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For our purposes, "prison planet" may be defined as follows:

"An entire planet, or at least the vast majority of its surface area, has been classified as a good place to dump convicted criminals so that they will no longer be making any trouble for the zillions of law-abiding citizens who are located far, far away, on other worlds."

I've seen this concept used again and again, but I have no idea which clever writer first came up with the basic idea that someday, when a spacefaring civilization has multiple Earth-like planets within its grasp, it may decide it is cost-effective to turn one world into a huge prison colony and thereby keep all the criminal misfits there, conveniently out of sight and out of mind.

There are variations, of course. For instance, some "prison planets" are treated as the larger equivalent of modern prisons, where you can actually serve out the number of years the judge sentenced you to, and then you are offered a lift back home to "rejoin society" (if you're still alive, of course). In other cases, being sentenced to a prison planet is expected to be a one-way trip -- if convicted, you are landed there via shuttle, but you are never supposed to leave the planet's surface again. (Although a clever protagonist can usually find a way.)

Sometimes the prisoners are essentially treated as slave labor, expected to work hard in the mines (or do other difficult and/or dangerous tasks) if they want to be housed and fed . . . but on other occasions, the authorities just turn you loose in the woods and then let you fend for yourself, sink or swim!

And sometimes the "prison warden and his guards" (or whatever those officials are called) maintain a secure base there on the planet -- inside a walled city, or on one remote island, for instance -- while in other cases they don't bother; they either live up in orbit (on a space station or a moon, perhaps), or else it turns out that no "representatives of government" bother to reside anywhere in that solar system! Transport ships just drop off fresh loads of prisoners at regular intervals and then head back home. (That last approach makes a bit more sense if no other spacefaring civilizations are known to exist, anywhere in the galaxy, and thus nobody back at headquarters is terribly worried about alien conquerors discovering, and then interrogating or recruiting, the prisoner population.)

All of the above variations can qualify as "prison planets" for my purposes. For that matter, since I'm asking where the concept began, I could even accept an old story which just had a few lines of dialogue referring to the existence of a prison planet, even if no scenes were actually set on its surface.

On the other hand, I did come up with some homebrewed rules about what I don't see as real contenders for the proud distinction of "this was the first prison planet to be mentioned in a science fiction story."


What I Don't Consider Eligible:

1. Castaways.

Historically, fiction has been full of stories about people who accidentally get stuck on some remote island, with no way to sail back home to "civilization" any time soon, nor to communicate their plight to people who might rescue them. Classic examples have included Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, and Gilligan's Island.

But none of those characters had been dumped on those islands by government order after being convicted of felonies back in their homelands; they just suffered from sheer bad luck. So if you happen to remember any science fiction examples which used very similar premises to get the plot rolling, but had the "castaways" stranded on an unexplored planet light-years away from here, that would likewise not qualify as "this planet was being used as a prison."

2. Maroooned.

The difference between being a "Castaway" and being "Marooned" is that someone did, in fact, make a conscious decision to leave you all alone, presumably until you died, on some obscure little island. And they followed through on that decision! But the people making that decision were not a duly constituted court of law representing a national (or global, or interstellar) government.

I first became aware of the concept of "marooned" when, as a kid, I read Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Ben Gunn had been marooned by his fellow pirates years earlier, and was very grateful to have a chance to hitch a ride back home. A similar event is part of the backstory of Captain Jack Sparrow, as established in dialogue in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

I'm sure there have been parallel situations in science fiction which involved someone deliberately leaving a man on a wilderness planet, with no plans to come back for him any time soon (if ever!) -- but I'm not interested in those unless this sentence was pronounced upon him by something I would call "a proper court of law representing the government of a large civilization." (Nine people on an exploration vessel, voting to dump the tenth guy on the next world they discover which has a breathable atmosphere, does not qualify as "a large civilization and a proper court of law.")

3. Extreme Isolationists.

In other words, the first generation of pioneers were people who chose to land on this planet to make new homes for themselves, and they (or their descendants, a few generations later) also chose to stay as isolated as possible from outside influences. Ideally, one hundred percent isolated. One way to do this is to ensure that nobody back on Earth has a clue where this ship full of colonists was headed for!

