Stunners are a jolly science fiction invention. One shot and your opponent is rendered safely unconscious but otherwise unharmed (other than smashing their head on the ground as they collapse). They are third in the trio of sidearms commonly featured in classic science fiction, along with "blaster" and "disintegrator." Of course if one stuns their opponent, nothing prevents one from then cutting their opponent's throat while they lie helpless. A few moments thought is enough to think up dozens of situations where stunning somebody is tantamount to killing them outright (stunning a driver when their car is traveling at high speed, stunning somebody gingerly carrying a flask of nitroglycerin, etc.)
Stunners are generally short-ranged, and easily blocked by walls or other cover. In some science fiction, the stunner does not render the target unconscious, but merely paralyzed. When a stunner victim wakes up, they are often groggy, nauseated, or otherwise feeling like they have a hang-over. Often their limbs have a pins-and-needles sensation and muscle aches.This is called "stun shock."
Of course there is an extensive list of stun guns in media at TV Tropes.
Unfortunately in the real world stunners are unobtanium, if not actually Ridiculous Handwavium. Understand that currently there is no such thing as a "non-lethal" weapon. This is because any weapon or gas that can reliably incapacitate or render unconscious a 300 pound world wrestling champion will be strong enough to instantly kill a small child or elderly person. Even then, the force required to render a person unconscious is dangerously close to the force required to kill them. Since the police force in the US were issued the allegedly non-lethal Taser, there has been an alarming number of reports of people being killed by these quote "safe" unquote weapons.
It was recently revealed that the US military was researching a rather alarming line of less-lethal weapons, the Pulsed Energy Projectile (PEP) program.
PEP weapons fire a laser pulse that is very intense but only a fraction of a second in duration. The pulse vaporizes a tiny portion of the hapless victim's clothing or skin, creating a plasma burst intense enough to knock the victim to the ground. This was intended to be used for crowd control. I don't know about you but it seems to me that a pulse strong enough to knock one down is also strong enough to make one's eyeballs explode if it hit your face. But I digress.
However, during test performed on animals, the researchers noticed something unexpected. The pulses were creating pain and temporary paralysis in the test animals. As it turns out, certain pulses would create a plasma burst emitting an electromagnetic signal of proper frequency to artificially stimulate the nerve endings in the animal's skin.
The US military is researching this effect, trying to find the frequency that will cause the maximum pain sensation without actually causing any physical harm to the target. There is also the possibility that other frequencies could cause taser-like paralysis effects.
The effect can be made lethal. The original name for the project was Pulsed Impulsive Kill Laser (PIKL) but was quickly changed as a cover up. Details about this are predictably sketchy.
Currently PEP weapons are not man-portable, they are vehicle mounted weapons. They have a range of about two kilometers. But who knows how far they can be miniaturized. We might yet see Space-1999 style hand lasers with a "stun" setting.
For riot control situations, the US Army is working on the Active Denial System (ADS). This is fundamentally a titanic microwave oven, without the oven. It emits microwaves with a wavelength of around a millimeter (95GHz). You can think of it as a "pain ray". Spray this beam of concentrated agony on the hostile crowd and they are guaranteed to run like scaled cats ... er, ah, "disperse". Initial tests show that it is reasonably non-lethal, but it will occasionally raise blisters.
The microwaves only penetrate a short way into the skin, not deep enough to do permanent damage but more than deep enough to roast all the target's pain nerve endings. As with all microwave oven based designs, the heat comes from water molecules being vibrated by the microwaves. For this reason, the range of the ADS is drastically reduced by rain or heavy humidity (in tech-speak: "rain attenuates the beam.").
This will quite challenging to make into a pistol, but may come in handy installed in the corridor outside the spacescraft's control room to provide a rude surprise for pirates and mutineers. I am reminded of the "agony box" that Reverend Mother Mohiam used to test Paul Atreides in the novel DUNE. Not to mention the "agonizers" and "agony booths" from the classic Star Trek epsisode Mirror, Mirror. The TV Trope entry is "Agony Beam".
Not to be out done, the US Navy is working on its Electromagnetic Personnel Interdiction Control project, AKA the Vomit Ray. The US Department of Homeland Security is working on a pistol sized version, which is a very unsettling thought.
John Ireland brought my attention to the prototype non-lethal laser dazzler developed by the U.S. Department of Defense. Some comedian gave it the name Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response rifle which has the predictable acronym "PHASR". It is intended for crowd control, using a laser to temporarily (they hope) blind the targets. It is intended to skirt the 1995 UN Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons by not blinding the target permanently. However, researchers noted that these weapons will still permanently damage the target's eyesight if used at close range or for prolonged periods of time.
Some science fictional weapons have multiple settings. This is sometimes called a "Swiss Army Weapon."
In Tactics of Mistake by Gordon R. Dickson one finds the "Dally Gun", short for "dial-a-gun." It was probably inspired by the real-life Stoner 63, and apparently was an equally big failure.
In the novel LOGAN'S RUN by William Noaln and George Johnson the Sandmen were armed with a sort of revolver with six different loads. The gun can be reloaded with new cartridges which allow for extended use (the movie featured a gun with only one setting: acetylene flare. How boring.)
