In the John Carter universe, the energy source is all about light waves. Light ships float on light waves, and different light waves unlocks energies unknown to men.

My question is: Was Mr. Burroughs inspired by anything that we know about at the time? Theories? Pseudoscience? The first discovery of solar panels 1883?

Most sci-fi works play on science, theories and sometimes pseudoscience, Star Trek's warp drives to take one example. In the classic work Journey to the Center of the Earth it becomes apparent in the book that this was a very shallow theory and they are surprised that they are not cooking far down in the Earth.

1 Answer 1


Rays were a hot topic at the time

I can't find any reference to Burroughs' inspiration for his light-based technology, but modern science at the time he wrote (1911-12) it was very much focused on rays:

  • Radio waves were discovered in 1886 and first used to communicate across the Atlantic in 1895
  • X-rays were discovered in 1895
  • Alpha, beta and gamma radiation were discovered ca. 1900
  • Einstein's theory of special relativity, with its focus on the speed of light, was published in 1905.

At the time, it must have seemed to a layman like Burroughs that new and exciting rays of light, with each their own extraordinary property, were discovered all the time. Burroughs was by no means alone in this; early pulp science fiction abounded with all sorts of strange rays.

  • 6
    I'm not certain that Mr. Burroughs had a clear understanding of how radiation worked. He described his Barsoom airships as flying on buoyancy tanks filled with the 'ray of repulsion'. Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 15:25
  • 7
    I think you will find that Sci Fi still does abound in strange rays - light sabres, photon torpedoes, tractor beams, phasers (though I'm aware that Star Trek is old so tradition must be maintained...) to name a few.
    – bob1
    Commented Aug 10, 2023 at 22:45
  • 6
    Also relevant from that era: the debate over N-rays.
    – Mark
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 2:49
  • And in Burroughs' book on Venus, he uses the r-rays ...
    – 今夜九
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 10:29
  • Don't forget cathode rays (or electrons, as we know them)
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 14:10

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