In this instance, the profound lack of immigration and emigration, to and from the planet's surface, is not because some faraway "interstellar government" is forcing this isolation upon the local residents. On the contrary, it's something the local residents are enthusiastically working to maintain no matter how anyone else feels about it.

(I have read several science fiction stories in which the main character is basically a spy assigned to infiltrate such a world in an attempt to find out just what the heck is really going on down there in this very isolationist culture.)

4. Quarantined.

I've seen such concepts as: "This inhabited world has been placed 'Off Limits' to all space travel from other places. A military blockade has been established in orbit to enforce this edict." The quarantine might be because the world in question had been overcome by some incurable, fatal, and highly contagious disease . . . or by fast-replicating nanotech which no one could control . . . or the world might be inhabited by people with frightening psychic abilities . . . or the "quarantine" might be a way of punishing the people of that planet for something outrageous which their government had done (such as sterilizing another planet in a recent war) . . . but none of the above would be the same thing as "the first generation of human settlers on this planet were transported here because they'd previously been convicted of serious crimes -- and now it is a prison planet for them and their descendants."

5. Lost Colony.

Another popular trope in science fiction is to have someone in a starship stumble across a long-lost colony, settled by human pioneers centuries earlier, which everyone else has subsequently lost track of! For instance, if a nuclear war devastated Earth, it might be that no one was left who had accurate records of just where a certain colony ship had been headed for when it left Sol System.

But just because a planetary population has been "cut off from contact with everybody else" for a long time is not the same thing as "they are convicted felons on a prison planet."

6. "The Prime Directive Says We Can't Interfere!"

Yes, I swiped that phrase from Star Trek. But I've seen the idea used elsewhere. A human survey vessel finds a pre-spaceflight culture inhabiting a planet . . . studies it from orbit (possibly not even landing to take samples) . . . and, as a matter of government policy, the world is left strictly alone to "find its own destiny" (or whatever catchphrases the more advanced culture prefers to use). The "primitive world" in question may also be a Lost Colony of the same species, or it may be inhabited by an indigenous alien race, but either way, nobody is treating this world as a "prison."


So, with those limits in mind, what do you think was the first published science fiction story to clearly present the concept of "they turned a planet into a prison planet"? Who wrote it and when was it published?

Note: It doesn't have to be a piece of prose fiction. If you think "a prison planet" was first mentioned in a newspaper comic strip, or an old movie, or a science fiction story told in some other medium of expression, then please say so!

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    @user14111, I think he just means that the entire planet be designated as a prison, not that it actually be fully occupied. Roughly speaking, if there are no regular colonists (or plans for them) just prisoners and/or descendants of prisoners and/or wardens, guards, etc., then it is a prison planet. – Harry Johnston May 12 '17 at 4:53
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    I don't think you have to be that clever to come up with "Australia in space". – The Photon May 12 '17 at 6:29
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    Besides "Space Australia", this trope might be described as "Space Rikers" (1935), "Space Alcatraz" (1861), "Space Devil's Island" (1852), "Space Robben Island" (late 1600s), "Space Chateau d'If" (mid-1500s?), and so on. There's a long history of people putting undesirable other people on islands of varying size. – Quuxplusone May 12 '17 at 20:58
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    @HarryJohnston: "Australia wouldn't be a very good example of the the trope, because conventional colonization was also taking place at pretty much the same time." - possibly, but all it takes is a writer who didn't know about that fact and thus was inspired by something that he thought existed: An island-like continent reserved for prisoners. – O. R. Mapper May 12 '17 at 21:13
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    Not just Australia; there's a whole list at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penal_colony – shoover May 12 '17 at 22:35
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1946: "The Disciplinary Circuit", a novelette by Murray Leinster, first story in his Kim Rendell series; published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, Winter 1946, available at the Internet Archive. The prison planet is called Ades:

"Ades!" Kim said furiously. "They go to the transmitter and name their chosen place of exile, and the transmitter-clerk dutifully pushed the proper buttons, but the Circuit takes over. They go to Ades! And no man has ever come back."

[. . . .]

