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In speculative fiction, a force field, sometimes known as an energy shield, force shield, force bubble, defence shield or deflector shield, is a barrier made of energy, plasma, or particles. It protects a person, area, or object from attacks or intrusions. This fictional technology is created as a field of energy without mass that acts as a wall, so that objects affected by the particular force relating to the field are unable to pass through the field and reach the other side. This concept has become a staple of many science-fiction works, so much that authors frequently do not even bother to explain or justify them to their readers, treating them almost as established fact and attributing whatever capabilities the plot requires.
The concept of a force field goes back at least as far as early 20th century. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction suggests that the first use of the term in science fiction appears to happen in 1931, in Spacehounds of IPC by E.E. 'Doc' Smith.
An early precursor of what is now called "force field" may be found in William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land (1912), where the Last Redoubt, the fortress of the remnants of a far-future humanity, is kept safe by "The Air Clog" generated by the burning "Earth-Current".
In Isaac Asimov's Foundation universe, personal shields have been developed by scientists specializing in the miniaturization of planet-based shields. As they are primarily used by Foundation Traders, most other inhabitants of the Galactic Empire do not know about this technology. In an unrelated short story Breeds There a Man...? by Asimov, scientists are working on a force field ("energy so channelled as to create a wall of matter-less inertia"), capable of protecting the population in case of a nuclear war. The force field demonstrated in the end is a solid hemisphere, apparently completely opaque and reflective from both sides. Asimov explores the force field concept again in the short story Not Final!.
The concept of force fields as a defensive measure from enemy attack or as a form of attack can be regularly found in modern video games as well as in film, such as in The War of the Worlds (1953, George Pál) and Independence Day.
The ability to create a force field has been a common superpower in comic books and associated media. While only a few characters have the explicit ability to create force fields (for example, the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four and Violet Parr from The Incredibles), it has been emulated via other powers, such as Green Lantern's energy constructs, Jean Grey's telekinesis, and Magneto's manipulation of electromagnetic fields. Apart from this, its importance is also highlighted in Dr. Michio Kaku's books (such as Physics of the Impossible).
- "Force Field", an entry of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
- "Night Land by William Hope Hodgson" (free download). Quote: "... a great circle of light, which was set up by the Earth-Current, and burned within a transparent tube; or had that appearance. And it bounded the Pyramid for a clear mile upon every side, and burned for ever; and none of the monsters had power to pass across, because of what we did call The Air Clog that it did make, as an invisible Wall of mSafety"
- Andrews, Dana G. (2004-07-13). Things to do While Coasting Through Interstellar Space (PDF). 40th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference and Exhibit. Future Flight II. Fort Lauderdale, Florida. AIAA 2004-3706. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-04-20. Retrieved 2008-12-13.