16

In science fiction series and movies like Star Trek, Star Wars, The war of the worlds, Independence Day (1996) , Macross (1982) , spaceships and/or robots use force fields to protect the mechas from being damaged. The concept is very popular and widely used in many stories. But where does this concept come from? Which was the first story to use the idea of a force field or energy field?

  • I don't remember any force fields in War of the worlds... – Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica Dec 17 '19 at 11:31
  • @TomášZato-ReinstateMonica marcgabbana.com/default.php?content_id=23&img_id=242 – Pablo Dec 17 '19 at 11:35
  • Nice picture, but I remember nothing like that from the book. – Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica Dec 17 '19 at 11:41
  • 1
    Unfortunately my answer has been deleted, under a moderation policy that religious texts are considered factual and cannot be called "stories". I quoted an example of something very force-field-like from the Bible as a possible origin of the concept. Similar examples exist in Greek, Indian and Babylonian myths. These are all religious texts though, insofar as they cover the actions of gods. We cannot discuss or even name those examples, or that answer/comment will be deleted. – Graham Dec 17 '19 at 15:24
25

It appears that the earliest may in fact be 1887 in Rondah, or Thirty-Three Years in a Star. I will add some quotes when I have a chance to type them out, but "the wall in the air" seems to have the expected properties of a force field.

The "wall" is an invisible, impenetrable barrier that encloses Sun Island in the story. The barrier physically blocks access by land, water or air; a flying craft that runs into it is smashed. Attempts to breach it are blocked or rebounded back, and it blocks radiation outside the visible spectrum (specifically heat) as well.

It is not, however, an actual physical object, since it is occasionally turned off.

All in, it's fairly close to what would be understood as a "force field", lacking only the name.

Found thanks to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction's theme entry for Force Field includes the following references:

There are conceptual precursors which would now be classed as force fields although not originally described as such. In William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land: A Love Story (1912; cut 1921), humanity's Last Redoubt is defended by the "Electric Circle" which generates the "Air Clog ... an Invisible Wall of Safety." Some kind of force-field Technology (though here more akin to the Tractor Beam) seems to underlie the invisible "flying loop" which provides action-at-a-distance effects in Rudyard Kipling's "As Easy as A.B.C." (March-April 1912 The London Magazine). Everett F Bleiler's Science Fiction: The Early Years: A Full Description of More Than 3,000 Science-Fiction Stories from Earliest Times to the Appearance of the Genre Magazines in 1930 with Author, Title, and Motif Indexes (dated 1990 but 1991) lists further examples including Florence Carpenter Dieudonné's Rondah, or Thirty-Three Years in a Star (1887) – perhaps the earliest use of the concept in Proto SF – and John Mastin's Through the Sun in an Airship (1909).

(These aren't specifically called "force fields," but may qualify as answers to the question since it seeks the first use of the idea of a force field.)

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    Kipling's "As Easy as A.B.C." is on librivox. It's not a bad story. It does involve a field which is a kind of a force field, but not exactly the impenetrable invisible wall that people tend to mean by "force field". – Bob says reinstate Monica Dec 16 '19 at 18:36
  • THere are shield generators in Dune - those are (sort-of) force-fields, aren't they? – einpoklum Dec 17 '19 at 17:27
12

Actually, Wikipedia seems to have an answer:

The concept of a force field goes back at least as far as the 1920s, in the works of E.E. 'Doc' Smith and others; in William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land (1912) the Last Redoubt, the fortress of the remnants of a far-future humanity, is kept safe by something very like a force field.

Importantly, Wells does not seem to have supplied the alien invaders with these although it would not be a huge stretch (and Wells seemed amazing at forecasting the future -- I believe he coined the term "atomic bomb" 30 years before fission was discovered) since "fields" of static electricity could be created by Tesla by the 1890s and perhaps this could have, but apparently didn't, inspire protecting the tripods with them. It was in Pal's 1953 WoW that force fields show up.

| improve this answer | |
  • How about a similar idea mentioned there in Isaac Asimov foundation series. Those stories started to be written in 1942. But if I understand correctly the last ones were written in the early 90's. So when did that similar concept appear in Asimov foundation series? Before or after Pal's 1953 Wow ? – Pablo Dec 15 '19 at 17:34
  • the wikipedia article has force fields appearing well before Asimov. – releseabe Dec 15 '19 at 17:41
  • 1
    @Pablo As I remember, force fields were used in E.E. Smith's Skylark Three (1930 magazine, 1948 book). And in his Lensman series (1937-1948 magazines, 1950-1954 books). And I think that it would have been a really major rewriting to add force fields when they were republished as books. – M. A. Golding Dec 15 '19 at 17:55
  • 1
    It was Michael Faraday who coined the term 'field' for the value of electric potential in space, so the real-world idea of an invisible field which generates a force dates from 1849, half a century before Wells' war. – Pete Kirkham Dec 16 '19 at 14:48
7

According to this site here: http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/content.asp?Bnum=7901

The earliest uses of the term force-field include two from 1931, John W. Campbell's Islands of Space and E.E. Smith's Spacehounds of IPC.

Thus the use of force fields in science fiction may date to 1931 or earlier.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.