Origins of science fiction terms

Alien intelligenceThe io9 website this week features a long list of science fiction terms and their origins. Some I was already aware of – I remember reading an article not long ago about cheeky reuses of Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘ansible’, and William Gibson’s ‘cyberspace’ and Karel Čapek’s ‘robot’ are well documented.

There’s a huge amount of unexpected detail in the article, though. Tracing a first usage of ‘alien’ to mean ‘from another world’ is pretty impressive, for a start. Pinpointing ‘space-ship’ to 1880 is terrific. But my absolute favourite has to be E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s coining of ‘tractor beam’ in 1931, in this concise and self-explanatory phrase: ‘Brandon swung mighty tractor beams upon the severed halves of the Jovian vessel’.

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