others, there is a picture of gradual decay.   There are mighty ruined cities, still intact but abandoned. 

And there are historical anomalies like bowmen and sailing ships mixed with eternally glowing lights.   It's clear that there was a complex world and a complex history that preceded John Carter's present.

To truly appreciate John Carter's new world, we have to examine how that world has evolved to its present form, including a rough history of intelligent life on Mars.

Early Barsoom, Pre-Drought

The Barsoomian hominids, or first men, probably originated in the fertile equatorial region.   The black Martians claim to be the First Born and there is no need to challenge that claim.   The First Born, given their current habitats in Omean and Kamtol, probably emerged in fertile well watered, relatively warm and humid climates.   Their likely habitats were the sheltered bays at the southern regions of the northern hemisphere ocean, possibly even in or around Valles Marinis.

However, it is likely that Barsoomians began to speciate or diverge almost immediately after moving out of their favoured climate.   The First Born would have begun moving up the coastlines, advancing into colder, wet northern latitudes, and adapting accordingly.   These adaptations might have included a thicker layer of fat, facial hair, and a change in skin tone.   The resulting race was the yellow Okar who thrived in northern seas and shores.

Out on the great flat plains, nomadic wanderers evolved into the Kangaroo Men, of whom a remnant population remains in the Toonolian swamps.   Think about it for a second, Kangaroo leapers in swamps?   That's ridiculous.  The Kangaroo men evolved in another habitat, the plains, and the swamp simply became an isolated refuge.   The relic population of Kangaroo Men in the Toonolian Marshes is very suggestive, however.  It implies that the human races of Mars may once have been more diverse than the handful left today.  As to what these other human races may have been like, we can only guess, or perhaps refer to other chronicles of Mars from other writers.

The Orovar were the next major race to emerge.   The Orovars moved inland, crossing into the Southern hemisphere and adapting to hot dry climates.    They founded their culture upon the great sea, Torquas, occupying the Hellas basin, and built their cities, including their capital, Horz.   One subgroup of the Orovar occupied the Valley Dor around the Sea of Korus, actually the Argyre Basin, and became the Therns. 

But the bulk of the Orovar culture expanded back into the northern sea, eventually dominating the established societies of First Born and Okar.   As to how this was possible, given the entrenchment of the First Born and Okar on their home ground, there is an interesting possibility.  A major meteor strike in the Polar Ocean, the resulting tsunami and disruptions would have shattered the north polar societies, while the Hellas basin people were untouched.   The Orovars expansion probably took place after such an event.

Of course, there may have been other reasons.   The Orovars may have simply developed better technology as the 19th century Europeans did, or better resistance to climate changes and diseases as the Mongols did. 

Or they may simply have been more organized, with their Hellas based society forming a single state or Empire which the smaller nations were unable to resist.  Earth's history is full of peripheral or hinterland regions on the edges of cutting edge civilizations simply expanding until they were large enough to dominate the core.   Macedonia happened to the Greek city states, Persia happened to the Mesopotamians, the Mongols and Turks invaded China and Islam, on the edges of Europe the United States and Russia grew into super-states.

The recurring feature of history is that the centre of civilization is always crowed, the factions and states war constantly and no one faction or state ever gathers enough power to dominate.   Instead, the opportunity is on the periphery, where a small weak state which is a marginal backwater has almost indefinite room to grow...  And it grows, until finally it becomes an Empire or Superstate large enough to dominate the core civilization.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that the Orovars became the dominant race in both the northern and southern hemispheres.   This did not mean that other races disappeared, indeed, by all accounts both the Okar and the First Born continued to prosper.

We don't know very much about the technology and society of this earlier Barsoom.   It appears that during this golden age, the technology was not too high.  Ships were powered by sail, flight if used was by riding giant birds, the principle weapon was the longbow.

The Orovars appear to have been a commercial/mercantile society, somewhat like the Phoenicians or the British.   They were great sailors and traders and plied all the five seas.   There are some signs that the Orovars may have been formally constituted as an Empire, or perhaps as Empires, rather than as City states or even nation states. 

Most of the human societies of Barsoom seem to have been oriented around seas and rivers.  The constant refrain of references to the human races of the past is of seashore or rivershore societies.  Even the origin legends of the First Born have the race emerging on the edge of a river.   The legends of the Orovars are invariably bound up with stories of ships, harbours and ports, and of a nautical society.

Obviously, there were likely some inland human races and cultures.  The Kangaroo men were one.  But they seem to have existed on the margins of human culture, the mainstream were clearly oriented to the seas.

Possibly the lack of interest or commitment to the inlands was because these inlands, particularly the highlands were already occupied by another intelligent species:   The Green Men.   Adapted for colder drier highland climates, the Green Men maintained a parallel culture.   Any inland human cultures were probably confined to lowlands, with the midlands being a meeting point between the two races.   Their very different preferred habitats and adaptations to those habitats probably kept conflicts minimal.

