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I'm trying to figure out what is the earliest mention of shield technology in any work of fiction to feature spaceships that are protected by shields or any similar force field technology (think of shields in Star Trek or Star Wars).

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  • 1
    Just to set a mark, how about "Triplanetary"(1934)? Jan 9 at 23:55
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    @ClaraDiazSanchez From Sf Encyclopedia, a slightly earlier Doc Smith story, "Spacehounds of IPC", also uses the "Force field" in the Lensman series.
    – Spencer
    Jan 10 at 0:29
  • @Spencer Nice article, it also mentions "Through the Sun in an Airship" from 1909. I can't find a synopsis of it though, so I'm not sure it involves shields as such. Jan 10 at 0:51
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John Mastin's Through the Sun in an Airship (1909) mentioned in an earlier comment, has a protective shield. The novel is available at HathiTrust.

... he housed the Regina in her shed with all the fittings intact, also placing around it the well-known protective current of de-atomising force. (p. 21-22)

And here is an example of what the 'protective current' does:

Evidently forgetting the current was still on, he impulsively jumped on the ladder and that instant he was annihilated, even before the cry of warning could form itself on Meredith's lips.

Every one round the great doorway saw him, in the twinkling of an eyelid, de-atomise into vapour and vanish. Not a trace of him was left; he was completely volatilised. (p. 21.)

And touching the ship is not necessary:

Until the annihilating force can be cut off, any thing or person brought within twelve inches of any part of the vessel's surface or projections is volatilised. (p. 24.)

In reference to the novel's title, the field did not protect against the heat of the sun; another means was used for that.

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  • Through the Sun in an Airship is a sequel to The Stolen Planet (1905), an earlier novel by the same author. Apparently The Stolen Planet features the same ship as this later one. However I could not find an ebook of The Stolen Planet so I can't say whether it also has this "protective current".
    – nebogipfel
    Jan 12 at 4:04
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As far as I remember, there were space ship mounted force fields, or energy barriers, or force screens, or force shields, or whatever the precise terminology, in E.E. Smith's Skylark Three, the second novel in the Skylark series. It was published in Amazing Stories in the issues date August, september, and October, 1930.

Even though Smith's heroes invented an impenetrable force barrier near the beginning of Skylark Three, they found a way to use that defense as an offensive weapon in the novel. So possibly Smith had read other stories with force shields and decided to one up them with one that could be used offensively.

Anyway, that is the earliest example that I can think of. An earlier example has to be found or Skylark Three will remain the record.

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  • Were they ship-mounted force fields? I haven't had a chance to do a review of my own, but a lot of the first instances of force fields were city- or planet-scale protection, and not mobile.
    – DavidW
    Jan 10 at 21:01
  • Interesting! I've always assumed this trend started with spaceships!
    – Raphael
    Jan 10 at 22:44
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    In the First novel of Smith's Skylark series "The Skylark of Space", the spacecraft has "repellor screens." These are force-fields that stop meteors and other material objects. In the second novel they have "ray-screens", which are force fields that stop energy beams. Jan 11 at 0:47
  • @DavidW Yes, the ray screens in Skylark Three were mounted on the spaceship Skylark Two and all the later vessels built by the protagonists including the Skylark Three. Jan 11 at 19:49

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