tractor beam n.

an energy beam that causes the target to be moved or immobilized in space; (also, in early use) a device producing such a beam

SF Encyclopedia

  • [1930 J. W. Campbell Voice of the Void in Amazing Stories Quarterly Summer 392/1 page image John W. Campbell, Jr. bibliography

    And now, as a great freighter swung low, a machine on the ground below turned on a ray that stabbed out sharp and brilliant; a moment later the freighter tug lifted a half-million-ton piece of the planet on its attractor beams and rapidly gained headway as it shot off toward distant Venus. ]

  • 1931 E. E. Smith Spacehounds of IPC in Amazing Stories Aug. 410/1 page image Edward E. Smith bibliography

    Dressed in his heavy space-suit and supported by a tractor beam well out of range of what seemed to him terrific heat radiated by the bodies of the Terrestrials, he floated along unconsciously.

  • 1931 E. E. Smith Spacehounds of IPC in Amazing Stories Sept. 549/1 page image Edward E. Smith bibliography

    ‘We'll carry off the pieces of that ship, too, Quince—we may be able to get a lot of pointers from it,’ and Brandon swung mighty tractor beams upon the severed halves of the Jovian vessel, then extended a couple of smaller rays to meet the two little figures racing across the smooth green meadow toward the Sirius.

  • 1937 Astounding Science Fiction Sept. 20/2

    ‘General call! Attention! Battle stations! By stations, report!’ ‘Station 1, tractor beams—hot!’

  • 1937 E. E. Smith Galactic Patrol in Astounding Science Fiction Sept. 22/1 page image Edward E. Smith bibliography

    Simultaneously, the tractor beams, hitherto exerting only a few dynes of force, stiffened into unbreakable, inflexible rods of energy, binding the two ships of space into one rigid system; each, relative to the other, immovable.

  • 1945 ‘M. Leinster’ in Astounding Science Fiction June 122/1 Murray Leinster

    By the way they’re braced, there are tractor beams and pressor beams and—there are vacuum tubes that have grids but apparently work with cold cathodes.

  • 1948 T. Sturgeon in Astounding Science Fiction Feb. 10/2 Theodore Sturgeon

    It captures three different scanner-scouts, holding them with some sort of a tractor beam, whirling them around like a stone on a string, and letting them go straight at the nearest planet.

  • 1960 J. White in New Worlds Science Fiction Jan. 5

    Sections which should have fitted together very often had to be modified to make them join properly, and this necessitated moving the sections together and apart several times with massed tractor and pressor beams.

  • 1965 R. Zelazny The Furies in Amazing Stories June 16/2 page image Roger Zelazny bibliography

    As the tractor beams had seized it, as the vibrations penetrated its ebony hull and tore at his flesh, Corgo had called…and died just as the words and the tears began.

  • ?1965 G. Roddenberry Scene grouping from second pilot in S. E. Whitfield & G. Roddenberry Making of ‘Star Trek’ (1968) i. viii. 154 Gene Roddenberry bibliography

    Bridge to Briefing Lounge. Object is now within tractor beam range.

  • 1968 S. W. Carabatsos Operation–Annihilate! in J. Blish Star Trek 2 72

    Spock, can we reach him with a tractor beam?

  • 1973 G. R. R. Martin Night Shift in Amazing Stories Jan. 45/2 page image George R. R. Martin bibliography

    Several light tractor beams did not have the power of one heavy-duty one, simply because it was difficult to coordinate them. To be at all effective, paired tractors had to lift at the same time and yank in the same direction.

  • 1977 A. D. Foster End of Matter 210 Alan Dean Foster

    Gradually Flinx activated the posigravity tractor beams, used for manipulating large cargo.

  • 1990 L. M. Bujold Vor Game (1993) 268 Lois McMaster Bujold

    The up-and-coming weapon for ship-to-ship fighting in the last couple of years seemed to be the gravitic imploder lance, a modification of tractor-beam technology; variously-designed artificial-gravity shields were still lagging behind in protection from it.

  • 1993 K. S. Robinson Green Mars (new ed.) 476 Kim Stanley Robinson

    Everyone moved as if in a tractor beam, glasses in hand, all other thoughts gone as they came to the tent coping at the edge of the waterfront.

  • 1996 D. Brin Infinity’s Shore (1997) 477 David Brin

    Worst of all, he pictured a ‘tractor beam,’ seizing and dragging him down to torment in some Jophur-designed hell.

  • 2006 M. F. Flynn Dawn, & Sunset, & the Colours of the Earth in Asimov’s Science Fiction 92 page image Michael F. Flynn bibliography

    It’s a real, honest-to-God anomoly [sic]. Either time travel or a portal to an alternate Earth. I’d say a tractor beam used by an entity who couldn’t quite handle it.

  • 2015 Starburst Magazine (#411) Apr. 80/3 page image

    They finally have the sense to turn their tractor beam in the right direction.


Research requirements

antedating 1931

Earliest cite

E. E. 'Doc' Smith 'Spacehounds of IPC'

Research History
Mike Christie submitted a cite from a 1958 printing of Heinlein's "The Day After Tomorrow". The cite is not in the 1941 magazine edition.
Bill Seabrook located and Mike Christie confirmed a 1948 cite from Theodore Sturgeon's "There Is No Defense".
Gavin Long submitted a cite from a 2001 reprint of a 1938 Arthur C. Clarke story, "How We Went to Mars".
Courtenay Footman submitted a cite from a 1950 reprint of E.E. Smith's "Galactic Patrol", and Mike Christie verified the cite in the original 1937 magazine publication.
Enoch Forrester submitted a cite from a 1965 reprint of E.E. Smith's "Triplanetary".
Enoch Forrester submitted a 1944 cite from George O. Smith's "Circle of Confusion" for the form "tractor-pressor beam".
Michael Dolbear submitted a cite from a 1993 reprint of Lois McMaster Bujold's "The Vor Game".
Derek Hepburn submitted a 1934 cite from E.E. Smith's "Triplanetary".
Rick Hauptmann submitted a 1931 cite from E.E. Smith's "Spacehounds of IPC".
Mike Christie submitted a 1965 cite from Roger Zelazny's "The Furies".
Mike Christie located and J Greely confirmed a 1977 cite from Alan Dean Foster's "The End of the Matter".
Fred Galvin submitted a 1930 example of "attractor beam" from J. W. Campbell.
Bill Mullins submitted a 1931 cite from E. E. Smith's "Spacehounds of IPC" from an earlier installment of the serial.

Last modified 2021-02-11 09:38:06
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.