The Beginnings of the End, or the Ends of the Beginning

What happened?   At first, nothing much.   The seas receded.   It appears that initially, the effects were gradual, taking place over lifetimes.   The Cities of the Orovars and others clearly did not perceive any great crisis.  They simply built their harbours further out to the new waterlines, and over time, may have moved their cities closer to the receding shores.   There are indications in the old ruins of docks being rebuilt further and further out, and of neighborhoods, even cities moving or developing to follow the shores.   Sometimes cities were abandoned, and new cities built closer to shorelines.

Obviously, people of the day weren't seeing this as a catastrophe.   In fact, there seems to be very little indication of crisis at this point.   You don't rebuild your harbours or relocate your neighborhoods in a crisis, you abandon them.   The response of the early Martians, suggests that in its early phases the drought was extremely gradual, with the response to it being gradual and incremental.   Instead of perceiving a problem, people made small adjustments to their lifestyles and plans.

We don't know how long this period of gradual decay or desiccation went on, but it may have been for a prolonged period.   There are signs of cities being abandoned and rebuilt far out onto ancient sea beds.   We can assume that over centuries, the surface area of the seas and oceans must have diminished by a substantial amount without the human cultures going into crisis mode.

Instead, what we would have seen over millennia is a continual rebuilding of cities, restablishments of communities, but an increasingly poor community.   It would not just be the costs of reconstructing cities over and over.  But the sea was the highway, it was the source of wealth and food through fishing, it was the route for trade and commerce.   Reduce the size of the seas, and more and more areas become inaccessible, the resources available along the shores become narrower and poorer, the quality and volume of seafood drops.

Suddenly, travel between widely separated regions, like the three lobes of the Polar Ocean (the three northern seas) becomes difficult or impossible.   Communication with the Hellas Sea involves increasingly longer portages over increasingly harsher territory.  Eventually communication between the seas stops.   The worldwide society of the Orovars becomes a series of isolated groups, huge groups, but still isolated from each other.

The result, in modern terms, is something very like a worldwide depression.  The economy sputters and stalls, the amount of wealth, the resources available, drops.   The quality of life for lower classes deteriorates.  This has an effect, societies, unable to participate, without the resources for major projects, turn inwards, people go into holding patterns.

Necessity is often the mother of invention, and in fact, there are signs that this period was also one of technological progress.   Certainly in the abandoned cities there are eternally glowing lights that Martian technology can no longer manage.   The Atmosphere Plant, the great Polar Domes of Okar and Panar, the discovery of flight and of the Eighth and Ninth Ray, the development of firearms, must all have been taking place during this period of slow decay.

In fact, its likely that some societies remained relatively wealthy and powerful.   Even during a depression there are rich people.   This is probably the period in which Thuria was converted to a space habitat and settled.

Nevertheless, despite occasional flashes like this, the human civilizations of Barsoom were, at best, treading water, or more likely on an extremely gradual, but steady, downward spiral.

And then....

Then all of a sudden, things seem to have really gone to hell, and gone to hell rapidly.

So, What's Going On?

It was clear from this history of decline that Barsoom's oceans and perhaps its atmosphere are slowly vanishing.   What is not clear is how or why.

We know that the Mars of our Universe once was once a wet warm world, holding a thick atmosphere with seas and running water.    That Mars vanished forever, devolving into the sparse dry world we know today.

So what happened to our Mars.    No one is quite sure.  One theory holds that Mars was simply too small to hold its atmosphere for any length of time, and it gradually thinned out.   A related theory argues that it was the solar winds that ceaselessly swept the planet dry, ceaselessly wearing the upper levels of the atmosphere.   The loss of Mars magnetic field may have contributed as well.    One notion suggests that comets and asteroids were responsible, that over time, the impacts of large meteors would blow pieces of the atmosphere out into space.

None of these are responsible, or wholly responsible for the transformation of Barsoom during this period.   Simply put, they would take too long.   For a gradual thinning of the atmosphere, or a sweeping of the solar winds, we would require millions of years and tens of millions, not the thousands or tens of thousands that are chronicled.

As for a comet or asteroid blowing away the atmosphere, you'd require either an object so large it would wipe Barsoom clean of life, or alternately an unending succession, an assembly line of impacts.   Neither of these could possibly escape notice.

It may be that Barsoom's magnetic field had waned at around this time.   The immediate effect of such a waning would be more hard solar radiation hitting the planet.   In the oceans this would have resulted in a runaway oxidation of the seas, as radiation would have broken apart the molecular bonds, liberating hydrogen and oxygen.  The hydrogen, an extremely light gas, would be prone to escaping, the oxygen atoms would combine, forming more oxygen.

