How Old is Sci-Fi? – Atomic Rockets

There are sites on the internet that one can easily spent a whole day lost in, for some it’s Pinterest or Wikipedia, and for me it’s Project Rho (aka Atomic Rockets). A whole site dedicated to helping writers get their science fiction spaceships right according to physics, and doing it in the most entertaining of ways. I find reading the comments, clips from books, and “laws” endlessly fascinating when I’m thinking about sci-fi stories.

Today, what caught my attention was this little gem, which I thought I’d share here:

“And all you young whipper-snappers who think that science fiction was invented in 1977 with the first Star Wars movie, I have to inform you that you are sadly mistaken. SF was old when your great-grandfather was born.

  • “Blaster” dates back to 1925 in Nictzin Dyalhis’ When the Green Star Waned.
  • “Disintegrator ray” dates back to 1898 in Garrett Serviss’ Edison’s Conquest of Mars.
  • Needler” dates back to 1934 in E.E.”Doc” Smith’s The Skylark of Valeron.
  • Stunner” dates back to 1944 in C. M. Kornbluth’s Fire-Power.
  • Isaac Asimov invented “force-field blades” in his 1952 novel David Starr, Space Ranger, which was the father of the light-saber.
  • There was a form of “virtual reality” in Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s 1956 novel The City and the Stars, and a more limited form in E.E.”Doc” Smith’s 1930 story Skylark Three.
  • Zero population growth is discussed in Walter Kately’s 1930 story “The World of a Hundred Men.”
  • Power from nuclear fusion appears in Gawain Edwards’ 1930 story “A Rescue from Jupiter.”
  • Atomic bombs are found in Sewell Wright’s 1931 story “The Dark Side of Antri.”
  • A “tiny computing machine about as large as the palm of a man’s hand” (Palm PDA?) is featured in R. F. Starzl’s 1931 story “If the Sun Died.”
  • And an unprotected man exposed to the vacuum of space but did not explode appeared in Nathan Schachner and Arthur Zagat’s 1932 story “Exiles of the Moon.”
  • “Attractor” and “Pressor” beams appear in E. E. “Doc” Smith’s The Skylark of Space (1929). The term tractor beam appears to originate in E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Spacehounds of IPC (1931)

via Preliminary Notes – Atomic Rockets.

The point here being that science fiction stories and ideas are part of a continum that extends back a long time, and are not a recent invention. It’s likely that the grandfathers of the people reading this read more sci-fi than most people will today, although admittedly most of it was pulp adventure. (Then again, isn’t most of it today as well?)


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