|Tangler||Produces a large sticky web of material which entangles and immobilizes anything it comes into contact with; it can be dissolved by regular police with special gear. It is used for capturing fugitives alive.|
|Ripper||An antipersonnel round similar to a hollow-point or hydroshock round. It is quite lethal.|
|Needler||A round that breaks up into dozens of deadly needles. A type of flechette round.|
|Nitro||A round with a high explosive warhead.|
|Vapor||A tear gas round.|
|Homer||A heat-seeking "smart" bullet. It homes in on evading targets with a temperature of 98.6 degrees. The charge kills the target by electrically burning out every nerve in the body. The homer can be decoyed by another warm body stepping in front of it.|
|Standard execution||A standard bullet, with identical effects to normal kinetic energy projectile weapons.|
|Heat Seeker or Hot Shot||A standard bullet propelled by the unstable element, 'Argon 886'. Heatseeker rounds lock onto the target's heat source, enabling the Judge to target fleeing perps, accurately fire in low-light situations and so forth.|
|Ricochet||A metal bullet coated with rubber. Ricochet rounds can bounce off solid surfaces while retaining enough kinetic energy to penetrate flesh. This enables the Judge to, for example, kill a perp that is using a human shield, bouncing their shot off a back wall and hitting the target from behind.|
|Incendiary||Capable of setting its target on fire. Less widely used due to practicalities of incinerating targets in built-up city areas, although useful against unconventional adversaries such as Judge Death.|
|Armour Piercing||Armour piercing rounds are extremely dense and contain a more powerful charge for higher muzzle velocity. Useful against cybernetic criminals and armoured opponents. When used against human targets, it can travel through multiple targets.|
|High-Explosive (Hi-Ex)||An round containing an amount of extremely concentrated high explosive. Judges must employ caution when using this extremely dangerous round; the blast caused by the exploding bullets can just as easily harm those firing as the target. Generally used rarely; against crowding attackers or large/dangerous foes.|
In the movie Star Wars: A New Hope, Darth Vader tells the storm troopers that he wants the passengers taken alive. When one of the storm troopers spots Princess Leia, he says "There's one, set for stun." So Star Wars blasters have a "stun" and "kill" setting. The kill setting might be a laser in pulse beam mode (AKA "blaster" mode) while the stun setting might be a laser in Pulsed Energy Projectile mode.
As previously mentioned, the laser hand guns in SPACE 1999 also had Stun and Kill settings.
But the real Swiss army knife of the energy weapon world is the Star Trek Phaser. It had all sorts of interesting settings, including "blow up like a grenade" er, ah, "forced chamber explosion."
In the original Star Trek, phasers had settings for Stun, Heat, Disrupt, Dematerialize, and Overload. In Star Trek phase II, the settings were Stun, Kill, Heat, Disintegrate and Overload.
Stun would render a living humanoid being unconscious by lighting up their nervous system like a christmas tree. Kill shorts out the nervous system of a humanoid being permanently. Heat would raise the temperature of objects, it was commonly used on wilderness planets to heat up a rock as a substitute for a campfire. Disrupt/Disintegrate "breaks down cohesion", I guess this means it causes the object to fall apart into gravel or turn into vapor. Dematerialize turns the target into energy, presumably something like neutrinos; otherwise the energy release would obliterate everything within several kilometers of ground zero. And overload turns the phaser into a hand grenade with the pin pulled, not surprising considering how much energy is in the phaser's power pack.
We can duplicate some of this with a laser. Stun would be a laser in Pulsed Energy Projectile mode. Kill would be a laser in Pulsed Impulsive Kill Laser mode. Heat would be a laser in unpulsed heat ray mode at relatively low energy levels. Disrupt would be a laser in pulsed blaster mode or in unpulsed heat ray mode at high energy levels. Overload makes the battery explode. Dematerialize is the only one that cannot be done, but it is rather silly in the first place.
("Dematerialize" is a fancy way of saying "disintegrator ray". A weapon that can vaporize a human body without setting the walls and floor on fire or even raising the temperature of the room? Give me a break!)
Remember that a laser in pulse mode could have its effect optimized to a given material by a specific setting for pulse frequency. So one could have a "metal cutting" setting for use as a tool or to open a locked door, and a "kill human" setting for war-to-the-knife combat. All with the same pulse laser, just with a different frequency.
Such a weapon would have a selector switch for each mode. And it might have a "customizable" mode. This would allow an expert to manually tweak the settings: continuous or pulse, spectrum frequency, pulse timing, power level, etc.
There were some interesting development notes in THE MAKING OF STAR TREK by Stephen Whitfield.
In the pilot, Gene Roddenberry called the hand guns "lasers." But he realized that while lasers were currently new and cutting-edge, they would be old hat by the time the first episode was aired (at the time the show was created, lasers were only five years old). Worse, there was the danger of writing an episode where the hand gun does something that lasers were not capable of doing (which as it turns out was quite insightful on Roddenberry's part, since that did indeed come to pass). The safe way out was to invent some baffle-gab name for some imaginary weapon, so there was no danger of being called out by some science-geek who was a fan of the show.
But as we know, the weapons were named "Phasers", and have no power belts, or fore hand grips. Pity.
For the proposed re-boot Star Trek Phase II, a new phaser was designed. From the notes:
In Larry Niven's 1967 short story "The Soft Weapon", space explorers discover a high-tech gadget from a long extinct species. Said gadget is a handle on a sphere, with a selector slide on the handle. Moving the slider changes the weapon mode, which manifests as the sphere technomagically re-forming itself into different devices. One would assume that it is made of pure handwavium.
Settings included Sonic communications device, telescope, laser, small jet pack, energy absorber, computer, matter to energy conversion beam, and self-destruct.
In 1973 this story was adapted as an animated Star Trek episode "The Slaver Weapon."
If you are an Ugly American, you probably have never heard of the Perry Rhodan science fiction series. This German set of stories started in 1961, and is still going strong. As of 2013 it passed 2700 installments. In the 1960's the first hundred-odd installments were translated into English by Forrest J. Ackerman.
My apologies in advance if I misrepresent the details. I do not speak German, so I am relying upon Google Translate.
|Dimensions||32 × 15.8 × 6 cm|
|Battery life||4.5 hours|
|Battery capacity||4.5×1013 joules|
The Kombi-Impulsstrahler (Combined Impulse Rifle) is an incredibly powerful rifle that is three superweapons in one. The upper barrel is a combined Desintegratorstrahler (disintegrator ray) and non-lethal paralysis ray.
The disintegrator neutralizes atomic bonds (by surrounding the target with a "five-dimensional field") so that the target falls apart into gas and dust.
The paralysis ray uses a five dimensional wave to deactivate the somatic nervous system but leaves the brain and autonomic nervous system untouched. Basically the target cannot initiate any movement, but they can think with their brain and continue using their ANS to make their hearts beat and their lungs breath.
When you are fed up with using half-measures, the bottom barrel is an Impulse Ray. The reaction chamber uses muon catalyzed fusion to burn deuterium. The 3500 Kelvin jet of reaction products enters the barrel where it is manipulated in five dimensions to form a high-powered particle beam. It is a bad idea to use the impulse ray when you are inside a building, unless you do not mind the entire building collapsing on top of you. The impulse ray is effective against low-powered energy shields and superalloys that laugh at the disintegrator ray.