The problem with this possibility is that such radiation would have sterilized much of the surface.   Bacteria would have died off, as would the leafy plants, and even the animals.   All at once.   Had the magnetic field failed, most of the life on the planet would be gone long before the oceans.

So what actually happened?   We can only speculate.

It is possible that around this time, gradual natural processes had thinned the atmosphere to the point where a cascade began to take place.   Lower the air pressure, and water boils more easily.  It sublimates into atmospheric vapor more quickly.   So what we may have is a situation where an air pressure threshold was reached, so gradually that living things and the Barsoomians may never have noticed.   At the same time, the magnetic field might have diminished, but not vanished, again, in a way that life on the surface might have tolerated, but which had severe effects on the oceans. 

If this was occurring, the oceans might well have started to bleed off.   The effects on life would be unnoticeable.   Increased solar radiation might have made it harder on plants, but then again, the atmosphere was humid and had more oxygen, so plants and animals would have thrived.  Meanwhile, the freed hydrogen and oxygen atoms of the oceans water molecules would be drifting to the upper atmosphere and blown away on the solar wind.   Barsoom's seeming prosperity, despite the withering of the oceans, would be the planet literally eating its seed corn, a one way process.

But still, this seems too slow.   Perhaps natural processes were at work.   Perhaps what we were looking at was a Barsoomian Ice Age.

In fact, on Earth, if all the water in the Greenland ice cap melted, the Earth's water levels would rise dozens of feet.  If all the water in Antarctica melted, the water would go up well over 200 feet.  It is estimated that the Ice Age glaciations of Europe and North America caused the worlds oceans to fall by hundreds of feet.

Consider that both of Barsoom's polar ice caps were fixed structures.   Once water gets locked up in them, its hard to leave.   Antarctica on Earth is constantly calving huge ice bergs off its glacial shelves.   The Barsoomian and Martian south poles are on highlands in a dry land area.   So there is nothing to carry away icebergs and spread water around.   Instead, Ice simply piles up and piles up.

The north polar ice cap is also a highland, but surrounded by water.  It is likely to behave like Antarctica.  But the lower gravity of Barsoom has a price.   On Earth, glaciers and ice caps wither under the pressure of Earth's gravity.   The higher and more massive they get, the more gravity forces them to crawl, the massive channels of ice behaving like slow rivers.   As the ice builds up, the glaciers march south, spreading across the northern parts of Europe, Siberia and North America.   And of course, once on land, they are slow to dissipate, because there are no currents to steal away the waters.

Mars gravity is only 38% of Earth's, which suggests that the ice caps could mount more than twice as high, and would move more slowly.   The northern ice cap is not floating but fixed to the surface, only its edges break off.   So its entirely possible that the northern ice cap could wind up storing immense volumes of water without spreading nearly as far across the north.   The landlocked south cap would also store water quite high, without sprawling spreading glaciers.

Under this view, a Barsoomian ice age might not be as apparent as Earth's ice age.  We don't have glaciers marching over Europe and North America.   Instead, the glaciers simply sit up at the poles, soaking up water from the planets hydrological cycle like a pair of giant sponges.   The temperature at the poles drops savagely, the temperature in the northern latitudes drops massively.  But the equatorial and temperate latitudes might notice very little difference. 

The highlands might find harsh conditions, thinning out life and forcing the green men to adapt to a more marginal existence, but the temperate lowlands are where most of the human population lies.   They might well notice very little more than that the oceans are dropping steadily over the centuries, which is a cause for concern, but on the bright side, the Green Men are a lot less troublesome.

In fact, there might be scope for further catastrophe.   Was this an ice age produced by natural processes?   We don't know what triggers an ice age on Earth, so we can't be sure for Barsoom.

One suggestion is that Ice Ages are linked towards periods of low intensity in the sun.  It's a fairly naked chain of cause and effect, less heat from the sun, colder planets, and therefore ice ages.   If this is correct, then it suggests that Barsoom and Earth went in and out of Ice Ages at about the same time.

Or ice ages may be linked to other more subtle effects.   Perhaps a profusion of plants produces too much oxygen and locks up too much carbon dioxide.   With less carbon dioxide, the atmosphere traps less heat, the planet gets colder, the polar caps start to build.   Of course, these things usually produce feedback loops.   So with plants doing poorly, they stop locking up as much carbon dioxide, animals release more carbon dioxide, and greenhouse gases build up again, warming the planet.

But there are all sorts of feedback loops at work on a planet, and some of them can run away on you.    It gets cold, for instance, a lot of ice and snow winds up at the poles and doesn't melt.   The poles become cold spots that act like natural refrigerators, freezing out water vapour in their regions.  Some of this water vapour falls away from the poles and melts.   Some of it falls on the poles and doesn't melt.   Inevitably, the polar caps keep on building and growing until they pitch the whole planet into a deep freeze.

In short, the system is stable and self correcting most of the time...  Except occasionally when it isn't.

