Monday, March 11, 2013
Death Rays: Fact & Fiction
"On the silver screen, and in the printed pages, it has felled death-dealing aliens and marauding robots, and has even destroyed worlds and entire galaxies. It is easily the most awesome weapon of mass destruction, and is one of the most recognizable motifs within the annals of sci-fi. It is the death-ray. One of the earliest examples of the usage of such a weapon, in the form of what was described as a 'Heat-Ray' device, appeared in H.G. Wells’ novel of Martian invasion: The War of the Worlds. As a result of the overwhelming popularity and success of Wells’ novel, many early sci-fi authors picked up on his highly original premise, and the deadly ray technology was often graphically shown in pulp magazines of the 1940s and 1950s as one accompanied by giant electric arcs, lightning-style flashes, and thunder-like crashes and roars.
"With the advent of the laser in 1960 and its accompanying famous pencil-thin red light, however, the death-ray was quickly modified within sci-fi (partly as a result of the usage of such a device in the 1960s movie version of Ian Fleming’s James Bond story Goldfinger) and gained a new and more popular relation: the ray gun, perhaps most universally recognized in the form of the Phaser from Star Trek. Indeed, the American Heritage Dictionary defines a ray gun as: 'A gun that fires a ray of energy, especially as depicted as a destructive weapon in science fiction.'"
The above amounts to the opening paragraphs of my latest Mysterious Universe post which looks at the matter of "death ray"-based weapons in fact and fiction, and which also delves into the life and work of Albert Einstein.