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From the Halo Wiki:

The term glassing, also known as plasma bombardment, is used to refer to the act by which Covenant ships bombard a planet from orbit using heavy plasma weaponry.

This concept of bombarding a planet and turning it to glass is not unique to the Halo series alone. The science-fiction video game Iji also has an alien species that renders a planet uninhabitable with orbital bombardment.

This concept has a real-world equivalent in the from the Naval bombardment of an area to wipe out resistance, known as an Alpha Strike.

I am aware that list questions are not allowed, so I am not asking for a full list of all works that contain this type of life-wiping orbital bombardment strategy. And I am aware that the idea probably originally came from the above-mentioned Alpha Strike.

What I am asking is, when did the concept of an orbital bombardment of a planet, resulting in the death of most life (Let's say, at least 70% of the dominant species being wiped out, assuming the dominant species is the intelligent, technology-using one), all life, or rendering the planet uninhabitable, first make an appearance in Sci-Fi?

Note that 'orbital bombardment' is a tricky thing to define. This Wiki definition is pretty good, but I will also accept any attack if it originates in space, even if it is from a sattelite that originally came from the planet in question, comes from another planet and enters the atmosphere to deliver a deadly payload (so long as it is not a ground or sea invasion force, or a persistent atmospheric attack), or any other space-originating attack from outside or within a planet's orbit, so long as the attack is sufficiently devestating and leaves little to no room for retaliation from the surface.

  • Please define "orbital bombardment." – Kyle Jones Oct 23 '14 at 20:03
  • @KyleJones I"m not picky. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_weapon#Orbital_bombardment This will do. And it doesn't matter what payload is delivered either. – Zibbobz Oct 23 '14 at 20:06
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    @Zibbobz - I don't consider the books to be canon in the Starship Troopers universe. – Valorum Oct 23 '14 at 20:18
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    @Richard - The movies aren't canon at all. They are their own separate universe that just stole the title. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 23 '14 at 20:52
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    @Richard I seriously hope you are joking with regard to not considering the books canon - why ever not?! – Moo Oct 24 '14 at 11:00
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Depending on what you consider an 'alpha-strike', you need to go back as far as "A True Story" by Lucian of Samosata in the 2nd Century.

The King of the Moon and the King of the Sun are fighting over the right to colonise Jupiter. The King of the Moon builds a giant web in space which blocks the Sun's rays, thus rendering the planet uninhabitable.

As for us, we were taken off to the sun that day, our hands tied behind our backs with a section of spider-web. The enemy decided not to lay siege to the city, but on their way back they built a wall through the air, so that the rays of the sun should no longer reach the moon. The wall was double, made of cloud, so that a genuine eclipse of the moon took place, and she was completely enshrouded in unbroken night.


Failing that, the concept of planetary destruction (from space/with nukes) goes back at least as far as 1951:

"This discussion is interesting, but futile," put in Eichlan, forestalling a scornful reply. "It is more to the point, I think, to discuss that which must be done; or, rather, who is to do it, since the thing itself admits of only one solution—an atomic bomb of sufficient power to destroy every trace of life upon that accursed planet.

E. E. "Doc" Smith (1951), Gray Lensman

  • I assume this quote is in reference to an atomic bomb delivered from a spaceship, and not from said planet itself, or from one planet to another? – Zibbobz Oct 23 '14 at 20:25
  • @Zibbobz - Yes. The plan is to fly it to the planet and drop it on it. – Valorum Oct 23 '14 at 20:29
  • "They fly it to the planet and drop it" is not orbital bombardment, unless they go into orbit about the planet before delivering the payload. Is it clear that that happens? As for Lucian's story, that doesn't remotely qualify: no orbit, no bombardment. – user14111 Oct 23 '14 at 23:36
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    @user14111 - It's an attempt to render the planet uninhabitable from space. That sounds pretty close to me. – Valorum Oct 24 '14 at 0:24
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    I wonder if a single nuke or asteroid is actually a bombardment, at least under military terms it isn't. Probably way too pedantic to matter in such a fun question =) – Patrick Hughes Oct 24 '14 at 14:34
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This Island Earth circa 1955 has a planet being bombarded from space by programmed meteors. Probably not the earliest, but pretty early.

  • Certainly one of the earliest in film fiction. You have my +1 – Valorum Oct 24 '14 at 18:30
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The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, published by Heinlein in 1966, is probably the most widely recognized introduction to orbital bombardment (which I'll define as kinetic bombardment using inert munitions against a target at the bottom of the gravity well).

I'm sure there's been earlier descriptions, but that one's pretty seminal.