As is befitting for a rifle-of-mass-destruction, the Kombi-Impulsstrahler has a user-id scanner in the handgrip. This uses a RFID identity chip imbedded in the user's palm or something along those lines. If the handgun cannot verify that the user is authorized, it will refuse to fire no matter how hard the trigger is pulled.
- Emitting Muzzle of Disintegrator
- Gravomagnetic focusing
- 5-D field-directional focus
- Field controller
- 5-D field amplifier coils
- 5-D field projector
- Viewfinder for Disintegrator
- Paralysis field projectors
- Field phase adjustment chamber
- Intermediate energy storage
- Viewfinder for Impulse Ray / Paralysis field
- ID-code signal viewfinder
- Picosyntronik with fire release function
- Power module
- Pulse intensity slide-switch
- User id scanner
- Weapon selection switch (this is to right of #19, the "8" got cut off)
- Safety lock
- Autonomous Picosyntronik for Impulse Ray
- Energy modulation module
- Gravomagnetic particle accelerator
- Matter chamber for particle accelerator
- Head of Section
- Paralysis field Converter
- Control chip compressed particles
- Thermal switch
- Emitting Muzzle for particle beam
- Finger sensor
|Dimensions||21.1 × 17.0 × 6.0 cm|
|Battery life||1.5 hours|
in thermobeamer mode
|Battery life||4.5 hours|
in paralysis beam mode
The Kombistrahler is a marginally lighter weapon than the Kombi-Impulsstrahler. It only has two functions: Thermobeamer (heat ray) and paralysis ray.
The thermobeamer is a heat ray style laser with a frequency of 10,000 nanometers, in the mid infrared band. Each pulse is one millisecond long and ten pulses is equivalent to 3 kilograms of TNT. If my calculations are correct, this means each pulse is about 1,300 kilojoules. This is quite a lot, it is enough to irradiate a 60 centimeter diameter circle (i.e., average adult human torso) with 430 joules per square centimeter (i.e, enough energy to flash all exposed flesh into steam, flaying the exposed body area to the bone).
The weapons can communicate with the heads-up display in the helmet visor, projecting a cross-hair where the handgun is currently aiming. The Kombistrahler is still an incredibly powerful weapon, so it also has a user ID scanner in the handgrip to prevent unauthorized use.
- Power module
- Weapon selection switch (thermal and paralysis) and intensity slide-switch
- Pre-combustion chamber
- Contorl plombe for overheating, including shutdown aggregates
- Focus Sion chamber
- Chillers ring
- Rotation accelerator
- Discharge chamber of the thermal beam
- Emitting Muzzle of the thermal beam
- Emitting Muzzle of the paralysis ray
- Container for the 5 dimensional hyper crystals of Van Der Berg-chamber (2 pcs)
- Van Der Berg-chamber: the concentrated energy is passed through the hyper crystals to amplify paralysis ray
- Power conditioner for bundling the paralysis ray (2 pcs)
- Grip with user id scannner, and connection to heads-up display in visor.
A weapon mode that was popular with E.E."Doc" Smith and Robert Heinlein is the so-called "Fan Beam" (it appears in Smith's SPACEHOUNDS OF IPC and Heinlein's THE PUPPET MASTERS). This is when the weapon does not fire a single bolt, but instead fires a volley of bolts in an arc. Instead of drilling a single hole in your target, it suffers a series of holes spaced a few centimeters apart in a horizontal line. You could literally cut a man in two.
This is a mode that a Phaser cannot do. Of course, if your weapon has a "disintegrate" setting, who needs fan beam anyway?
The "fan" part is because as viewed from overhead, the beams would make an arc shaped pattern much like a folding Japanese fan.
My slide rule says that if a man is about 45 centimeters wide (18 inches), at a range of 5 meters, and the bolts were to be spaced 3 centimeters apart, it would take 15 bolts fired at 0.3 degree increments to the left and right. Your target would fall... in two places.
In The Puppet Masters, the alien master parasites are about the size of a football, waiting inside a "cell" until they can be attached to their hapless human victim.
A "lumberjack" setting would be handy for a sidearm used by a landing party crewman, first-in scout, or other person exploring wilderness planets. I already mentioned the "heat" setting of phasers being used to turn rocks into impromptu campfires. This function was seen in the original Star Trek episodes The Enemy Within and A Private Little War. In Clifford Simak's classic novel CITY, atomic guns are also useful to start campfires.
A less blood-thirsty use of the fan beam would be chopping down trees.
In Larry Niven's RINGWORLD, the explorers are equipped with "flashlight-lasers", an item of questionable safety. Over and above the engineering problems associated with designing a laser that can also produce non-coherent light, the dual use aspect is dangerous. One can imagine a wilderness explorer awakend by a strange sound in the camp and sleepily slicing their tent to ribbons because the flashlight laser was set to the wrong mode.
These are weapons that do not even pretend to be scientifically accurate, but are included here for entertainment value.
- Assassin bullets: As the troops left the city, the Top Guns of the leading Guilds took a hand and they knew their business. Weapons with curved or variating trajectories, weapons which fired round corners, micro-missiles proceeding at walking pace until within ten feet of the target.
(Invader On My Back by Philip E. High, 1968)
- Assassin letters: When he got back to the ship, he sent a remote-controlled device back for the letter. The device slit the envelope, unfolded the letter and beamed back the contents to one of the vessel’s receiving screens. In his early days as a Stinker, Craig had received some ingeniously unpleasant letters and had, long ago, ceased to open them personally. He had received letters covered in impregnating poisons, letters which exploded or fired microscopic missiles, letters which, if laid casually on certain common substances abruptly and violently ignited—no, he was taking no chances on a letter from an unknown source.
(Invader On My Back by Philip E. High, 1968)
- Bee Gun: When it was quite late he murmured something, went to a closet, and drew forth an evil weapon, a long yellowish tube ending in a bellows and a trigger... It hummed constantly, an insect hum. From it hordes of golden bees could be flung out with a high shriek. Golden, horrid bees that stung, poisoned, and fell lifeless, like seeds on the sand.
