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[first use unknown]

A biological robot, esp. a cloned or synthetic human (but compare droid).

Clute and Nicholls' Encylopedia of Science Fiction traces the first modern use to Jack Williamson's The Cometeers (1936, book version 1950). The distinction between mechanical robots and organic androids was popularized by Edmond Hamilton in his Captain Future series a few years later, and had become a feature of mainstream press discussion of SF by 1958.

OED II says "An automaton resembling a human being", with cites for the older variant "androides" going back to 1727.


[from Ursula K. LeGuin's Oikumene stories beginning c.1965]

General SFnal term for FTL radio; a communicator using a method with instantaneous or at least superluminal propagation speed.


[contraction of "antigravity"; first use unknown]

General SFnal term for a hypothetical technology of local gravity nullification or control allowing objects (especially vehicles) to levitate or fly without wings, ducted fans or other aerodynamics. There are variants including contragrav and agrav, understood to be equivalent.

Antigrav is functionally similar to a reactionless drive, but unlike the latter it is often assumed to be limited to operating near a planetary surface or other large mass. It is generally (but not always) assumed that antigravity is a major consequence of forcefield technology, which is applied in many other ways.



Shortened noun form of "autonomous" used to describe a non-humanoid robot. First appeared in the "Dr. Who" episode "Spearhead from Space" in 1970, then in "Terror of the Autons" (1971). Best known from (apparently independent) usage in the Realtime novels of Vernor Vinge, c.1980. Not found in other SF to date, but in speculative use among some software researchers as a shorthand for "autonomous system" referring to a software agent.


[first use unknown; dates back at least to 1950]

Critical term, abbreviation for "Bug-Eyed Monster". Use of this term is now rare and implicitly derogatory, equating the work in which the BEM appears to the category of low-grade space opera.


[first use unknown]

General SFnal term for hypothetical technologies which combine genetic engineering, surgical, and nanotech methods to make the manipulation of living tissue as readily available and sophisticated as present-day construction and manipulation of nonliving artifacts.

When first generally used in the 1950s, this term was narrower in scope and limited to surgical methods for altering existing organisms, as opposed to creating new ones.


[coined by Fred Saberhagen, c.1961]

A space-going autonomous war machine the size of a small asteroid, programmed to destroy all intelligent life not resembling its long-lost creators, and usually to build copies of itself with the same mission.

This term is the signature of one author (Fred Saberhagen's) series of stories, but has also passed into general use by other authors using (usually less potent) versions of his berserkers as part of their story backgrounds.

(The word originally referred to a type of Norse warrior prone to battle frenzy.)


[first use unknown, goes back at least to 1930s]

General SFnal term for a hand weapon analogous to a pistol but firing some unspecified form of radiant energy. The term predates laser and maser technology by decades, going back to space opera. Compare disrupter, stunner, needler, magrifle, plasma rifle, slugthrower.

catastrophe story

[first instance unknown]

Critical term for a peculiarly British equivalent of the post-holocaust story in which civilization is destroyed by some overwhelming natural disaster and the protagonists undramatically fail to cope. Paradigmatic examples include J. G. Ballard's The Wind From Nowhere and John Christopher's No Blade of Grass.

Though the setting of this form is similar to that of the American post-holocaust story, the psychology and tone is quite different. Where the American form is heroic, fantastic, and obsessed with struggle, the British catastrophe novel is anti-heroic, involuted, and obsessed with futility.


[general from c.1971]

A cryogenically-preserved human awaiting revival by future technology. Strongly associated with the "Known Space" future of Larry Niven, but used elsewhere. According to Niven, the term was actually coined by Frederik Pohl.


[coined by Bruce Bethke in the early 1980s]

Critical term widely used to describe a subgenre of SF that is generally imitative of or inspired by William Gibson's Neuromancer and Count Zero (though the source stream goes back through John Brunner's 1975 The Shockwave Rider to earlier works like Frederic Pohl's Day Million (1966) and Murray Leinster's The Wabbler (1942)).

Cyberpunk SF is mythically fascinated by computer networking, human/computer interfacing and biosculpture, but tends to approach them with a dark and cynical attitude. Cyberpunk writing tends to be stylish, dystopian and humorless. At its best (in works like Walter John Williams's Hardwired, Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix or Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash) the form poses hard questions about the extent to which digital intelligence and advanced biosculpture may transform human experience.