Dona watched him furtively as she began the tedious task of hunting through the Galactic Pilot of this sector, two-hundred-odd volumes, for even a stray reference to the planet Ades.

Ultimately she did find Ades mentioned. Not in the bound volumes of the Pilot, but in the microfilm abbreviated Galactic Directory. Ades rated just three lines of type — its space-coordinates, the spectral type of its sun, a climate-atmosphere symbol which indicated that three-fourths of its surface experienced sub-Arctic conditions, and the memo:

"Its borderline habitability caused it to be chosen as a penal colony at a very early date. Landing upon it is forbidden under all circumstances. A patrol-ship is on guard."

The memorandum was quaint, now that no space-line had operated in five centuries, no exploring ship in nearly two, and the Space Patrol itself had been disbanded three hundred years since.

"Mmmm!" Kim said. "If we need it, not too bad. People could survive on Ades. People probably have. And they won’t be sheep, anyhow."

"How far away is it?" Dona asked uneasily. "We have enough fuel for twenty-five light-years' travel, you said."

"Ades is just about halfway across the galaxy," he told her. "We couldn’t really get started there if our tanks were full. The only way to reach it is by matter-transmitter."


1944: "The Firing Line", a novelette in George O. Smith's Venus Equilateral series; first published in Astounding Science Fiction, December 1944, available at the Internet Archive.

Here is a plot summary from Wikipedia:

After escaping from prison, Hellion Murdoch teams up with Kingman. Kingman will use Terran Electric's research lab to create energy weapons, and Murdoch will mount the weapons in his ship, the Black Widow, and blackmail interplanetary commerce. When news of Murdoch's escape reaches Venus Equilateral, Channing realizes the station will be his first target. The station's staff design a set of missiles that will home in on the Black Widow, and they succeed in destroying it. Kingman is able to hide his association with Murdoch.

A Titan Penal Colony is mentioned in the story:

The news of Murdoch’s first blow came that same day. It was a news report from the Interplanetary Network that the Titan Penal Colony had been attacked by a huge black ship of space that carried a huge dome-shaped turret on the top. Beams of invisible energy burned furrows in the frozen ground, and the official buildings melted and exploded from the air pressure within them. The Titan station went off the ether with a roar, and the theorists believed that Murdoch’s gang had been augmented by four hundred and nineteen of the Solar System’s most vicious criminals.

As that's the only mention of Titan in the story, there's no way of telling if there are any civilian operations on that body. Titan does not seem to be at all Earth-like in this story; I don't know if that's a requirement.


1943: "Prison in Space", a novelette by Henry A. Norton, published in Amazing Stories, August 1943, available at the Internet Archive.

Editorial blurb:

This was a prison ship to take criminals to a prison planet--but enroute something happened that changed the order of things just a trifle!

The planet Venus, seemingly good for nothing else, is being used as a dumping ground for Earth's undesirables:

Behind him, on the mile-square loading platform, milled the wildest, motliest collection of humanity in the history of the port. The rail was lined with them, jeering at the guards, or sunk in apathetic gloom. Men and women, young and old, villainous or mild — these were the thousand persons condemned by the Council to exile on Venus. A few of them were murderers, some were saboteurs, a handful had been merely unwise in their criticism of the Alliance. Their personal effects, a mountain of luggage, now stowed the hold of the space ship Vigilant.

[. . . .]

It was the Vigilant’s — and Shattuck’s — second such expedition to Venus. A year before, the Council of the Alliance had been faced with a growing number of revolutionaries. It had then decreed the sequestration of a thousand men and women on Venus, and the sentence had been duly carried out.

[. . . .]

Shattuck could still remember the Venus blast-off last year, the forlorn, instinctive huddling of the exiles as the space ship left. They had remained for a time a crawling, fungoid patch on the face of Venus, with the mountain of provisions towering beside them till the relentless mists closed in and shut them from view.

Now it was to be done again, and he felt a nameless stir of feeling for that brawling, noisy mob on the loading platform. He studied them idly, wondering what had been their individual crimes to earn isolation from Earth. The fat woman he knew was Stella Marvel. She had kept a great, rambling house in the capital city of Chicago — a house in which the Council said she had harbored spies and malcontents. The suspicion was there had been a gayer, more frivolous aspect to Stella’s menage — two or three of the hard-eyed girls being sent to Venus with her bore out the theory.