(The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, 1946)
- Blaster (Apocalypse Troll): An anti-alien-war-cyborg weapon that avoids the problem of plasma weapons by sending the plasma bolt through hyperspace where it materializes on the target's skin. It does 1.8 kilotons of damage per second, with a total of 21.5 kilotons in the magazine.
(The Apocalypse Troll by David Weber, 1999.)
- Blaster (David Starr): Robot, Martian, or man, the object could not withstand a blaster. It was a small weapon, and the projectile it hurled was almost contemptible in size. The old-fashioned "guns" of ancient days carried metal slugs that were rocks in comparison. But the small projectile of the blaster was far more deadly. Once set in motion, anything that stopped it tripped a tiny atomic trigger that converted a sub-microscopic fraction of its mass into energy, and in that conversion the object that stopped it, whether rock, metal, or human flesh, was consumed to the accompaniment of a tiny noise like the flick of a fingernail against rubber...
The projectile left the muzzle, raced squarely at the object of smoke, reached it, and stopped. It stopped instantaneously, without touching the body that was still one quarter of an inch beyond its final penetration. Even the concussion of collision was not carried beyond the force-shield barrier which absorbed all the projectile's momentum, converting it into a flare of light.
That flare of light was never seen. It was drowned out in the intense blaze that was the blaster projectile exploding into energy as it stopped with no surrounding matter to shield the blast of light. It was as though a pin-sized sun existed in the room for a tiny fraction of a second.
Hennes, with a wild yell, threw his hands to his eyes as though to protect them against a physical blow. It was too late. Minutes later, when he dared open his eyelids, his aching, burning eyes could tell him nothing.
(David Starr, Space Ranger by Isaac Asimov, 1952. Yeah, right, shoot a miniature nuclear missile at a guy ten feet away from you. I do not think they thought their cunning plan all the way through)
- Blaster (Star Ranger): He had already seen what the (robot) patroller held ready. He hurled himself backward, falling flat on the floor of the hall, letting momentum carry him in a slide some distance along it. Behind him was a burst of eye-searing flame, filling the whole entrance with an inferno. Only his trained muscles and sixth sense of preservation had saved him from cooking in the midst of that!...
"Are you hurt? Did he get you?" Kartr grinned lopsidedly. To just be alive—he winced as Rolth's examining hands touched skin scraped raw.
"The bag of bolts? I scragged him all right—a blast hole right through his head casing and he went down. He didn't reach you?"
"No. And at least he's told us something about the civilization they had here. They were still using atomics." The sergeant surveyed the blaze behind him with critical distaste. "Blow a hole in a city block to get someone. Wonder what they would have thought of a stun gun."
(Star Rangers aka The Last Planet by Andre Norton, 1953)
- Blaster (Subspace):
In GalMet’s vast Research and Development Center on Galmetia, in a private laboratory, Deston, Jones, and Adams worked on that enigmatic blaster from Second Space.
For a sidearm it was brutally heavy, weighing just under six pounds. Its barrel, made of a metalloid-ceramic unknown even to Adams, was eleven inches long and an inch and a half in outside diameter. There was no breech-block; no breech mechanism of any kind. The upper part of the thing was all barrel. The bore, only a quarter of an inch in diameter, centered the barrel and was wide open—full length and at both ends. It was aimed by sighting through the unobstructed bore.
Coils and complexes of insulated silver wire were imbedded in the barrel’s substance, but there were no visible nodes. Both front and rear orifices were clean, smooth, and bright, showing no burning, pitting, or erosion. In spite of this fact, however, the grips of the butt—which was located a couple of inches ahead of the rear orifice—showed so much wear that the checker work and knurling had all but disappeared.
Inside the butt, instead of a magazine or a powerpack, there were mazes within mazes of wire, solidly, immovably imbedded and connected to nothing at all—not even any one to any one of the others. There were only three moving parts, a trigger, a front-plate, and a back-plate. All of these would move under the stress of operation, but not one of them could move more than an eighth of an inch and not one of them could touch anything except a stop molded into the ceramic.
The only replaceable item was an encapsulated pellet of U235 the size and shape of a .45-caliber bullet, which, also, was not connected to anything. Deston knew it was uranium 235, even though a scintillometer could not detect any radiation from it.
After studying the thing for four solid days without learning anything at all, they took it to the Laboratory of Standards, where a weigh master spent two hours in weighing it to the limit of attainable accuracy. They then took it up into the hills, where they took turns firing it against a cliff, each in turn holding it until his hand was numb. After eight hours of this, after making a lake of incandescent obsidian, the weapon was just comfortably warm, and the front orifice—there had been no backward emission of any detectable kind—was as bright, as clean, as virgin as before.
Next morning they took it back to Standards, where the same expert weighed it again … and who, after lunch, reported that it apparently had lost approximately three one-hundredths of one milligram. “But this loss,” the weigh master concluded brightly, “is no doubt due to wear—you handled it so much yesterday.”
(Subspace Encounter by E.E. "Doc" Smith, 1983)
- Congealer: It was then that something hard pressed into the small of his back and a low voice said: “Just keep walking, friend, make it casual.” ... A congealer caused blood-clotting with an immediate and invariably fatal heart attack. Had his warders chosen to use the weapon, they would have got clean away with it. Only a post-mortem would reveal the true cause of death which was of no consolation whatever.
(Butterfly Planet by Philip E. High, 1971)
- Energy Powered Weapons: He fingered his belt meaningfully and Denning saw that what he had taken for trinkets were really miniature but precisely fashioned weapons. Inch-long exquisite daggers, barbs, tomahawks and a tiny weapon resembling an automatic pistol which was no bigger than a penny. They did not look like dangerous weapons, but it was abundantly clear that Carlos was not fingering them for amusement...
As the Hunter began to squeeze the trigger, Carlos, outwardly unmoved, flicked at the array of miniature weapons on the shiny belt with the index finger of his right hand. There was a hiss and the tiny tomahawk raced away from the belt, spinning so rapidly it looked like a silver coin. There was a click, the Hunter exhaled sighingly and something fell to the floor at his feet... That was when Denning saw that the finger which had been hooked around the trigger had been neatly severed close to the hand
“And the baby weapons?”
“Energy-powered. I’m told it takes months of practice to use them effectively but, on the other hand, they are below the specifications laid down for dangerous weapons.”