[originally in William Gibson's 1982 novel Neuromancer]

The totality of all the world's networked computers, represented as a visual virtual 3D domain in which a user may move and act with consequences in the real world. Now widely known (and widely abused) in the mainstream; today's Internet does not yet have the most salient characteristics of cyberspace.


[portmanteau of "cybernetic organism"; first use 1960]

General SF term for a technological melding of human and machine, with the machine parts intended to enhance normal human abilities and environmental tolerances. The term was first coined in astronautics but quickly crossed over into SF, acquiring grim and mythic overtones perhaps best expressed by H.R. Giger's dark biomechanical fantasy art.


[from William Gibson's early-80s cyberpunk SF]

A future cracker; a software expert skilled at manipulating cyberspace, especially at circumventing security precautions. Not yet used in other SF, but widely found in cyberpunk role-playing games.


[first use unknown]

General SFnal term for a weapon that operates by disrupting molecular bonds. Often implicitly a short form of gravitic disrupter which hypothetically disrupts by using focused oscillating gravity beams to shake or vibrate its target to pieces, or sonic disrupter which uses focused sound waves to similar effect. Seldom a hand weapon.

Compare blaster, needler, magrifle, stunner, plasma rifle, slugthrower.


[popularized by the first Star Wars movie, 1977]

A robot. This somewhat misapplied contraction of android is not much used in other SF (LucasFilms has a trademark on it!). It is now widely known outside SF circles but only used mythically of fictional characters.

Dyson sphere

[invented by physicist Freeman Dyson]

A sphere around a star, a macrostructure proposed as a possible habitat of very advanced civilizations who wish to capture the entire energy output of their sun.

Bob Shaw set Orbitsville on a Dyson sphere. Some astronomers have speculated that the reason we don't see signs of advanced civilizations in the sky is that they're living in Dyson spheres, which trap their radio noise and look like large stellar remnants radiating only in the hard-to-detect infrared.


[first use unknown; probably dates to 1940s]

A human being or other sophont capable of reading the emotions of others by some form of ESP. Distinguished from a telepath which can read thoughts.


[abbreviation, Extra-Sensory Perception]

General SFnal term of art for what was classically called clairvoyance and now called "remote sensing" by parapsychologists. The term ESP was coined as a term of art by early parapsychologists at the Rhine Institute and also included telepathic and empathic ability. It is no longer much used scientifically.


[first use unknown, goes back at least to 1940s]

General SFnal term for a human or other sophont able to use ESP. In George O. Smith's classic Highways In Hiding and many later novels the term specifically excludes telepathic and empathic ability, being restricted to modes of clairvoyance or remote sensing.

first-contact story

[paradigm example is Murray Leinster's First Contact, 1949

Critical term for one of SF's most unique and characteristic forms; stories about first meeting between human beings and nonhuman sophonts. In the classic form, spacefaring human beings specialized for the job of exploration and alien contact encounter aliens on an unexplored planet (or occasionally, as in the Leinster classic, human and alien starships meet by chance while on missions of science and exploration).

The humans have a starship full of resources and tools which the reader implicitly understands fairly well; effective weapons, fast flyers and planet-to-orbit transit, well-stocked scientific laboratories, etc. They are confronted with a puzzle (in the better examples, several linked puzzles). The story details the puzzle, and how they solve it, in a way that attempts to surprise, entertain, and perhaps educate the reader.

The rewards of reading this form of SF, and the challenges of writing it, resemble those of classic locked-room murder mysteries, another form in which the apparent poverty of the framing device to an uneducated reader conceals a rich wealth of intellectual and psychological possibilities. But in SF these possibilities are much broader in scope. In the first-contact story, SF authors are challenged to construct entire alien worlds, ecologies, and societies with depth and plausibility such that, at the denoument, the reader says "I should have seen that coming!" but did not.


[from Larry Niven's "Known Space" stories of the 1960s and early 1970s]

Mildly derogatory term for someone who's never been off a planetary surface, i.e. into space. Resonant with the term used in Edwin A. Abbot's classic mathematical fantasy Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions to describe two-dimensional creatures unaware of the third dimension of space.

While this term is strongly associated with Larry Niven's fiction (in which it specifically describes a resident of Earth), other writers have used it. Compare groundhog.


[first use unknown]

General SFnal term for a personal flying vehicle, typically not winged but rather using some form of antigrav or exotic aerodynamics such as ducted-fan and Coanda-effect technology. Unlike a skimmer, a flitter is capable of free flight.


