Defending the SF genre with terminal intensity
- Dec 7, 2011
No doubt you would know better... and the historical comparisons will have me learning a lot today as I look them up.
What perked my ears (regarding laser) is this: "in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose, by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition"
JUST for discussion: Chamber to me means a closed space, which a CO2 laser typically is a glass tube with a 100%===50/50% (or whatever the number is) mirrors respectively of the ends (unlike a NdYAG and its oval chamber and rod). The parabolic mirror he mentions simply an aiming device used with a fixed laser. The Mars/CO2 deal, is convenient on top of that.
That said, I'll search on that Archimedes/Wells source. The only reason I'm curious, is since investigating much more recent and well documented things (like air combat of New Guinea), I long ago discovered that many researchers copy and add their twist on previous researcher's work. Meaning, if Bob-2012 says Wells used, he may have picked that up from Tom-1963 says Wells used, who got that from Frank 1910 says Wells used. See where I'm going with this? If 1910 Frank only knew of Archimedes, his 'speculation' about what Wells used may be no more than my/our own.
Now I'm really curious if HG Wells ever said 'he' used... what?
I just think you are trying to see too much into a reasonably straightforward description that HG Wells had a certain idea for...and trying to bend it to terms and science he didn't know anything about to fit your idea! The Mars atmosphere angle...I'm sure top scientists at the time assumed Mars had an atmosphere like Earth. So oxygen and nitrogen + bits, just drier (hence the canals transporting water ), so linking CO2 to this device feels a step too far.
The source of this intense heat is mcguffined, then he uses the word 'non-conductivity' which means 'impervious to heat' in this case, which makes sense given he had described some chamber with intense heat inside. You would not use this word for light, but (to be fair) he does hint it with the use of a polished mirror later on.
However then the key line for me is: "Heat, and invisible, instead of visible, light." This had been tested in Scientific circles since the discovery of infrared in 1800 and the bringing together of electricity and magnetism in the Maxwell Equations: that the heat was a EM-wave like light. This seems clear to me that's what he's talking about and trying to communicate.
The Archimedes thing: I'm pretty sure HG Wells was an amateur military historian of sorts (see Little Wars) and the whole Archimedes death-ray thing had been pretty well known for 2000 years (and probably attempted to have been constructed by boys who had heard about it in their studies!). EDIT: Actually it should be pointed out that he also published in 1922 A Short History of the World which includes a lot of ancient history. The siege of Syracuse is not mentioned as far as I can tell (He was covering a lot and it was a short history), but I'd be shocked if he then knew nothing about Archimedes, as he does mention that Syracuse was 'where thought and science flourished for two centuries'.
So for me Archimedes death-ray seems the most logical great-grandfather of the Martian Heat-Ray. It would, however, be interesting if he had mentioned it in his memior/autobiography. Might be a nice book to try and find. I believe it exists.
Fair point about seeping into certain 'facts' into general discourse that actually aren't true. Only today I found out that the fact that bacteria cells in the human body outnumber human cells by 10 to 1 is...not true (both estimates of numbers were probably...guesses originally). An actual, more detailed study, shows there are probably equal numbers of both!