Or there might have been a different kind of trigger for the Barsoomian Ice Age:   Nuclear Winter. 

All right, primitive Barsoomians did not have nuclear weapons.  But if you take a look at the map of the solar system, you'll notice that they are parked next to a very big asteroid belt, with lots of loose rocks.   So the odds are pretty good, much better than Earth's, that one of those rocks will wander on out and whack Barsoom.

So imagine a really big rock, a small asteroid or comet, comes along and slams into Barsoom.   Odds are it hits the ocean, in which case, you get immense tsunamis which disrupt the north polar ocean civilizations, paving the way for the Orovar to come in and dominate.

But there's more to it than that.   The comet disrupts the atmosphere, blowing off a small but measurable chunk into space.  It disrupts weather patterns.   Worse of all, it kicks massive amounts of water vapor and debris up into the upper atmosphere which reflects sunlight away, causing temperatures to drop.   This water vapor condenses at the pole around the ice cap, perhaps even creating an ice cap, but either way, causing it to expand rapidly.  The ice cap starts trapping water, lowering ocean levels even after the effects of the comet vanish.   Even if the ice cap hits on land, the dust kicked up will shield the planet from light, dropping the temperature and spurring the expansion of the poles, although more slowly.

But of course, Earth has had comet strikes and its had ice ages, and we've recovered quite nicely.   Probably so did Barsoom, every time except this last one.   So why, what made this ice age so much more devastating?

Well, Mars is a much smaller planet than Earth, with a quarter of its surface area and one sixteenth its volume.  So its entirely possible that smaller effects might have a much bigger impact.

And there is one special wrinkle which might make a Barsoomian ice age particularly risky: The poles get so cold that carbon dioxide freezes out of the atmosphere.

 This is dangerous, because carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.   Take too much out, and not only are you thinning the atmosphere, but you are trapping less heat and cooling the planet.   Which means that more water and carbon dioxide winds up at the poles, the atmosphere gets thinner and colder, water sublimates to vapour more quickly, which means that more water and carbon dioxide wind up at the pole, thinning and chilling the atmosphere....  And so on, and so forth, until you've got a runaway ice age emptying the oceans and rendering the atmosphere unbreathable.   And at some point, natural chemical and thermal processes would do the rest in a relentless cascade until the planet was dry as a bone and the atmosphere was a lifeless wisp...  The Mars we know now.

So, maybe Barsoom's luck simply ran out, and it had an ice age, like others it had endured and overcome.  But this time, the bullet had its name on it, the poles got just a little too cold, a little too big, the chain reaction set in, and there was no way to stop it.   Sometimes its just your time.

The reality is that the fate of Barsoom was probably a combination to some degree of all these factors:   Reduced solar output, more radiation getting through a weakened magnetic field, an atmosphere thinned to near tipping point by millions of years of solar wind, gravity loss and meteor strikes, perhaps one big meteor or asteroid hit to start the ice age ball rolling with particular intensity, or possibly the strike or a second strike, coming later to push things right over the edge.

It is likely that in each previous ice age, some of these factors had not quite been in play.  The planet shook wobbled and recovered, its poles melting and releasing their water and carbon dioxide back, the planet warming up and recovering.   But not this time.  This time, Barsoom had the perfect storm, all the ducks lined up in a row, all the worst factors combining at the worst times....

And the result was a slow fall of the oceans over centuries and millennia, until some cascade point was reached, the chain reaction set in, and it all hit the fan.

The Planetary Crisis

We know, from the legends and histories, that after a long period of slow drought, of oceans declining slowly, suddenly, something went terribly wrong.

The histories change.   Now they record the oceans literally vanishing overnight, the drop in water levels both dramatic and relentless, too fast for cities to simply relocate.   The result was a worldwide economic crisis as transportation and communication simply ceased.  Large areas were isolated, thrown upon their own resources to survive, their means of livelihood simply gone.

Barsoomian cities and towns had likely subsisted on a combination of agriculture and fishing, and suddenly, both of these were in crisis.  The continued decline of the ocean and seas effectively ended fishing as well as trade as economic activities.   To make matters worse, drought and cold weather brought about massive crop failures.

The crisis likely did not hit the planet immediately and all at once.   Most likely, it was a rolling crisis, hitting one area, destabilizing it, and then as conditions worsened, hitting another area which had already been burdened by refugees from the preceding area. 

The progression was probably similar to the Yugoslav civil wars in the '90s.   First the Croatians revolted, then after they had won independence, the Slovenians rose up, and then after that, Bosnia went up in flames, the war moved south to Servia and finally wound up in Kosovo.    Or perhaps a better example might be our society, where we watch Africa disintegrate on the nightly news, patiently observing the chaos spread to the muslim world and from there to asia, confident that it will not wind up on our shores.