(Twin Planets by Philip E. High, 1967)
- Flechette Gun: The gun is tiny, acm-styled, lightweight, the kind of gun a fashion designer would carry; it fires teensy darts that fly at five times the velocity of an SR-71 spy plane, and when you get done using it, you have to plug it into the cigarette lighter, because it runs on electricity...Some punks in Gila Highlands, a fancy Burbclave, wanted themselves a delivery, and they didn't want to pay for it. Thought they would impress the Deliverator with a baseball bat. The Deliverator took out his gun, centered its laser doohickey on that poised Louisville Slugger, fired it. The recoil was immense, as though the weapon had blown up in his hand. The middle third of the baseball bat turned into a column of burning sawdust accelerating in all directions like a bursting star. Punk ended up holding this bat handle with milky smoke pouring out the end.
(Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, 1992)
- Force Gun: He took a peculiar device from his belt and fitted it over the muzzle of his strange pistol... The Kofedix led the way, his pistol resting lightly against his hip, and at the first turn of the corridor they came full upon four guards. The pistol did not move from its place at the side of the leader, but there were four subdued clicks and the four guards dropped dead, with bullets through their brains.
"Seaton, that is some silencer," whispered DuQuesne. "I didn't suppose a silencer could work that fast."
"They don't use powder," Seaton replied absently, all his faculties directed toward the next corner. "The bullets are propelled by force-field projection."
(The Skylark of Space by E.E. "Doc" Smith, 1928)
- Glass Gun: And by the way, that crystal weapon of Tweel's was an interesting device; I took a look at it after the dream-beast episode. It fired a little glass splinter, poisoned, I suppose, and I guess it held at least a hundred of 'em to a load. The propellent was steam—just plain steam!"
"Shteam!" echoed Putz. "From vot come, shteam?"
"From water, of course! You could see the water through the transparent handle and about a gill of another liquid, thick and yellowish. When Tweel squeezed the handle—there was no trigger—a drop of water and a drop of the yellow stuff squirted into the firing chamber, and the water vaporized—pop!—like that. It's not so difficult; I think we could develop the same principle. Concentrated sulphuric acid will heat water almost to boiling, and so will quicklime, and there's potassium and sodium—
(A Martian Odyssey by Stanley Weinbaum, 1949. This actually might work)
- Hyper Rifle: The weapon emits a beam of warp radiation. Any matter struck by the beam is sent into hyperspace and left there. It is a really efficient way of making long bullet-hole-like tunnels in your target, regardless of any armor it might be wearing. Basically it acts like a disintegrator ray. It is an advance over the ever-popular warp grenade.
(The Armageddon Inheritance by David Weber, 1993)
- Igniter Gun: The woman’s weapon made a booming noise and ejected what looked like a white mist. Rune never had a chance to scream. The hail of microscopic fragments, driven down a line-of-force, had sufficient velocity to penetrate clothing and skin. There they combined with the body chemistry and instantly ignited. Corporal Rune became his own funeral pyre, a pillar of flame which flapped its flaring arms, tottered a few paces and finally collapsed in a smoking heap.
(The Prodigal Sun by Philip E. High, 1965)
- Igniter Shell: Less than thirty seconds later, a Geek or Delink flung himself from a second-storey window. He had been hit by an igniter-shell and his flaring, twisting body was almost completely consumed before it hit the ground.
(Invader On My Back by Philip E. High, 1968)
- Kill-o-Zap blaster pistol: The designer of the gun had clearly not been instructed to beat about the bush. 'Make it evil,' he'd been told. 'Make it totally clear that this gun has a right end and a wrong end. Make it totally clear to anyone standing at the wrong end that things are going badly for them. If that means sticking all sort of spikes and prongs and blackened bits all over it then so be it. This is not a gun for hanging over the fireplace or sticking in the umbrella stand, it is a gun for going out and making people miserable with.'
( The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams, 1980)
- Lazy Gun: The lazy guns are ultra-powerful weapons created by the super-science of some long forgotten civilization who apparently had a peculiar sense of humor. Whatever you fire the lazy gun at will be destroyed, it is just that the random method of destruction will probably resemble something out of a Warner Bros Looney Toons cartoon. If the target is a human they will be killed by such things as a boat anchor materializing above them and squashing them flat, giant electrodes appearing and electrocuting them, or a wild animal turning up out of nowhere and biting out the human's throat. Larger targets such as tanks or ships may suffer tidal waves, implosion, explosion, sudden lava flows or just disappear.
(Against a Dark Background by Iain M. Banks, 1993)
- Lead Azide Gun: This weapons's ammo is a roll of lead azide tape. The weapon bites off bits of the tape and flings them as projectiles. Lead azide is an explosive, which damages the target.
This weapon is incredibly stupid. The entire magazine will explode if the weapon is dropped a distance of 150 mm (6 in) or subjected to a static discharge of 7 millijoules.
(The Shipwrecked Hotel later A Torrent of Faces by James Blish, 1965)
- Memoryform Gun: This is a secret agent's weapon. Ordinarily it looks and scans as if it was a tooth in the agent's mouth. But removed and activated, it expands into something approximating a blaster.
In her other hand her fist seemed closed around something small which she was pointing at the Idiran. Xoxarle had to look carefully to see what it was. It resembled a gun: a gun made mostly of air; a gun of lines, thin wires, hardly solid at all, more like a framework, like a pencil outline somehow lifted from a page and filled out just enough to grip.
(Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks, 1987)
- Mercy Weapons: Mercy weapons fire MercyBullets, which are slivers and needles of a glassy knock-out drug which dissolve in blood. One would make the victim woozy; it took half a dozen to drop them in their tracks unconscious. An overdose can be fatal. The guns fire a steady stream of tiny slivers in a conical pattern. The guns have a tiny aperture and a CO2 cartridge doubling as a handle. They are used on Plateau because killing a criminal with a conventional gun prevents you from harvesting all their organs for transplant into worthy citizens. On Plateau, they are brutally pragmatic about a criminal repaying their debit to society. And citizens happy with the prolonged life-span that comes with transplanted organs have no problem with laws mandating the death-by-organ-donation penalty for even minor offences.
(A Gift From Earth by Larry Niven, 1968)
- Needle Gun: Devoure flushed and lifted his blaster.
