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"As the rate of technological development speeds up, the gap between science fiction and what we’re living now is getting narrower all the time."
- Richard Morgan

Rod of Wrath  
  A sword made of light.  

This three-part serial was originally published in 1943. In the story, the device is presented as being a small rod, like a flashlight, which projects an energy beam.


(The rod of wrath from Gather, Darkness!)

Like two ancient swordsmen, then, the warlock and the deacon duelled together. Their weapons were two endless blades of violet incandescence, but their tactics were those of sabreurs - feint, cut, parry, swift riposte.

From Gather, Darkness!, by Fritz Leiber.
Published by Astounding Science Fiction in 1943
Additional resources -

Sure, go ahead and compare it to the lightsaber from Star Wars and the rod from Fritz Leiber's 1943 novel Gather, Darkness!. See also the entry for flashlight laser, which is essentially an indefinitely long light saber, from Ringworld, by Larry Niven. Niven mentions "light swords" in the book. See also the entry for Force-Field Penknife, from Foundation by Isaac Asimov.

Thanks to Stephen Jones for pointing this out in Dr. Hermes Retro-Scans. Thanks also to Secret Master of Fandom for the illustration and discussion.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Gather, Darkness!
  More Ideas and Technology by Fritz Leiber
  Tech news articles related to Gather, Darkness!
  Tech news articles related to works by Fritz Leiber

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