[first use unknown; also "force field"]

General SFnal term for a hypothetical technology which can interact with any material object in the ways that magnetic fields interact with magnetized ones. A forcefield may be deployed as a shield around a spaceship or other object (a force shield). Other applications include the tractor beam, the pressor beam and antigrav.

force shield

[dates to early space opera, c. 1930]

The concept goes back to E.E. "Doc" Smith's Skylark stories, a classic space opera series originally launched in 1928; those books referred to force screens. By the time of Asimov's Foundation in the 1940s the idea had been sufficiently naturalized that his world featured personal force shields as a defense against the blaster.

In "Doc" Smith's and most later versions, a force shield has no thickness and has resistence proportional to the power of the generator. It is possible to overload a shield by throwing more energy at it than the generator can handle, or to wait for the exhaustion of the generator's power sources.


[abbreviation, Faster Than Light; first use unknown]

General SFnal term for hypothetical means of circumventing the Einsteinian speed limit, these being necessary to a large class of SF plots that require easy travel between star systems. The abbreviation goes back at least as far as the late 1950s. Compare hyperspace, NAFAL and see stardrive.

generation ship

[established by Heinlein's Orphans Of The Sky (1958); earliest appearance may have been Don Wilcox's "The Voyage That Lasted 600 Years" (1940)]

General SFnal term for a hypothetical form of NAFAL starflight in which many generations of crewmembers live out the long transit time of an interstellar voyage, functioning a closed and self-sufficient society within a very large vessel set up as a closed miniature of a planetary ecology.

Arthur Clarke credits physicist J.D. Bernal's speculative non-fiction The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1929, MIT Press reprint in the Seventies) with describing large, slow multi-generation ships. There may be earlier antecedents. Heinlein's story, though, is certainly definitive.

genetic engineering

[coined by Jack Williamson in Dragon's Island (1951)]

General term for technologies based on the sophisticated manipulation of genetic material, used widely in SF for three decades before going mainstream in the early 1980s. In SF this term has much wider scope than current real-world applications involving tailored bacteria and transgenic plants; it is understood to include the creation of chimeras and entirely novel animals or (especially) varieties of humanity.


[from Robert Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land, 1959]

Literally the Martian verb "to drink", metaphorically "to become one with". To know deeply or achieve unity with. The word enjoyed a vogue in the 1960s counterculture. It seems to be in the recognition though not production vocabulary of many educated mainstream English speakers, and is still used casually on the Internet.


[first use unknown; dates at least back to 1940s] General SFnal term for a conventional wheeled vehicle, used to imply that the normal "car" is a flitter or skimmer.

This term was used in Asimov's original Foundation novelette.


[from Robert Heinlein's Space Cadet (1948)]

Another mildly derogatory term for someone who's never been off a planetary surface, i.e. into space. Also used to describe a person travelling in space but unaccustomed or incapable of adapting to ship or station conditions. Probably as widely recognized as flatlander, though less used.


[first use unknown]

One common model of FTL travel is that a starship can somehow exit normal space to a domain in which the lightspeed limit does not apply, or the geometry of the realm permits quick transit between points widely separated in normal space.

General use of hyperspace as a term for such domains dates back at least to the 1940s; it is found in Asimov's epochal Foundation novels and probably predates those.


[first use unknown]

Common SFnal term for a starship fitted with a jump drive, as opposed to ships equipped only for short-range travel in normal space. See stardrive.

jump point

[first use unknown]

See stardrive.

lost-colony story

[first use unknown]

Critical term for an SF adventure set on an Earth colony world which has lost contact with the founding civilization, and (usually) regressed to a lower level of technology resembling that of pre-industrial Earth. Often told either from the point of view of spacefaring humans re-contacting the planet or of natives accidentally encountering or deliberately attempting to regain their lost heritage.

This framing element is enduringly popular because it combines wide scope for combining stirring and mythic derring-do with other SF tropes. Versions narrated by space-faring modern-minded humans can pose some of the same sorts of puzzles that make first contact stories popular. Versions narrated by the regressed locals can make effective use of a sort of Sophoclean irony, presenting certain facts about the world in a distorted and mythic form known to the locals which the reader can enjoy decoding more fully. All versions can partake of the virtues of the frontier or edge-of-empire tale.


[first use unknown; occurred in Asimov's Foundation stories of the early 1940s] Common term for a stardrive.