Bigman said, "Now don't hurt yourself with that blaster. You're holding it a little close to your body."
His right elbow was resting in the palm of his left hand. His right fist squeezed gently as he spoke, and from the muzzle of the needle gun just protruding from between second and third fingers, a jet of deuterium pulsed out under the guidance of a momentarily established magnetic field. It took skill of the highest order to adjust the squeeze and thumb position correctly, but Bigman had that. No man in the system had more.
The muzzle tip of Devoure's blaster was a tiny white spark, and Devoure yelled his surprise and dropped it.
(Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn by Isaac Asimov, 1958)
- Paralo-ray gun: The Tom Corbett Space Cadet novels demanded ray-guns, but since it was children's literature the guns had to be child-proof and non-violent. The paralo-ray would freeze a person into something like a statue, only allowing them to breath and their hearts to beat. A counter-charge from the ray gun would reverse the paralysis with no ill effects. Well, other than any bruises incurred when an unbalanced person toppled over or corneal scarring from their eyeballs drying out.
(The Tom Corbett Space Cadet series under the name Carey Rockwell, 1952)
- PGMP : In the role-playing game Traveller, PGMP stands for Plasma Gun, Man-Portable, while FGMP stands for Fusion Gun, Man-Portable. The difference is that in the FGMP the plasma is squeezed long enough to actually undergo nuclear fusion. While intended to be used as a huge rifle, the weapon discharge is so violent that the user must be wearing powered armor if they wish to survive. Everybody nearby will be exposed to intense heat and radiation, especially the hapless target. The weapon incorporates a gravity field generator, allowing the weapon to be carried, and allowing the user to fire the weapon without being launched into orbit by the recoil. After all, the weapon is the functional equivalent of a fusion rocket propulsion system.
(Traveller RPG by Marc Miller, 1977)
- Reason: Hiro hears a new sound: a low whirring noise from the direction of Fisheye, and from the atmosphere around them, a tearing, hissing noise, like the sound just before a thunderbolt strikes, like the sound of sheets being ripped in half.
...he sees that the dark wavelike phenomenon was a wave of blood, as though someone hosed down the deck with a giant severed aorta. But it didn't come from outside. It erupted from the pirates' bodies, one at a time, moving from the stern to the bow. The deck of Bruce Lee's ship is now utterly quiet and motionless except for blood and gelatinized internal organs sliding down the rusted steel and plopping softly into the water.
...In one hand he is holding a long device a couple of inches in diameter, which is the source of the whirring noise. It is a circular bundle of parallel tubes about pencil-sized and a couple of feet long, like a miniaturized Gatling gun. It whirs around so quickly that the individual tubes are difficult to make out; when it is operating, it is in fact ghostly and transparent because of this rapid motion, a glittering, translucent cloud jutting out of Fisheye's arm. The device is attached to a wrist-thick bundle of black tubes and cables that snake down into the large suitcase, which lies open on the bottom of the raft. The suitcase has a built-in color monitor screen with graphics giving information about the status of this weapons system: how much ammo is left, the status of various subsystems...
"See, I told you they'd listen to Reason," Fisheye says, shutting down the whirling gun.
Now Hiro sees a nameplate tacked onto the control panel
Gatling type 3.mm hypervelocity railgun system
Ng Security Industries, Inc.
PRERELEASE VERSION-NOT FOR FIELD USE
DO NOT TEST IN A POPULATED AREA
- ULTIMA RATIO REGUM-...
"I did it. With Reason. See, it fires these teeny little metal splinters. They go real fast-more energy than a rifle bullet. Depleted uranium."...
As he waves the gun back and forth, hosing the target down with a hypersonic shower of depleted uranium, Bruce Lee's entire ship seems to sparkle and glitter, as though Tinkerbell was flying back and forth from stem to stern, sprinkling nuclear fairy dust over it....
Hiro packs the Gatling gun assembly back into the case and latches it shut. Maybe it's not as heavy as he thought, or maybe he's on adrenaline overdrive. Then he realizes why it seems so much lighter: most of its weight was ammunition, and Fisheye used up quite a bit. He half-carries, half-drags it back to the stern, making sure the heat exchanger stays in the water
(Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, 1992)
- Release Flame: A release flame makes a block of iron burn like a candle. Except the flame is where atoms of iron are turned into pure energy. You see, fusion turns light elements into energy, fission turns heavy elements into energy, release flames turns the element in the middle into energy. Right. Total handwavium.
"There are two studs on it. The one on the left side will take the starch out of anything living. The one on the right will take the starch out of anything — but don’t use it anywhere near yourself. The left throws a concentrated pencil of invisible ultraviolet energy. It will of course heat, and isn’t as easily reflected as infrared. The other throws a similar pencil of radiation something like cosmic rays, only a little longer. It will penetrate anything to a depth of from 100 to 1000 feet, depending on the substance, and still be fatal. It will destroy the atoms in its path. And it will let loose so much secondary radiation that it will kill anything within fifty feet of what it hits. Don’t use that unless you are more than 200 feet from your target — the ultraviolet is bad enough.
“There’s an energy center — a Flame — in the chamber here. Feeds on the iron of the pistol itself. Good for about 1000 years of continuous operation I believe. If they attempt to disarm you — push this red stud in the base of the butt. It will fuse the weapon two seconds after you push it, and release the energy center.
(The Space Beyond by John W. Campbell Jr, 1976)
- Soft Weapon: This is a dial-a-gun artifact from the mercifully extinct Slaver empire. Settings included sonic communications device, telescope, laser, small jet pack, energy absorber, computer, matter to energy conversion beam, and self-destruct. The conversion beam would have much the same effect as turning the target into pure antimatter.
(The Soft Weapon by Larry Niven, 1967)
- Spore-bomb: The green oval fell and struck the ground. A kind of greenish fog swirled outwards and vanished almost as soon as it had appeared... As soon as the ovoid started falling, the others had started to run but none got clear. Before they had taken twenty paces, their skins and clothing turned bright green. In fractions of a second, the green turned to a thick mould which enveloped them completely. They fell, floundering like fish, crumpled and dripped to dust. Their bones remained, belt buckles, pens, and still functioning watches, but that was all...