1934: "Rebels of the Penal Planet", an anonymous short story from the February 17, 1934 issue of Scoops, a short-lived British science fiction magazine for children edited by Haydn Dimmock. It's available at the Internet Archive but I haven't tried to read it; please let me know if it's not a true "prison planet".

Editorial blurb:

A World-famous Scientist, exiled to the Penal Planet, captures transport Space Ships and Challenges the Earth.

From Everett F. Bleiler's review in Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years:

Background: the solar system seems to be organized into a unit called Cosmos, with the center of government on Earth. There is a governing council and a Lord President. Although it is not specified, the planets seem to be settled by humans only, with Uranus serving as a penal planet for particularly bad criminals. Among such criminals is the mad scientist Professor Amos Revukla, who has seized control on Uranus and is leading a revolt against the central government.

With new weapons, including a sleep gas (soporifalium), heat rays, and disintegrator rays, his enormous space fleet begins to wipe out the great cities of the world. Edinburgh and York are already gone, to be followed by about thirty others before Capt. Jerry Grahame of the Inter-Planetary Defence Force defeats the "Uranusians."

When Revukla captures Jerry and tortures him with a pain rod, he errs greatly, for Jerry, knocking out his guard, with a couple of associates captures the professor's three hundred-man flagship. Then, cleverly making use of Revukla's code, he commands the rebel fleet to drop its protective magnetic screens at inappropriate moments. The rebellion is over.


1932, April: Invaders from the Infinite, a novel by John W. Campbell, Jr. in his Arcot, Morey and Wade series, first published in Amazing Stories Quarterly, Spring–Summer 1932 (available at the Internet Archive), with a publication date of April 1932 according to the ISFDB: "'April 20, 1932' is printed at the bottom of the table of contents." See Yoshi Bro's answer.


1932, March: "Prison Planet", a novelette by R. F. Starzl, published in Argosy, March 5, 1932, apparently never reprinted. The prison planet is Ganymede:

The prison itself consisted of an immense wall more than fifty feet high which surrounded the buildings, some of which towered far into the air. Everything was of stone, dark, cold and repelling. Over all hung a shroud of hopelessness, as if ghosts of the prisoners who had died there still haunted the place.

About a quarter of a mile south of the prison, clearly etched in all its ugliness, was the colony of prisoners who had served their time, but who would never again be permitted to mingle with the human race, for eugenic reasons. This city was called Lethe. It was an unplanned conglomeration of crooked streets—of occasional more pretentious buildings badly in need of repairs. Women were rare in Lethe, but occasionally an exile's woman chose to share his fate. But there were no children there. The eugenists' sterilizing ray made that impossible.

The prison itself lay on a slight elevation of land. The city was along the flanks of this mound. In all directions lay only desolation and the white rheum of frost. Marsh land, frozen iron-hard, fed by the luke-warm discharge of the hot springs that heated the prison and the city.

Vare was acquainted with all the official information on the prison planet. He had studied the maps, knew something of the prison's interior arrangement. He knew that Lethe housed some thirty thousand persons, mostly reckless and all criminal, except for a sprinkling of experts for technical work, and a sprinkling of civil guards who pretended to keep the peace; a magistrate and a municipal court.

He knew that with the exception of this one favored spot, life on Ganymede was impossible. Here the interior heat came close to the surface, permitting the puny, distant sun, and the low-grade radiations from Jupiter to be slightly felt. But past a radius of a dozen miles this internal heat was absent and the temperature sometimes came perilously close to the actual liquefaction of air. Ganymede was a perfect prison—a more unbreachable place of exile than Siberia had ever been.


1931: "Revolt on Inferno", a novella by Victor Rousseau, published in Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories, June–July 1931.

From Everett F. Bleiler's review in Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years:

The planet Inferno, about the size of Mercury, is the tenth and outermost planet of the solar system, with a fifty-year orbit of some irregularity.
There is no life on the surface of Inferno, which is rough and rocky, but extensive salt seas and marshes contain a wealth of horrible, monstrous life-forms of great greed and viciousness. Inferno is the ultimate penal colony for Earth; no convict has ever returned from it.

