Spy-Rays

Tagged: Theme

Traditional item of sf Terminology for various surveillance mechanisms employing some kind of Ray that can penetrate most forms of matter, conferring the power of undetectable eavesdropping upon its operator. E E Smith uses the term throughout his Lensman series and seems to have coined it in the original magazine version of Triplanetary (January-April 1934 Amazing; exp rev 1948). Inevitably this Technology leads to a kind of arms race, with "spy-ray blocks" – as in First Lensman (1950) – countered by advanced rays tailored to penetrate such blocks, and so on. Isaac Asimov calls the device a "spy beam" in Foundation (May 1942-October 1944 Astounding; fixup 1951), which also features a "static field" countermeasure. Superman's "x-ray vision" is the equivalent of a built-in spy-ray which however is blocked by lead.

Real-world analogues of this imagined technology include radar and, more in keeping with the imagined scope of a spy-ray, the use of laser reflection from an external window to detect vibrations caused by sounds within. Another well-known sf device which generally includes the functions of a spy-ray as a subset of its capabilities is the Time Viewer. [DRL]

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