The mould came from one of the colonies, Lugos II, to be precise. In certain conditions it could be rendered inert, encased and used as a bomb. Once released, it devoured, sub-divided and devoured again at such an appalling speed that everything organic within the immediate area was completely consumed. Then, for reasons yet to be explained by science, the cycle of sub-division suddenly ran out. The spore ceased to reproduce itself and died within seconds.
(Butterfly Planet by Philip E. High, 1971)
- Xeelee Starbreakers: A Starbreaker is a laser using gravity instead of electromagnetic radiation. Capable of mangling a star. And is the size of a pistol. Egads.
A Starbreaker is described as a pistol-like device designed for a hands the size of a human child. There is intricate wiring around the handle and an adjustment knob on the back. It will emit synchrotron radiation on the lowest setting, coherent gravity on the higher settings.
(Blue Shift by Stephen Baxter, 1989)
- Zen Gun: In the hands of an untrained user it fires a beam that can arc over the surface of a plant to kill any known target. In the hands of a trained user it blows up stars. Only those who have attained inner peace can use it.
(The Zen Gun by Barrington J. Bayley, 1983)
- Force Knife: Perhaps one of the inspirations for the Light Saber (with another being Niven's variable sword).
And as he did that, Bigman moved, too. No eye at the table saw the details of that move, since it flashed with the speed of a striking snake, but Urteil's roar ended in a shout of dismay.
Urteil's hand, which had come down with such hard finality, now showed the carved metallic haft of a force-knife growing out of it.
Bigman's tenor voice rose in delight. "Spread your fingers, you tub of mineral oil. Spread them and then grease back down into your seat."
Urteil stared at his small tormenter without understanding for a moment and then very slowly spread his fingers. His hand was not hurt, not a sliver of skin had been removed. The force-knife stood quivering in the hard plastic table top, an inch of its waveringly luminescent force-blade (it wasn't matter, merely a thin field of immaterial force) in sight. The knife had entered the table, working its way neatly and unerringly between the second and third finger of Urteil's hand.
Urteil snatched his hand away as though it were suddenly in flames.
Bigman crowed with delight and said, "And next time you reach a hand in Lucky's direction or in mine, you cobber, I chop it right off. What would you say if I told you that? And whatever you say, say it politely." He reached out for the force-knife, deactivating the blade as he seized the haft, and returned it to its inconspicuous holster on his belt.
(Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury by Isaac Asimov, 1956)
- Ionic Blade: In the comic book, among Killraven's weapons is the ionic blade. It is described as having been invented by some University of California grad student in a successful attempt to created an edged weapon that causes wound damage beyond the boundaries of the metal blade.
(Killraven, Warrior of the Worlds 1973)
- Phonic Stiletto: Curious, he kneeled to examine the object clutched convulsively in the assassin's right hand: a short, grayish metal cylinder that looked much like pewter. A tiny red light was still gleaming near the cylinder's middle.
Flinx found a loose scrap of pavement and passed it carefully between the out-pointing end of the cylinder and the air. There was a tiny ping, and a millimeter- wide hole appeared in the thick section of stone.
To protect the many inquisitive children prowling the night streets of Drallar, Flinx touched a stud at the haft of the weapon. The red light went out. A repeat pass with the stone did not produce a puncture. Flinx pulled the tiny device free of its former owner's death grip.
This Qwarm toy was a phonic stiletto. It generated a thin beam of sculpted sound that would put a hole through just about anything. It fit neatly in a man's palm, generator and all, was easily concealed, and was almost impossible to detect or defend against.
(The End of the Matter by Alan Dean Foster, 1977)
- Stokes coagulator: Some sort of sidearm mentioned in passing in the Heinlein novel. Presumably it coagulates living human tissue the same way boiling water turns a fresh egg into a hard-boiled egg.
The term was later borrowed for use in John McEwan's STARGUARD SF miniatures rules (1974). It went on to make further appearances in Gamma World (1978), Space Marines (1980), and Space Opera (1981). In the Heinlein novel it is implied that the weapon resembles a pistol. In the games the weapon is more like a deadly cattle prod, where the hot end has to be physically touched to the target. This might have been inspired by Alexei Panshin's "Curdler" or the "Tingler" from his Anthony Villiers novel series (1968). A related weapon is the "congealer" from Philip E. High's Butterfly Planet (1971) which makes an instant blood clot. This is favored by assassins because it gives the illusion their target died from a natural heart attack.
(Beyond This Horizon by Robert Heinlein, 1942)
- Variable Sword: Perhaps one of the inspirations for the Light Saber (with another being Asimov's force knife). A handle resembling that of a jump rope, which extends a Sinclair molecule chain, stiffened by a Slaver stasis field. Since the chain is only one atom wide, it will cut through anything. The length of the blade is user-controlled, or totally retracted when not in use. There is a tiny glowing red ball on the end, since the molecule chain is difficult to see.
(Ringworld by Larry Niven, 1970)
- Vibroblade (If This Goes On): 'He won't come to,' answered Magdalene's calm voice out of the darkness. 'I slipped a vibroblade in his ribs.'
'Zeb, I had to do it. Be glad I didn't use steel and mess up the floor with blood.
(If This Goes On... by Robert Heinlein, 1940)
- Vibroblade (Unwise Child):
A vibroblade is a nasty weapon. Originally designed as a surgeon’s tool, its special steel blade moves in and out of the heavy hilt at speeds from two hundred to two thousand vibrations per second, depending on the size and the use to which it is to be put. Make it eight inches long, add serrated, diamond-pointed teeth, and you have the man-killing vibroblade. Its danger is in its power; that shivering blade can cut through flesh, cartilage, and bone with almost no effort. It’s a knife with power steering.
But that kind of power can be a weakness as well as a strength.
The little gadget that Mike the Angel carried did more than just detect the nearby operation of a vibroblade. It was also a defense. The gadget focused a high-density magnetic field on any vibroblade that came anywhere within six inches of Mike’s body.
In that field, the steel blade simply couldn’t move. It was as though it had been caught in a vise. The blade no longer vibrated; it had become nothing more than an overly fancy bread knife.
The trouble was that the power unit in the heavy hilt simply wouldn’t accept the fact that the blade was immovable. That power unit was in there to move something, and by heaven, something had to move.