[abbreviation, Nearly As Fast As Light; first use by Ursula Le Guin in the early Oikumene novels, c.1964]

Describes what a physicist would call a "relativistic" starship. This near-antonym of FTL is not as generally used but is found in the works of multiple writers. See also generation ship .


[common SFnal short form of nanotechnology; the latter seems to have been coined by K. Eric Drexler in the 1980s]

The (so far hypothetical) technology of manipulating matter exactly, and efficiently, atom by atom, as opposed to via bulk methods such as heat, pressure, mixing etc. The tools of nanotech are themselves of molecular scale, thereby combining the autonomy and flexibility of living cells with the reliability and designability of machines.

Nanotechnology implies a world in which material scarcity is very nearly a thing of the past, because any desired object can be duplicated exactly at minimum energy cost. The only shortages might be of very rare elements, energy, and human attention.


[short for magnetic rifle, first use unknown]

A firearm, analogous to a rifle, that uses pulsed magnetic fields rather than chemical explosives to propel projectiles.

Compare needler, blaster, disrupter, plasma rifleslugthrower.


[first use unknown; goes back to 1950s]

General SFnal term for a weapon analogous to a firarm (usually a handgun, the long-arm equivalent is a magrifle) that fires needle-like projectiles, usually by magnetic acceleration but possibly with chemical explosives. In the Lensman novels a needler or needle beam was an energy weapon, but this image has fallen out of use.

Compare magrifle, blaster, disrupter, plasma rifleslugthrower.

matter transmission

[first use unknown; goes back to 1930s]

Common term for technological teleportation. This particular term (and the shortened form transmat) are most often used of technologies that (hypothetically) disassemble matter at a transmitting location, then beam it to a receiver where it is reassembled atom-by-atom. Other versions of matter transmission involve the use of wormholes or quantum indeterminacy. Larry Niven explored the common logic of teleportation in a 1967 essay "The Theory and Practice of Teleportation" that is still regarded as definitive.


[coined on the model of "bootlegger" by Larry Niven in Death By Ecstasy, 1969]

General SFnal term for a dealer in illicit body parts for organ transplant surgery, usually acquired by kidnapping and murder. Sadly, real-world reports of such activities in Third World countries have appeared in recent years.


[revived in SF by Frank Herbert's Dune (1967), but occurs in Cordwainer Smith's earlier Instrumentality of Mankind stories c.1960]

A flying machine that uses flapping wings. This term is well known to historians of flight; Leonardo Da Vinci drew pictures of ornithopters in his famous sketchbooks, and several early-20th-century attempts at powered flight were ornithopter variants. Unfortunately for their inventors, flapping wings are only effective given the high power-to-weight ratio of avian muscle. We cannot yet attain this in the real world, but SF is free to assume it in the future.

plasma rifle

[first use unknown]

General SFnal term for a long-arm analogue of a blaster, often conceived as a longer-range and more destructive weapon with much higher energy requirements. Often specifically imagined as using plasma-producing directed explosions to send a bolt of energy or superheated gas at the target.

pressor beam

[first use unknown; dates back at least to early 1950s]

General SFnal term for an application of forcefield technology that can push on material objects at a distance ranging from feet to miles. Perhaps popularized by E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman novels. See tractor beam (which is more common).

reactionless drive

[first use unknown]

General SFnal term for a hypothetical means of propulsion through space not dependent (as is a rocket or mass driver) on expelling reaction mass and using Newton's Second Law. The default assumption (seldom spelled out) is that such a drive is able to use some form of exotic forcefield physics to get traction on the fabric of space itself. Compare antigrav.


[from Larry Niven's 1975 novel Ringworld]

A hoop around a star; an artificial macrostructure designed to provide a surface area billions of planetary surfaces in size. The life zone is on the hoop's inner surface, with side walls to hold in the atmosphere. Gravity is provided by centrifugal force, day-night alternation by a ring of shadow squares orbiting separately closer to the star.

Niven invented the idea and the term as a perhaps more feasible variant of the Dyson Sphere. The term has since become general.


[first instance unknown; perhaps A. Conan Doyle's The Poison Belt, c.1918]

Critical term for a type of adventure SF describing with life after the destruction of present-day civilization. In the 1950s and 60s the default catastrophe was nuclear war; those stories featured a semi-standard landscape of ruined and slagged-down cities haunted by hideous mutants human and otherwise. More recent versions have often dealt in virulent plagues or catatrophic ecological collapse. (See also catastrophe story, superficially similar but psychologically quite different.)