At the moment the ship Planetaria is approaching Inferno bearing fifty revolutionaries who had been plotting to overthrow the harsh dictatorship of Yoska.

Among the men is Donald Evans, on whose secret weapon the revolutionaries had counted. It is a device that can cause instantaneous absolute zero within a range of hundreds of miles.
Accompanying the prisoners is Danvril, Yoska's agent, who tries to make a deal with Evans: if Evans reveals how the apparatus (which is aboard) works, Danvril will release all the prisoners. Evans agrees.

Danvril, however, breaks his promise and plans to ship the conspirators to the worst deathcamp on the planet. In part he is moved by will to power; in part he is Evans's rival for the love of the fair Ottili. She has traveled to Inferno to visit her brother, previously imprisoned.

There is intrigue and action back and forth. Evans and members of a small underground movement first sabotage the Planetaria, then capture it, lose it to Danvril, etc.

As the story ends, Danvril, the prison guards, and associates are all wiped out; the Planetaria, repaired, will bring Evans's weapon to Earth, and Yoska will be overthrown.


1930: "The Lord of Space", a novelette by Victor Rousseau, published in Astounding Stories of Super-Science, August 1930, available at Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive.

The Moon Colony, discovered in 1976, when Kramer, of Baltimore, first proved the practicability of mixing neon with the inert new gas, leucon, and so conquering gravitation, had proved to be just what it had been suspected of being—a desiccated, airless desolation. Nevertheless, within the depths of the craters a certain amount of the Moon's ancient atmosphere still lingered, sufficient to sustain life for the queer troglodytes, with enormous lung-boxes, who survived there, browsing like beasts upon the stunted, aloe-like vegetation.

Half man, half ape, and very much unlike either, these vestiges of a species on a ruined globe had proved tractable and amenable to discipline. They had become the laborers of the convict settlement that had sprung up on the Moon.

Thither all those who had opposed the establishment of the World Federation, together with all persons convicted for the fourth time of a felony, had been transported, to superintend the efforts of these dumb, unhuman Moon dwellers. For it had been discovered that the Moon craters were extraordinarily rich in gold, and gold was still the medium of exchange on Earth.

  • While I don't have any specific instances to cite off the top of my head (or I'd write my own answer), there are also references to prison asteroids dating back to stories I've read from the 1930's. I suspect this trope originated sometime there. – Doug R. May 12 '17 at 12:21
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    I love the anachronism of a ship crew flipping through print volumes looking up a system. – Azor Ahai May 12 '17 at 20:33
  • You've got me really curious about the 1932 "Prison Planet" story. Now I feel I can't honorably click to accept any answer until I know whether or not the R.F. Starzl one actually fits my definition of what a real "prison planet' is all about! The question is: How am I going to learn more about a pulp magazine from 85 years ago when the contents were never reprinted? – Lorendiac May 13 '17 at 0:50
  • @Lorendiac Do you have enough information now to decide whether the 1932 Starzl story fits your definition? And what about the two earlier stories by Rousseau? – user14111 Jun 19 '17 at 11:23
  • @AzorAhai Especially while using a matter transporter that can move people without killing them! – kingledion Aug 23 '18 at 22:40
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While not exactly what you're looking for, I found one interesting example from 1932 Vulcan's Workshop by Harl Vincent

It's a planet

Vulcan, the smallest and innermost of the planets, circles the sun with great rapidity at a mean distance of twenty million miles

That has a prison camp

And so they were taking him to the dread prison camp known as Vulcan's Workshop, a mysterious place of horror and hardship from which no convict had ever returned

The only problem with it, is that while the only permanent settlers are prisoners, civilians also come and go in search of riches

In spite of all this, man has persisted in establishing himself in the vapor belt of Vulcan for the sake of wresting from the rocky soil its vast deposits of rare ores, and a great number of mining operations are continually in progress. All of these are commercial projects and are worked by adventurous seekers of fortune, save only the penal colony known as Vulcan's Workshop: But no Terrestrial or Martian, however greedy for riches, would dare to remain longer than two lunar months, which is the average time limit of human endurance. Only the condemned remain, and these remain to die.

