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Obviously the series The Expanse has brought the term "Belter" into relatively common use. However, I have seen the expression used in Larry Niven's great novel Protector (strongly recommended if you haven't read it), and this naturally brings the question up:

So what was the earliest use of the term Belter in sci-fi ?

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    Heinlein used it before Niven, I would think... Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 21:27
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    Well, it's certainly earlier in Niven's fiction than that; it appeared in "World of Ptavvs" which dates to 1965.
    – DavidW
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 21:27
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    Have you looked in the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction?
    – user14111
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 0:41
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    @user14111 MA Golding mentioned that reference in his answer and I was not aware of it until then. Very useful. Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 0:58
  • I always just thought it just meant something really good, like of a song xD
    – user93707
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 12:35

3 Answers 3

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The Oxford English Dictionary has the sense of belter:

Science Fiction. Also with capital initial. A native or inhabitant of an asteroid belt; esp. one who works as a miner.

going back to 1966, with the earliest citation to a work by Larry Niven.

However, I located an earlier usage in the 1948 story "There is No Defense" by Theodore Sturgeon. In this case, "Belter" is treated as a proper noun, for the name of the main character in the story, but it is clear that this is not actually his name but a sobriquet, referring to the fact that he originates in the asteroid belt. At a meeting of representatives from across Solarian system, the name "Belter" is used in parallel with others like "Martian" and "Jovian," indicating the delegates' places of origin.

The Martian raised his hand defiantly. The Phoebe-Titan Colonial delegate followed suit. Earth. The Belt. Five, six—eight. Nine.

"Nine," said Belter. He looked at the Jovian, who looked back, unblinking. Not voting.

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    Nice. I found that story, but simply read it assuming that "Belter" was his name.
    – DavidW
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 23:23
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    I haven't read the story. Is it clear that the character called Belter is a denizen of the asteroid belt?
    – user14111
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 1:47
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    "the name 'Belter' is used in parallel with others like 'Martian' and 'Jovian,'": It's not really used in a parallel way. All other characters all have "normal" names separate from their demonyms, and when demonyms are used for characters, they're always preceded by "the". Always "The Martian"; never "The Belter".
    – Miles
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 7:19
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    "Yes, his asteroid home is mentioned." I only see a reference to an "uninhabited asteroid beacon" with "abandoned mine workings" being destroyed by the Invader, but Belter doesn't seem to consider it home.
    – Miles
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 7:30
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    FWIW, in There is No Defense, the story is unambiguously clear that although there is a delegate present representing "the Belt," Belter himself is definitely not that delegate: he is the non-voting chairman. Page 14: "Sorry, Belter. You can't vote. As chairman, you are powerless unless all members vote, and then all you can do is [...]" Maybe his name still reflects his origin (Streeter, Forester, Farmer, Belter), but I don't see any firm textual support for that hypothesis in a quick skim of the story. Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 16:25
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Protector, 1973, is part of Larry Niven's Known Space series. And most of the stories and novels in the known space series were published before Protector.

There wouldn't be any mention of Belters in the stories set during the early exploration of the solar system before the Belt was settled. I believe the protagonist of "At the Bottom of a Hole", Galaxy, December, 1966, was a Belter.

On page 100:

Belter's don't need houses. A Belter's home is the inside of his pressure suit.

https://archive.org/details/Galaxy_v25n02_1966-12_modified/page/n65/mode/2up

I think that the first known space story to be set in an era where Belters might be mentioned was World of Ptaavs, August, 1966, first published in Worlds of Tomorrow, March 1965.

And this list:

https://sfdictionary.com/view/337/belter

Has the earliest example of "Belter" in World of PTaavs in Worlds of Tomorrow, March 1965.

They’ll be armed for us, and a weapon is a weapon…. Belters, they’re always waiting for the first ET.

Therefore, stories published before 1965/66 should be the ones to search for the earliest mention of "Belters".

Larry Niven has indicated that he invented this term.

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    There goes Niven claiming to have invented question mark again. Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 22:55
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    @SillyButTrue And, apparently, the grocer's apostrophe.
    – Spencer
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 23:43
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    @Spencer nah, that looks like a typo, it's not like that in the archive.org scan :)
    – hobbs
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 7:39
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    @SillybutTrue Is it true that Niven invented both color and water?
    – Lexible
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 2:59
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    Didn't he discover slood while he was at it? Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 10:05
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I think that the term is used in the 1962 novel Raiders From The Rings by Alan E. Nourse.

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    Google Books allows to search that book, and while there are many mentions of belts (mostly as in "belt of power", but also several mentions of "Asteroid Belt"), the exact term "Belter" is not in there: google.de/books/edition/Raiders_From_The_Rings/…. Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 20:40
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    Hi, welcome to SciFi.SE. You can greatly improve your answer by editing in a relevant quote from the book
    – fez
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 20:42
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    I bought the e-book out of curiosity. This is talking about "spacers", not "belters" (although to be fair the spacers live in the Asteroid belt and are at odds with the Earthlings, basically like belters). Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 20:45

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