The post-holocaust story may deal with survival in the immediate wake of the event as in Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon; with chaos or recovery after a decade or so, as in The Postman by David Brin or Damnation Alley_ by Roger Zelazny; with the re-development of civilization several generations down the road, as in A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller or The Folk of the Fringe by Orson Scott Card; or with primitive societies for which the pre-holocaust period is remewmbered only as a legendary era of magic, as in Star Man's Son by Andre Norton or Vault of the Ages by Poul Anderson.

The subgenre was more popular in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s than it is now. It has become mainstreamed as a common frame for comic books and implausible, low-brow adventure films like the Mad Max series. Nevertheless, notable fantastic treatments like Sterling Lanier's Hiero's Journey and inspiring versions like Brin's The Postman have continued to pop up occasionally.

regeneration tank

[first use unknown]

A regeneration tank is a device that assists a damaged human body in healing and regrowing missing parts. The term has been in general use since the 1950s; at least one early use was in James Schmitz's Agent Of Vega stories. The image that goes with it is of an unconscious subject floating in a complex nutrient bath.


[first use unknown]

Common shorthand for "rejuvenation", meant to imply medical technology capable of reversing aging.


[from Larry Niven's 1980 Novel The Ringworld Engineers]

Sex with a sophont of a species other than one's own. Not general in SF. Sometimes used by members of the SF-fan culture to describe sex with a non-fan.


[From the Czech word robota meaning "involuntary worker"]

An electromechanical construct with humanlike capabilities; a mobile, self-aware thinking machine. Interestingly, the first SFnal use of this word, in Karel Capek's 1920 play R.U.R., referred to what today would be called an android rather than an electromechanical artifact.

This word is ubiquitous in SF, quite well known in the mainstream, and seriously used to describe a large class of industrial machinery with some of the autonomy and intelligence ascribed to fictional robots.


[first use unknowm]

Sometimes contrasted with `sentient' because even low animals can feel. `sapient' is usually an adjective, `sophont' usually a noun.


[first use unknown, but goes back at least to 1940s]

General SF term for an extraterrestrial or alien possessing human-level intelligence (see sophont).

Etymologically, and in mainstream English the word means "feeling" but is rare and now archaic.


[first use unknown]

General SFnal term for a ground vehicle with roughly the performance characteristics of a fast hovercraft, but with the implication that it uses some form of antigrav rather than ducted fans.


[first use unknown; general by 1975]

General SFnal term for a weapon that fires bullets. Use implies that this is not the only weapons technology available; in particular that the future includes some variant of the blaster.


[From Poul Anderson's `Polesotechnic League' stories, going back at least to 1963]

An evolved biological intelligence. Implies human-level cognitive and linguistic ability but not necessarily tool use. More specific and etymologically correct than sentient. Still less common than that term, but has been used by multiple writers.

space opera

[from a now obsolete term horse opera for Western serials]

General term for a subgenre of adventure SF in which the men are heroic, the women beautiful, the monsters monstrous, and the spaceships make whooshing sounds in hard vacuum.

Star Wars and its sequels are perhaps now the paradigmatic examples, but real SF fans instantly think of great early works like E.E. "Doc" Smith's Skylark novels of the 1920s and 30s and the even more popular Lensman novels of the 1950s. The Star Wars movies themselves owe much to Edmond Hamilton's 1949 novel The Star Kings and its sequel Return to the Stars. Once upon a time, in the great between-the-wars era of the pulp magazines, almost all genre SF was divided between space opera and dystopian cautionary tales.


[first detailed in Heinlein's Space Cadet (1948) but the idea probably goes back to early space opera]

Microgravity nausea. Analogue of motion sickness produced by confusion of the human vestibular system in the absence of a gravitational vertical. Correctly predicted in SF long before the first manned spaceflight; however NASA assiduously avoids the SF term.


[first use unknown; general by 1945]

A technology permitting FTL travel that can be built into individual space vessels (as opposed to methods like Tipler machines or dirigible wormholes that would require stationary large scale engineering with exotic forms of matter). Also hyperdrive.

SF writers have been particularly ingenious in rationalizing star drives. Most posit some form of hyperspace; there are many variations on this idea. One, popular in recent years and well represented by the Niven/Pournelle classic The Mote In God's Eye, involves "jump points", regions of space that are connected in a way that enables instantaneous transit between them possible, given the right engines.