On Barsoom, it first hit the Green Men of the Highlands, then devastated the Okars of the north, moved south to disrupt the First Born and Orovars of the lowlands and coasts, and then crossed the equator to finally destroy the Orovars of Hellas.

The Green Men, having adapted to the harsh conditions as well as they could and having rebuilt their numbers, were forced by thinning air and spreading deserts to sweep down from the highlands, trying to re-establish themselves at lower elevations. 

This brought them into direct conflict with the Orovars, First Born and Okar, all of whom were paralyzed by crisis.   Bereft of food, their harbours gone, defenses compromised, short even on water, city after city was overrun, the inhabitants massacred.   Survivors and refugees grouped into large mobile columns or swarms, looking for refuges.

The Okar found their situation most precarious.   Northern lowlanders, and therefore highly vulnerable to weather changes, their habitats and crops collapsed first and earliest.  This meant they were the first and most vulnerable to the green man hordes.   City after city of their nation collapsed, with untold numbers killed.  Refugees streamed north and south.  The northern refugees eventually finding their way into the Carrion Caves and out of history, building their hidden cities.

The Okar refugees moving south were followed by Green Man hordes and progressive environmental collapse from receding seas, failing crops and fisheries, and the cessation of trade and communication.   They mixed with populations of Orovars and First born in huge masses of desperate people. 

Cities were abandoned, and populations fled over dried sea beds, looking for a promised land, or at least a place to make a stand.   Civilization was in a state of collapse throughout the northern hemisphere, and all contact was lost with the Thuria colony.

The Toonolian Marshes, a well watered valley complex in the north became another refuge, with cities of Toonol and Phundahl absorbing huge numbers of refugees, but beating back the hordes of Green Martians.   Another city uniquely able to defend itself was Gathol, on its sheltered sea mountain.

The collapse was not uniform everywhere.  In the southern hemisphere, it happened later and more slowly, and some areas managed to survive almost unscathed.

The sea of Torquas in the Hellas basin was the deepest on Barsoom, and surrounded by highlands.   It's deterioration was steady, but not quite as rapid as the polar sea.   The Orovars of Torquas began a desperate project to reverse the desiccation of the planet, building a giant atmosphere plant to pump carbon back into the atmosphere and stabilize the planetary environment. 

But even as the plant was being built, the Orovar were disintegrating under the pressure of water loss, crop failures, their cities collapsing and both hordes of fleeing refugees seeking shelter and green men seeking new lands.   Only a few isolated redoubts of the Orovars, hiding in mountain and hill country, survived the onslaught.

The First Born were similarly wiped out, surviving only in the hidden Kamtol valley, and in an Iss Cult based in and around the hidden sea of Omean at the south pole.

Also in the Southern Hemisphere, in the Argyre Basin, the sea of Korus was completely cut off by the desiccation of regions beyond the Otz mountains.   The high steep rings of the Otz mountains formed a barrier preventing moisture and water vapour from escaping.   The Korus/Dor region became an Island of Stability.

The Kaldanes of Bantoom survived in their microclimate and in their underground warrens, managing to create a self sustaining region.

The Barsoomian humans were reduced to luckless nomads, bands of refugees constantly moving across the drying sea beds, harried by the Green Men, struggling to find places to make a stand and re-establish their cities. 

The ceaseless migration and ethnic mixing brought about the emergence of the Red Men, best adapted to survive in these new, cold and dry conditions.

By John Carter's time, the planet seems to hover on the knife's edge.   The atmosphere plant appears to be keeping the world from the precipice, pumping out enough carbon dioxide and oxygen to keep the greenhouse effect going and maintaining stable planetary conditions.

The temporary shutdown of the Atmosphere plant at the end of A Princess of Mars, however, resulted in the planetary system plummeting.   Without the replenishment of greenhouse gases, planetary temperatures dropped, carbon dioxide rapidly froze out of the atmosphere at the poles in a runaway effect and the air began to thin dramatically, almost to the point where human life was incapacitated.

The resumption of activity of the plant created a warm greenhouse bubble which diffused, eventually sending warm winds to the poles and liberating the frozen carbon dioxide, stabilizing the atmosphere once again.

However, this incident clearly shows us that the planet is well into its cascade, and is only artificially stabilized.   Left to itself, it will simply finish its cascade, drying and thinning utterly.

The Shape of Modern Barsoom

Much of what we know of as modern Barsoom was shaped during this period of crisis.   The rise of the Red Men as the dominant human race, the fall and near extinction of the Tur Cult, the rise of the Iss Cult, and the emergence of a common language are obvious consequences.

But it goes further than that.   The shift of Barsoom, both politically and psychologically, from Empires or Nation States to stand alone City States occurred during this time.   Partly it was a symptom of resource collapse which left only oasis of relatively productive territory in large desolate regions.  But it was also a psychological shift of loyalty away from nations and ethnic groups to tightly woven warrior bands defending their oasis.

