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"SF is a controlled way to think and dream about the future."
- Gregory Benford

Gravity Well  
  If you visualize spacetime as a flat, elastic plane, a planet will deform it, and it sits at the bottom of its own hole.  

He was the pilot and engineer, the only other Terrestrial on Mercury. When you dove this far down into the sun's monstrous gravitational well, you couldn't take a big crew along.
From Life Cycle, by Poul Anderson.
Published by Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1957
Additional resources -

This expression quickly became a favorite of veteran sf writers; Heinlein, Clarke and Niven used it within a few years. Here's Niven using it as the subject of a short story, At the Bottom of a Hole (1966):

"He must have been on course for Luna when we found him. Ceres was behind him with the radar. Our ships were ahead of him, matching course at two gee. His mining ship wouldn't throw more than point five gee, so eventually they'd pull alongside him no matter what he did. Then he noticed Mars was just ahead of him."

"The hole." Garner knew enough Belters to have learned a little of their slang.

"The very one. His first instinct must have been to change course. Belters learn to avoid gravity wells. A man can get killed half a dozen ways coming too close to a hole. A good autopilot will get him safely around it, or program an in-and-out spin, or even land him at the bottom, God forbid. But miners don't carry good autopilots. They carry cheap autopilots, and they stay clear of holes."

More recently, Charles Stross uses it in Accelerando (2005):

“Mars is just dumb mass at the bottom of a gravity well; there isn't even a biosphere there.”

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Life Cycle
  More Ideas and Technology by Poul Anderson
  Tech news articles related to Life Cycle
  Tech news articles related to works by Poul Anderson

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