Some writers have attempted to pull quantum physics rather than General Relativity into service. Drives based on Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle go back at least as far as Gordon Dickson's Mission To Universe, 1965. Poul Anderson's major works assume a stardrive that persuades all the subatomic particles in the ship to simultaneously quantum-jump thataway. Some other writers have imagined drives which convert a ship to tachyons and back.

A common assumption of most stardrives is that they cannot be used within the gravity well of a planet-sized object (otherwise your drive would behave more like teleportation). Starships therefore have to use some more conventional form of propulsion (or perhaps antigravity to leave planetary surfaces. Recent SF frequently assumes that even the near presence of a star is sufficient to prevent a star drive from operating, so starships must go from planetary orbit to near interstellar space before engaging the stardrive.

Another common assumption (especially accompanying ``jump point'' and other instantaneous-transit drives) is that the transition into and out of stardrive is stressful and disorienting for humans, rendering them temporarily unable to function just after a transit (this may be called jump shock or transit shock).

For an excellent summary of recent speculation on possible star drive mechanisms by physicists, see John Cramer's Alternate View column from November 1996.


[first use unknown; generally established by the 1950s]

General SFnal term for a non-lethal weapon analogous to a firearm that renders the target unconscious. The standard assumptions about stunners are actually quite detailed; they are short-range weapons, easily blocked by walls or furniture, and victims are often groggy or nauseated or otherwise physically sub-par for some time after regaining consciousness (this condition is generally called stun shock). Usually they are imagined to use either some sort of infrasonics or a soporific dart.

SF stunners long predate real-world analogues like tasers and stun grenades. Compare blaster, disrupter, needler, magrifle, plasma rifle, slugthrower.


Hypothetical subatomic particles that travel faster than light.

Hypothesized by physicist Gerald Feinberg in a famous 1967 Physical Reviews article. Frequently used in SF to justify ansible devices. John Cramer has written a good popular exposition of tachyon physics in his October 1993 Alternate View column.


[first use unknown; goes back to at least to 1930s]

A human or other sophont capable of directly reading the thoughts of others.

This terms seems to have originally been coined by 19th-century spiritualists and Theosophists and used to include both mind-reading and remote sensing; earliest OED cite is from 1883. It was established in SF by the late 1940s, completely replacing earlier terms such as ``mind-reading'' and ``thought transference'' perhaps (ironically) because it had the crisp Latinate sound of a scientific term.


[first use unknown; goes back to at least to 1930s; some claim it was coined by Charles Fort]

As a verb, to move object from point to point without traversing the space in between. As a noun, a person or mechanism that can perform teleportation. The term competes with matter transmission.


See Terran.


[coined by Jack Williamson in Collision Orbit (Astounding, July 1941))]

General SFnal term for the art of modifying planetary surface conditions to resemble those of (idealized) Earth, including both macroengineering (such as the diversion of comets to provide water and volatile gasses) and seeding with tailored organisms. Widespread in in SF; used speculatively by astronomers.


[from Latin "terra" = "earth" ]

SFnal adjective for anything from Earth (Terra). A ``Terran'' without modifier, is an Earth-descended human.

This usage displaced the earlier but more etymologically correct ``Tellurian'' and ``Tellus'' in the 1940s and 50s; these older terms are now primarily associated with space opera.


[first use unknown; dates back to 1940s]

General SFnal term for any one universe in a set of branching histories. Usually implies that travel across timelines is possible, even if time travel between different points on the same timeline is not.

tractor beam

[first use unknown; dates back to 1940s]

General SFnal term for an application of forcefield technology that can pull on material objects at a distance ranging from feet to miles. Perhaps popularized by E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman novels. See pressor beam.


[used on the Dr. Who show 1968-69; may have been coined by Theodore Sturgeon a few years earlier]

Synonym for "matter transmitter".


[first use unknown; dates back at least to 1950s]

Analogue of "TV", but with projection of 3-dimensional images; often imagined as a development of holography.


[from the eponymous novelette by Robert A. Heinlein, 1942]

General SFnal term for a mechanical arm and hand; more precisely, a "remote manipulator" controlled by a human operator which duplicates the operator's movements.

Heinlein's description long predated the `telepresence' gadgets now common in high-radiation environments, on research submarines, and aboard the Space Shuttle. The SF world believes widely that such devices are commonly called "waldoes" by real-world engineers, but the evidence on this is spotty and mixed. Apparently some engineering subcultures (including oceanographers and movie special-effects wizards) use the term, but it is unknown in many others.

A movie special-effects company called The Character Shop has actually trademarked this term. Details here.

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