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"Retire? Yeah, I want to die with my head in the typewriter. That's my idea of retirement."
- Alfred Bester

The Cosmic Express  
  A means of transmitting matter wirelessly.  

You might be surprised to learn that this is the earliest description that I know about of the idea behind 3D printers and stereolithography.

Mr. Eric Stokes-Harding wrote novels of high adventure - in a drab, boring era in the not-too-distant future, when the plodding of the scientific method had reduced all challenges to harmless trivialities. Ah, to escape to a more primitive world - Venus, perhaps? But how to get there...

"The Cosmic Express?"

"A new invention. Just perfected a few weeks ago, I understand. By Ludwig Von der Valls, the German physicist... A new way to travel—by ether!"

"...the method, in the new Cosmic Express, is simply to convert the matter to be carried into power, send it out as a radiant beam and focus the beam to convert it back into atoms at the destination."

"...The beam is focused, just like the light that passes through a camera lens. The photographic lens, using light rays, picks up a picture and reproduces it again on the plate--just the same as the Express Ray picks up an object and sets it down on the other side of the world.


(The Cosmic Express)

"An analogy from television might help. You know that by means of the scanning disc, the picture is transformed into mere rapid fluctuations in the brightness of a beam of light. In a parallel manner, the focal plane of the Express Ray moves slowly through the object, progressively, dissolving layers of the thickness of a single atom, which are accurately reproduced at the other focus of the instrument--which might be in Venus!

"But the analogy of the lens is the better of the two. For no receiving instrument is required, as in television. The object is built up of an infinite series of plane layers, at the focus of the ray, no matter where that may be. Such a thing would be impossible with radio apparatus because even with the best beam transmission, all but a tiny fraction of the power is lost, and power is required to rebuild the atoms. Do you understand, dear?"

From The Cosmic Express, by Jack Williamson.
Published by Amazing Stories in 1930
Additional resources -

Here's a description of how it works:

The little door had swung open again, and Eric led Nada through. They stepped into a little cell, completely surrounded with mirrors and vast prisms and lenses and electron tubes. In the center was a slab of transparent crystal, eight feet square and two inches thick, with an intricate mass of machinery below it.

Eric helped Nada to a place on the crystal, lay down at her side.

"I think the Express Ray is focused just at the surface of the crystal, from below," he said. "It dissolves our substance, to be transmitted by the beam. It would look as if we were melting into the crystal."

"Ready," called the youth.

A bell jangled. "So long," the youth called.

Nada and Eric felt themselves enveloped in fire. Sheets of white flame seemed to lap up about them from the crystal block. Suddenly there was a sharp tingling sensation where they touched the polished surface. Then blackness, blankness.

Thanks to Jordan Bassior for suggesting this item.

Compare to Deposition (3D Printing) from Assassin (1978) by James P. Hogan and plastic constructor from Things Pass By (1945) by Murray Leinster. Also, the Biltong life-forms from Pay for the Printer (1956) by Philip K. Dick.

As a transportation device, compare it to the telepomp from The Man Without a Body (1877) by Edward Page Mitchell, the displacement booth from Flash Crowd (1972) by Larry Niven, the stepping discs from Ringworld (1970) by Larry Niven and the trip box from Eye of Cat (1982) by Roger Zelazny.

Also, see the libra-transmitter from Into the Meteorite Orbit by Frank R. Kelly, Jaunte from The Stars My Destination, the Transo from Time is the Simplest Thing by Clifford Simak and the geofractor (1939) from One Against the Legion by Jack Williamson.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Cosmic Express
  More Ideas and Technology by Jack Williamson
  Tech news articles related to The Cosmic Express
  Tech news articles related to works by Jack Williamson

The Cosmic Express-related news articles:
  - Fab@Home 'Fabber' Freeform Fabricator
  - 3D Printed Replacement Tissue
  - EXPLORER, The First Total-Body Scanner

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