The hilt jerked and bucked in the kid’s hand, taking skin with it. Then it began to smoke and burn under the overload. The plastic shell cracked and hot copper and silver splattered out of it. The kid screamed as the molten metal burned his hand.
(Unwise Child by Randall Garrett, 1962)
A lightsaber is the archetypal cool weapon that every geek wanted the instant they saw it in the first Star Wars movie (1977). Indeed in some surveys it has been rated as the most popular weapon in cinema history. Viewers didn't care that nothing in the real world can act like that.
Apparently it is considered ostentatious to spell it "lightsabre."
You can bet the farm that it has become a TV Trope.
Antecedents in science fiction include:
- PRE-STAR WARS
- Light-Sword from Kaldar, World of Antares by Edmond Hamilton (1933).
The operating principle is never explained, but the weapon appears to be a long rapier. When a button in the hilt is pressed and held, energy released into the blade makes it shine with light.
Anything touched is "annihilated instantly." In the story a hero uses a light-sword on a locked metal door, which promptly twists and melts.
Of course two light-swords can block and parry each other as if they were conventional swords. However they are described as being as light as fencing foils, so you can parry really fast. If you drop a light-sword, the button in the hilt clicks off and the blade's power goes dead.
- Rods of Wrath from Gather, Darkness by Fritz Leiber (1943)
The rods are more like laser beams in that their length is either infinity or the first solid object they hit, whichever is shorter. Which makes duels very hard on any innocent bystanders.
However "the tactics were those of sabreurs - feint, cut, parry, swift riposte."
- Force Knife from Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury by Isaac Asimov (1956).
It has the handle that looks like a conventional dagger-hilt, but the blade is a force field. A thin film of luminescent immaterial force. It can be forced to cut through pretty much anything made of matter, but if you, say, stick it into a table top it will stay there. A hilt floating in the air with a couple of centimeters of glowing force field exposed.
- Variable Sword from Ringworld by Larry Niven (1970).
This was a filament of Sinclair Molecule Chain stiffened by a stasis field. Since the blade was only one molecule thick it could slice through anything made out of matter (with the possible exception of a General Products hull).
The hilt had a roll of molecule chain and could extend the length to as the user desired (hence the "variable" part of the name). The chain had a tiny glowing light on the end so the user could see how long the blade was. The actual blade was invisible. The hilt looked like an "oversized jump rope handle.
A length of molecule chain not stiffend by a stasis field would flop, creating a whip-like weapon more dangerous to the user than to their target. An unstasis molecule chain can cut through anything made of matter except cloth woven out of molecule chains.
- Energy Baan from The Pastel City by M. John Harrison (1971).
These are used by the Methven, an order of knights sworn to protect their empire. Hmmmm.
- POST-STAR WARS
- Laser Sword from Kirlian Quest by Piers Anthony (1978)
The sword looks like a hilt. Twin laser beams shoot out and meet about one meter from the hilt. There the twin beams interfere with each other and phase out, creating an elongated triangle which is vaguely sword shaped.
The beams will also make an opponent's laser sword phase out, truncating their (and your) sword to the point of intersection. Your opponent's limb or other body part will not make your beam phase out, the limb will just be of little use to your opponent thereafter.
- Energy Sword from The Micronauts (1979)
The Acroyers of planet Spartak are fond of full body armor and swords which crackle with electrical energy when you push the "on" button situated on the blade's hilt.
- Raypier from Camalot 3000 (1982)
The knights use "raypiers", and ward them off with disk-shaped energy shields projected from gadgets that resemble wrist watches. The energy shields are wielded much like an old time Viking wooden shield.
- Bloodsword from the Star of the Guadians series by Margaret Weis (1990)
These are very similar to Star Wars lightsabers, but with some disturbing and icky differences.
The user can mentally switch the sword from sword-mode into shield-mode and back again.
There is no power source. The hilts have needles which jab into your palm so the sword can power itself from your blood. Apparently it runs off ATP.
If you are not of the Blood Royal genetic line, the nanotechnology harvesting your ATP will cause a sort of galloping cancer that will kill you within days. If you are lucky.
- Where The Air Quivered: In the 1898 story with the same name by L. T. Mead and Robert Eustace, the assassin uses a deadly box that kills without a trace. The rear end is covered with a rubber membrane, the business end has a hole, with a hinged flap. The interior is full of deadly anhydrous hydrogen cyanide gas. Tapping the rubber membrane fires an invisible vortex ring (like a smoke ring) of cyanide gas at the victim, killing them in sixty seconds flat.
Before you dismiss this as a Victorian steam-punk Rube Goldberg device, understand that the US military and police departments are looking into high-tech versions of this for firing targeted rings of tear gas and pepper spray as a crowd control device.
Smoke ring guns were once popular as toys, and it is fairly easy to construct DIY versions of small guns or large air cannons. Do a search on YouTube for "vortex cannon". But please do not fill it with anything more dangerous than incense smoke or perfume.
I made one of these when I was a boy. I cut the bottom off an empty coffee can, put the can's stay-fresh plastic lid on the bottom, and a second lid on the top (this one with a seven-centimeter hole in the middle, about half the diameter of the can). Inside was a holder for stick inscense. Worked like a champ!
- Spring Gun: citizens can obtain licenses to own and carry non-lethal stunners and lethal hand lasers. Unfortunately Jern Murdoc, though cleared of the charges against him, is still forbidden either license for a year. On the primitive planet, his ally Ryzk the scout cobbles together a spring gun that fires needle darts. And Jern the jewel merchant has some flawed Zoran stones. Upon the first cutting the shards of the gemstones are deadly toxic. They use sharp shards to tip the darts.
(Uncharted Stars by Andre Norton, 1969)
- Blowgun (Ariel): one fine day the laws of physics changed, so that technology didn't work but magic did. In the post-apocalyptic world Pete Garey uses a blowgun, because it is a ranged weapon and the ammunition is relatively easy to make. You cut lengths of piano wire to make the darts. Heat the end in a fire, then melt the hot end through a plastic bead just big enough to fit the inside of the blowgun.
Ranged weapons are a plus, allowing one to damage your opponent while they are too far away to hit you with a sword or club. Bows are hard to master and manufacturing worthwhile arrows is very difficult.
(Ariel by Steven R. Boyett, 1983)