City states became the dominant political unit, with most social and political loyalty fixing around the City states.   Even the political expansion of those states across large territories, as with the empires of Zodanga, Helium and Ptarth, have not eroded this social and political loyalty.   Thus, for a Zodangan, Zodanga was his city, and not the areas it controlled.   A resident of a city under Heliumatic control, such as Zor or Hastor, were first and foremost Zorites or Hastorites.   For the people of the Roman Empire, Rome became contiguous with a large part of the Empire and Roman citizens were born and lived everywhere from Italy, to Gaul to Iberia and North Africa.   For the Heliumatic, only a citizen of Helium itself was truly part of the Heliumatic Empire.   Other city states were simply subjects or tribute givers.

This is changing, with Helium, Jahar and Ptarth becoming super-city states ruling over other cities and large areas, and at least some common ‘national’ feeling.    But the concept of nations as a social unit or motivating force remains weak.

Individual morals and values elevate the cult of the warrior to primacy within Barsoomian society.  This is atavistic in the extreme, as warriors in a stable society are often next to criminals.   It is notable that Barsoomian society does not place either merchants or traders, farmers or herders, scientists or explorers in any particular regard. 

With respect to scientists for instance, Ras Thavas is a perennial exile from his home city of Toonol, rather than its leading citizen.  Phor Tak is driven near to madness, Fal Sivas is an eccentric and disreputable character.  Not a well venerated lot.   Nor is any other trade given any sort of attention in the Martian series.

But in a civilized context, a warrior is a trained killer a destabilizing force.  Martian societies are so rife with assassins that people sleep in fortified or elevated homes.   Assassins are such a destabilizing force that John Carter himself seeks to purge them from Zodanga in Swords of Mars.  Meanwhile, it appears that the default trade of young men is that of the ‘Pathan’ or mercenary warrior.

Well, think this through.   A society that elevates its warriors above its scientists is saying something about the skill which it values, it values prowess over knowledge.   A society that elevates its warriors over its traders is also making a statement about which skill it values, and is saying that it prefers fighting and plunder, acts of murder and theft, to acts of peace and trade.

Neither of these particularly fit in an advanced society like Barsoom's which has gravity sleds and projectile weapons.   The swordsman in normal society is an atavistic relic, he is a product and an expression of a chaotic broken society.   There is a social disconnect at work, particularly when we see merchants and scientists having more actual power or wealth than warriors, but less social status.

The veneration of the Warrior in Barsoomian society carries with it toxic consequences, including runaway crime and assassination.   It also promotes and venerates war, even when this is not in the nation's interests.

The only thing similar in terrestrial terms is the veneration of the Cowboy or Samurai in American and Japanese societies, but the Barsoomians carry it to an extreme degree.   It is as if most male Americans and Japanese fancied themselves gunslingers or samurai, walked around with pistols and swords, and regularly shot or hacked each other up.

The warrior and the warrior way was essential to the survival of the Barsoomian humans during the time of crisis, and essential to the establishment of the modern city states.   There is no question of that.   However, Barsoomian society has clearly stabilized since that time, and the cult of the warrior is now increasingly counterproductive and overemphasized.

 The emphasis on war and warriors clearly spells out a pre-eminence and greater status for conquest and looting.   During the period of the crisis, trade and peace was impossible.  No one had anything to trade.  Groups attacked and conquered each other, plundering each other for shares of dwindling resources.   War and plunder is the natural state of the Barsoomian civilization in crisis.

But despite it all, Barsoom is no longer in crisis, the cities have achieved stability and security, and trade and cooperation would seem to be in the cities long term interests.   Yet there is only erratic evidence for inter-city trade, for the most part, they are isolated armed camps, hostile and suspicious of each other.   This may well be seriously counterproductive, since cooperation and peace may be their only way of restoring their shattered world.

In the long run, peaceful trade between City States would greatly enlarge the economies of all.   However, this is minimal, and most Barsoomian city states are armed camps constantly prepared for war.  This commitment to war, and lack of trade, means that their economies are likely smaller and poorer than they should be.

Isolationism is rampant.   Barsoom's major city states are all strongly isolationist, to the point where they do not know all that much about each other.   Jahar and Gathol are only imperfectly known in Helium.   Even worse, some city states are so strongly isolationist that they are literally in hiding from the rest of Barsoom, concealing their existence, in this category, we have Kamtol and Omean of the First Born, Okar and Panar at the north pole, the cities of Invak and Onvak, the hidden valley of Ghasta. 

The trend to isolationism comes when every other organized group is an enemy or potential enemy on a dying world.   When no ally can reach you in time to render assistance.   The trend to concealment and invisibility comes about when you are surrounded by powerful enemies and the only hope is to avoid attention.  Barsoom is a world of fortresses and hidden fortresses.