But despite this I think it's fair to say that this is more than halfway there to the hellish prison planets we all know and love

  • Interesting. I'm sure I'd never even heard of that story, and I'm far from clear on whether I've ever read anything at all by Harl Vincent. I may want to do something about that. Although I agree with your own analysis that just having a prison camp on a strange planet is not the same thing as writing an honest-to-goodness "prison planet story." – Lorendiac May 13 '17 at 0:53
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Of course the most famous science fiction prison planet might be Salusa Secundus in Dune the Prison planet of the Padishah Emperor and the place he recruits his Sardarkar from. Dune was first published in Analog as "Dune World" starting December 1963 and as "Prophet of Dune" in 1965.

But I'm sure Salusa Secundus was not the first prison planet.

The prison planet of Shayol in Cordwainer Smith's "A planet Named Shayol" Galaxy Science Fiction October 1961 sort of resembles hell. Mentioned by Buzz in his comment above.

The Phantom Zone, a prison dimension, first appeared in Adventure Comics number 238, April 1961.

The Twilight Zone episode "The Lonely" - written by Rod Serling - 13 November 1959 has a man condemned to solitary confinement on an asteroid for fifty years. This is technically more like a single prison cell asteroid than a prison planet, but is close enough.

I don't believe that the first prison planets appeared in 1959-1961 but I don't remember any from earlier space operas.

If, for example, characters were threatened with being sent to the mines on a distant planet it might not be mentioned if there were any non penal settlements on that planet.

7

To get things started: The Imperial Stars, 1964, by E. E. Doc Smith.

The better-known novel-length version was published in 1976, but the 1964 novella includes a reference to the prison planet Gastonia:

"How did Gastonia sneak into this muddle? It was muddled enough already, without another question mark."

"My own idea. Empress Stanley Five started exiling rebels there way back in the twenty-two hundreds sometime and they've been doing it ever since. What could be nicer for recruiting purposes?"

  • I think the prison planet was already a cliche by 1964. In Cordwainer Smith's "A Planet Named Shayol" from three years earlier, it is already treated as a standard SF trope. – Buzz May 12 '17 at 2:19
  • @Buzz, probably so, I was just providing a starting point. Looks like 1961 is now the date to beat. – Harry Johnston May 12 '17 at 4:57
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In the event that Starzl's 1932 "Prison Planet" from user14111's excellently thorough answer doesn't pan out, I submit Penal World by John Russell Fearn, writing as Thornton Ayre, published in Astounding Stories, October 1937.

Excerpt from World Without Chance: Classic Pulp Science Fiction Stories by John Russell Fearn as found in Google Books. The story starts on p. 29:

    "Penal World" by "Thornton Ayre" was submitted to Astounding Stories and accepted by its editor Orlin Tremaine on 23 July 1937. Thus encouraged, Fearn went on to produce more stories in the same vein.

PENAL WORLD

Mad, idiotic world! Air of absolute poison—trees basically ammonium carbonate—creatures living in a temperature of a hundred and twenty degrees below zero centigrade—

In this case, it's Jupiter, not Venus, that is used as a prison planet.

    James Cardew, former American citizen, was on Jupiter through no fault of his own. He was in no way to blame for the fact that he now stood inside his enormously reinforced spacesuit gazing out on a landscape incredibly vast and rugged, stretching to a colossal distance, bounded at remoteness by the boiling horror of the seven-thousand-mile-wide Great Red Spot.

    Jupiter was the penal world of the system, last working place of the criminals of Earth, Mars, and Venus. And for a very good reason! Once a space machine landed on Jupiter it was common knowledge that, in the case of the huge convict machines at least, it could never leave. The titanic gravity of the planet claimed large-sized ships absolutely.

The prisoners are forced to mine the mineral that is used to build the prison complex. This is necessary apparently because the material keeps degrading and they require shelter in order to survive on the harsh planet.

    James Cardew had been framed by certain jealous officials of the space ways—shipped to Jupiter because he knew too much of graft and corruption in high places. For two years he had worked among the bitter-hearted men at the settlement...