  • Not bad thinking. I admit I didn't think of lunar bombardment, but it's definitely a good answer. – Zibbobz Oct 23 '14 at 20:21
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    Heinleins earlier Starship Troopers has reference to bombarding bug planets from orbit with nukes, turning the surface into radioactive glass, and that was in 1959. – Moo Oct 24 '14 at 10:59
  • @Moo, good catch, for some reason I thought Starship Troopers postdated TMIAHM. – gowenfawr Oct 24 '14 at 13:13
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Space Battleship Yamato

The first season began airing in Japan on October 6, 1974. Set in the year 2199, an alien race known as the "Gamilas" ("Gamilons" in the English Star Blazers dub) unleash radioactive meteorite bombs on Earth, rendering the planet's surface uninhabitable.

  • Sounds like a pretty solid example. Maybe not the earliest, but fairly early. – Zibbobz Jun 24 '16 at 13:10
  • Perhaps one of the earliest examples on film? – Ellesedil Jun 24 '16 at 19:33
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Not the first use of the concept but possibly the first use of the term "Glassing" is, as far as I can find it, in Starship Troopers in 1959 where they use it to describe what they do to the rest of Planet P during 'Operation Royalty'.

  • Not quite what the question is asking - but as far as interpreting it, this is a valid answer for when the term first came into circulation - so this is still a very good answer! – Zibbobz Oct 12 '17 at 13:23
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Though this answer does not answer the question of the OP as well as previous answers I believe it does add some value.
Following are two much more recent examples of the use of the tactic of orbital bombardment to wipe out life on a planet, which are much more likely candidates as influences on the designers of Halo:


Babylon 5
In the Babylon 5 series one of the major powers, the Shadows utilize a form of orbital bombardment to wipe out life on various offending planets. (Their archenemies the Vorlon's also rendered numerous planets uninhabitable but, as I remember it, with a single enormously powerful shot from a non-kinetic energy weapon... which I would not call bombardment).

Robotech (The Macros Saga)
Another reference from approximately 10yrs prior to Babylon 5 is Robotech. Toward the end of the first Robotech series the alien race the Zentradei begin the orbital bombardment of earth with the intent to destroy all life on it. The Zentradei efforts are interrupted and effectively stopped, however, it was most certainly their intent. Additional note: they did utilize non-kinetic energy weapons but the method was most certainly a bombardment of the planet.

Again I only mention these because they are more likely influences for the Halo designers than the early science fiction books previously mentioned, (and granted those answers are definitely better answers to the OP).

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If attacking a planet with death rays counts, the Prologue to The triumph of Time James Blish (1959) says that at The Battle of the Forts in 2413 the Third Colonial Navy under Admiral Alois Hrunta scorched the Vega system.

https://books.google.com/books?id=poAjCQAAQBAJ&pg=PT136&lpg=PT136&dq=cities+in+Space+planet+Vega+II&source=bl&ots=LNsSYmt4Cz&sig=qcrF6aqPlumPvZsiR2-OkUNu_eo&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjZ5cyGnejRAhVBbiYKHfjDCGoQ6AEIJTAC#v=onepage&q=Alois%20Hrunta&f=false[1]

In the Star Trek episode "A Taste of Armageddon" 23 Feb, 1967:

KIRK: All that it means is that I won't be around for the destruction. You heard me give General Order Twenty Four. That means in two hours the Enterprise will destroy Eminiar Seven.

KIRK: Kirk to Enterprise. Scotty? SCOTT [OC]: Scott here, Captain. KIRK: Cancel implementation of General Order Twenty Four. Alert transporter room. We're ready to beam up.

http://www.chakoteya.net/StarTrek/23.htm[2]

And in "Where No Man Has Gone before" 22 Sep, 1966:

KIRK: If you have not received a signal from me within twelve hours, you'll proceed at maximum warp to the nearest Earth base with my recommendation that this entire planet be subjected to a lethal concentration of neutron radiation. No protest on this, Mark. That's an order.

http://www.chakoteya.net/StarTrek/2.htm[3]

So apparently the Enterprise had a significant weapons upgrade between the two episodes or didn't have enough power left to devastate a planet in "Where No Man Has Gone before" after being damaged by the galactic barrier.

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Nevil Shute's "On The Beach" (1957) talks about the end of human life on earth after a Nuclear War.

H. Beam Piper's (1957) "The Keeper" takes place on an Earth that was bombarded into an ice age by warfare in the future.

I'd think that 1945 would be a good place to start looking back, as from then Nuking out life on Earth was a common trope.

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    I don't see how either of these stories meet the criteria; planetary bombardment – Valorum Oct 23 '14 at 23:36
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    neither do any of the other answers – Oldcat Oct 24 '14 at 0:15
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    @Oldcat This doesn't make your answer any better. – Zibbobz Oct 24 '14 at 13:19

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