Science Fiction is certainly no rarity for Burroughs but his short novel Beyond Thirty is speculative fiction which is not his usual bailiwick. Written in 1915 and first published in All Around Magazine this story does not take place on Mar or Venus nor at the depths of the Earth’s core but over two hundred years into the future and deals with a world separated by war and a land lost in time.
War in Europe had ravaged the continent and America wanting no part of this seemingly unending conflict closed off all contact with the East. By the 22nd century North and South America have become a united union called Pan-America Federation instituting a total military blockade along the 30th meridian West and the 175th meridian East. Ships of the P.A.F. patrol both of these lines as both travel and communication is forbidden beyond these longitudes.
Our protagonist is Pan-American Navy Lieutenant Jefferson Turck commander of the aero-submarine Coldwater and whose mission is to patrol the 30th meridian. While flying above a particular nasty North Atlantic the Coldwater’s anti-gravity screens begin to fail forcing them down into the turbulent waters. Despite the bad weather and suspected sabotage Turck manages to keep his ship and his crew alive but unfortunately the storm had driven them Beyond Thirty.
Instead of surrendering his command as protocol dictates for the crime of crossing the 30th Turck informs the crew that when they make it back home he intends to challenge these archaic laws. Many of the crew are cool with this but unfortunately not everyone is especially those who are jealous of Turck’s rise within the Pan-American Navy are. While out on a small boat with three other crewmen Turck and company are shocked to see the Coldwater flyover them and disappear into the west. Abandoned and with the no other option for survival they head for the forbidden coasts of England.
What the small group discovers shocks Turck to his very core, instead of a modern civilization that once boasted of the sun never setting on it, they discover a land practically ruled by lions and tigers (no bears) and the humans have slipped back to barbarism. Barely any ruins of the previous civilization survived the wars and those that have are now home to the big cats while man lives in small enclosure often offering sacrifices to the man-eaters. As this is a Burroughs adventure it’s not too long before our hero comes across a damsel in distress, a barbarian girl who we find out is a descendant of the royal family, and the two eventually fall in love while trying to stay alive and free from countless dangers.
The most interesting thing about Beyond Thirty is that it was written as World War One was really ramping up and the people of the United States were predominantly isolationists. With bulk of North America leery of joining the European conflict we get a story from Edgar Rice Burroughs supposing what would happen if the West cut off all ties with the East. The resulting story isn’t flattering to either side but it is particularly brutal on what happens in Europe. Another interesting note has to do with Burroughs’s love of sword play, as in most of his books the hero being a Confederate soldier or a lost European noble this is not an issue but one really doubts that in the year 2317 soldiers would be going into combat armed with a rifle, a handgun, and a bloody sword.
As “What If?” fiction Beyond Thirty is a fun read and I just love speculative fiction especially when it was written almost a hundred years ago, and this book would make a nice companion piece to H.G. Wells Things To Come which also dealt with a devastating war that pretty much wiped out most of the world.
Edgar Rice Burroughs dabbles in speculative fiction in this fast and fun adventure story. We have your stalwart hero, beautiful but strong female character and some great pulpy action. Well worth the read just for the viewpoint of World War One and the dangers of isolationism from an author of the time.