But many other Barsoomian social features appear to date back to the time of crisis.   The Barsoomian institution of slavery appears to have more than a few resemblances to Medieval feudalism, or Indian kidnappings, and rather less resemblance to chattel slavery. 

Historically, during the crisis period, imposing and accepting slavery was the alternative to simply executing prisoners of war.   Entering into slavery, either voluntarily or by surrendering after conquest, also offered safety and security to those without power.   In turn, accepting slaves seemed to create personal bonds of almost feudal responsibility.

The system of Jeds and Jeddaks also speaks to a feudal, or quasi-military social organization which likely found its current form during the period of crisis, when strong leaders and war-lords ruled.   The pre-crisis Barsoom probably saw a diversity of forms of government, including Democracy.   The post-crisis Barsoom sees almost no diversity of government or social organization beyond the feudal rule of Jed and Jeddak.  (The theocratic governments of First Born and Thern seem the sole exception).   As in Europe, we seem to witness a slow transition of power from Jeds or feudal lords, to Jeddaks or absolute monarchies.   However, on Barsoom, this transition seems much slower and far from uniform.
Most of modern Barsoom seems to enjoy a level of technology, and in particular, cities enjoy a level of mechanization and creature comfort that would appear to make slavery unnecessary.  Yet it remains a staple feature of Barsoomian society.
The emphasis on honour, on personal loyalty and oaths, the famous Barsoomian fatalism, are all symptoms of a society that came all too close to barbarism and extinction.

Even the technology of modern Barsoom seems a legacy of this period of crisis, with the applications and adaptations of that technology being unchanged.    Significant technology seems derived from the Thuria Colony project.   Thus, the life support technology became the basis of both the Okar and Panar Domes and the Atmosphere Plant, and the anti-gravity technology became the basis of the flying sleds that tried to replace sailing ships.

Oddly however, there was a remarkable lack of innovation after the crisis period.   Stop for a few minutes and imagine the variety of ways and applications for which workable anti-gravity systems can be used.   So far as we can determine, they are only used for sleds and ships for warriors and travellers.  There is barely any indication of cargo anti-gravity ships, and only minimal exploration and science expeditions.

Not only was technology shaped by the Crisis, but he use and application of this technology was frozen.   For much of the subsequent history, until the time of the Warlord, there was no refinement or adaptation of existing technology, no new applications, no new research.  This is, perhaps to be expected from a culture which shows a contempt for science and technology, and for scientists and technologists, and which elevates the warrior to pride of place.

The society of Barsoom is similar to a child whose life has been subject to a horrible trauma, and who then grows up shaped by and defined by, reacting to that trauma, whose behaviour and actions are guided by the memory of that trauma, even where those behaviours and actions are not successful or appropriate in adult life.

In short, religion, language, city-states, systems of government, institutions like slavery, systems of warfare, lack of interest in trade or science, emphasis on warrior ethos and codes of personal bravery and prowess, as well as fatalism, current Barsoomian society is the direct result of, and was directly shaped by the crisis of millennia ago.

Is Barsoom's Fate Inevitable?

Not at all.   If we are correct in that what Barsoom is experiencing is a runaway ice age on the verge of catastrophic desiccation, then it should be possible to reverse the phenomena.

How?   More and larger atmosphere plants.   Liberate even more carbon dioxide, and pump the oxygen, nitrogen and other gases trapped in the soil and rock back up into the atmosphere.  With a thicker atmosphere with more carbon dioxide, you've got much more of a greenhouse effect.   The planet gets warmer.

You reach a tipping point of warmth where the frozen carbon dioxide and other atmosphere components trapped at the poles are liberated, and things start to get really warm, particularly in the polar and sub-polar regions.   The ice caps start to melt. 

Build giant canal systems to carry water and ice slush away from the south and north poles, accelerating the liberation of polar water.   Barsoom becomes wet.   The seas return.   The rains fall. 

 Then, places like Kamtol, Dor, Ghasta, the Toonolian Marshes, the Kaolian and Invak forests are used to reseed plant and animal species all over Barsoom. 
The dying world lives again.

Exactly the way it was?

No, unfortunately not.   There is no way to bring back extinct plant and animal species, and Barsoom has suffered a crushing mass extinction.   The various ecological ‘islands’ or ‘refuges’ can only offer a fraction, perhaps twenty or thirty per cent of the species which may once have existed.  In particular, the ocean species may be all but totally extinct.   There are not a lot of fish species left on Barsoom.

 The atmosphere will remain thinner and colder and at higher risk of catastrophic ice age chain reactions.   Partly, this is because some of the atmosphere has been permanently lost, boiled away into space as the air pressure thinned.  And some of it is locked away in chemical reactions in the soil.  It will take millennia for Barsoom's plant life to liberate those some of those chemicals and gases back into the air.