...

    The convicts' entire life, therefore, consisted of building up the very walls that hemmed them in...

The story tells of the protagonist's attempt to escape back to Earth. He hopes to succeed where so many had failed before him.

men did go berserk at times—warders and prisoners alike. Some went to the exterior—a freely permitted act—quite unprotected, to die instantly in an atmosphere of pure ammoniated hydrogen at a frigid temperature of a hundred and twenty degress below zero centigrade.

    Others were smarter. They frisked itanium spacesuits and furtively escaped in them—but they were never heard of again.

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    Good find. Available at the Internet Archive. – user14111 May 13 '17 at 0:49
  • Thank you both -- shoover for telling me about this early "penal world" story (a prison planet by any other name is still a prison planet, obviously), and user14111 for showing me where I can read the actual material to see how it was handled in 1937. – Lorendiac May 13 '17 at 0:54
  • They stand on Jupiter? Did people not know it was a gaseous planet? Are they standing on the core? – Adamant May 13 '17 at 7:12
  • @Adamant Don't worry about that. In "Capatin Future" (1940 to 1951), Jupiter has a habitable surface (as do all the other gaseous planets past the asteroid belt) and the Big Red Spot is actually a sea of lava. – David Tonhofer May 13 '17 at 22:50
3

John W. Campbell used a prison solar system at the edge of another galaxy as the source of the people who were invading our galaxy in his 1961 Arcot, Wade, and Morey novel Invaders from the Infinite. The galaxy-wide humane civilization dumped all their criminals there. Then the criminals effectively developed their science so that prisoners and their descendants could keep the peaceful civilization out of their prison solar system. They proceeded to develop weapons of war to take over another galaxy since they didn't want to mess with their former civilization.

Even though I was only eleven in 1961 and reading what is now termed "classic SF", I knew the idea was old then. I remember a parallel-world series with a prison timeline, though I am blanking on the name of that series.

The idea of prisoners taking over the prison planet and developing their own science is a major problem. Who thought that dumping all the mad scientists and evil people with great organizational skills on their own prison planet was a good idea? Nobody was smart enough to predict this future problem? Duh! facepalm

  • 1
    Good one! Here is the ISFDB page for Invaders from the Infinite. I believe the 1961 version was extensively revised from the original in Amazing Stories Quarterly, Spring-Summer, 1932. The prison world Thett is in both; since we're looking for the earliest example, the 1932 version is more relevant here. According to the ISFDB, that issue of ASQ was published in April of 1932, so Starzl's "Prison Planet" from the March 5, 1932, Argosy still beats it (if it pans out). – user14111 May 16 '17 at 22:16
  • The 1932 version of Campbell's Invaders from the Infinite is available at the Internet Archive; the 1961 version is available at Project Gutenberg. – user14111 May 16 '17 at 22:18
0

Not the earliest but a good one not mentioned, British author John Wyndham's short story, No Place Like Earth, 1951. A survivor of Earth's (previous) destruction facing a slow, quiet life prospecting on Mars is enticed to emigrate to Venus and become part of efforts to develope the planet for humanity. When he gets there he discovers an aggressive corporation has enslaved the indigenous (venus) population, a form of pre-man intelligent ape. The planet has been turned into a penal colony utilised to support construction and infrastructure development for the humans (read Dutch / African slavery?). The central character is given a whip and a gun as tools of employment and is allocated to a region as slave 'gang master'.

Horrified, he eventually manages to effect his escape destroying the last Venus transport rocket in his wake, effectively marooning the corporation in their own prison.

Wyndham dedicated a good deal of his short story writing to themes of time travel and environmental catastrophe (inspired in both by H.G.Wells) although he did re-visit concepts of slavery and isolation on several occasions. His most famous novel is arguably the Midwich Cuckoos filmed as Children of the Damned in 1960 and 1995. In this, the 'children', offspring of alien intervention on earth, are isolated from the village and imprisoned in church after they exhibit strange telepathic powers which threaten to de-stabilise the global power structure. I wont spil the end of this conflict for you. Well worth a read, a great author.

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