And the Ocean and Seas will never quite return.   As the air thinned, the waters of the seas sublimated to vapours, some of which wound up at the poles, some of which made it into the upper atmosphere.  There in the upper atmosphere, hydrogen split from oxygen, and free atoms, far lighter than the rest of the atmosphere rose to the top and were rapidly carried away by the solar winds.  Barsoom may have about 50% of its original seas and ocean back, perhaps more, perhaps less.

Of course, there is a risky means of restoring the oceans.   Assuming that Barsoomians are prepared to invest in a major space program, a worldwide undertaking, they could travel out to the Jovian system, or beyond, to liberate icebergs from the outer solar system and drop them back on Mars.   In fact, Isaac Asimov wrote about this with Terrestrial colonists on Mars in the Martian Way.   They'd have to be careful about accidentally setting off another ice age.    But conceivably, through sustained careful effort over millennia, Barsoom could be restored to something closer to its former glory.

The question is not could it be done.    The technology is there already, for millennia the Barsoomians have maintained an atmosphere plant, have built and maintained canals, and have even possessed the capacity for interplanetary travel and large scale engineering. 

But rather, the real question is, ‘Can Barsoomian society in its present form, accomplish these tasks?’   The answer, is, unfortunately no.   In the millennia of time since the Orovars, no Barsoomian City State has husbanded the resources and wealth, the time and the manpower, to build a second atmosphere plant.

In fact, such a titanic project may well be beyond the financial and technical resources of any city state, even Helium.   Individual city states may simply be too small to afford the costs, or to be able to marshall the resources and manpower necessary.   Even if one was so wealthy that it could, there is no certainty that such a city state would be situated in the right place, geographically, or with access to the right natural resources, to make it work.

Even were a city state as powerful and wealthy as Helium to make the attempt, such an effort might consume a measurable fraction of its wealth and power, weakening it militarily.   Thus, in attempting to save Barsoom by building a second atmosphere plant, Helium merely makes it easy prey for its enemies.

This is the catch 22 found by every other city state on Barsoom.   They must devote a large proportion of their resources simply to defending themselves from their enemies.   Trade is minimal between City states, which limits their economies.  Wealth and power is obtained through the plunder of weaker city states, the capture of slaves in war, and similar means.

In short, the Barsoomian city states are a series of armed camps, devoting all their resources to defending themselves, prepared at a moments notice to plunder each other, with limited populations and limited wealth. 

The ability to make a commitment to the large scale projects which might restore Barsoom simply does not exist.

This is the tragic legacy of the Barsoomian crisis.   It has so thoroughly transformed and shaped modern Barsoomian society that now, even where opportunities exist, the Barsoomians are culturally, socially, politically and economically incapable of taking advantage of the planet.

The situation has stabilized, and even improved.  But the Barsoomians culture is locked in crisis mode, and they cannot move past it. 

The Barsoomians, some of them at least, even realize this themselves.    Dejah Thoris delivers an impassioned speech to the Green Martians on the opportunity to work together to save the planet which leaves them astonished and nonplused.   One gets the feeling that even in Helium, Dejah Thoris’ speech might have received a similar reaction.

Dejah Thoris’ expedition in the Princess of Mars was a rare science/exploration expedition to map air currents.   In fact, it is the only major science project undertaken by a city state that we encounter in the entire Martian series.   The presence of Dejah Thoris on this expedition suggests that it may have been a pet project for her.

(Other notable science projects, such as Ras Thavas, Phor Tak and Fal Sivas, are undertaken by individuals with varying levels of commitment from their states.   Ras Thavas, for instance, is exiled by Toonol.   Fal Sivas is a lone wolf.  Phor Tak worked for Jahar, but the relationship is perilous and they live in fear of each other.)

Of course, where there is life, there is hope.  The rise of individuals like Ras Thavas, Phor Tak, Fal Sivas and others suggest that Barsoomian society was changing, even before the Warlord,  at least to the extent of making room for scientists and savants to shake up the established orders.  Dejah Thoris in her remarkable speech, expresses the vision that things can be made different.

The Warlord himself, offers some hope, for Barsoom to save itself.   During John Carter's time, he has helped to unite Thark and Warhoon and ally them to Helium, he has brought down the Zodangan’s, elevating Helium to literally a planetary superpower.  Through conquest and valor, he has made allies of the Omean and Okar.   Through marriages, he has allied Helium with Ptarth and Gathol. 

In short, John Carter has a possibly brief window, where he has become the one man capable of uniting a large enough proportion of Barsoom's population and resources to allow it to save itself.

John Carter and Dejah Thoris may be the last hope of Barsoom, as to whether this hope came to anything, that book has yet to be written.

Barsoom Thark Galleries
Guide to ERB's Barsoom

To the Main Navigation Chart
Den Valdron's Fantasy Worlds of ERB

ERBzine Weekly Webzine
Visit our thousands of other sites at:
ERB Text, ERB Images and Tarzan® are ©Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All Original Work ©1996-2010/2020 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.