In traditional 1950's SF nomenclature, a "blaster" is a type of lethal weapon which melts, vaporizes, or disintegrates the target with a blast of energy (generally atomic), a "needler" is a type of lethal weapon which punches long but narrow holes in the target either by deadly threadlike beams or with needle bullets, and a "stunner" or "stun gun" is a non-lethal weapon that renders the (living) target unconscious. A "fulgurator" or "bolt gun" is a weapon that shoots lightning or electricity, it is more or less an electron particle beam weapon. A conventional sidearm that shoots bullets is called a "slug-thrower."

The technical term for lasers and particle beam guns is "directed-energy weapon". The old term is "ray-gun", but nowadays this seems retro, quaint, and faintly comedic. Much like the term "space cadet."

Luke Campbell notes that a continuous beam laser can be called a "heat ray", and a pulse beam laser acts much like a "blaster."

And for all you young whipper-snappers who are under the misapprehension that science fiction started with the first Star Wars movie: "blaster" dates back to 1925 in Nictzin Dyalhis' When the Green Star Waned, "disintegrator ray" dates back to 1898 in Garrett Serviss' Edison's Conquest of Mars, "needler" dates back to 1934 in E.E."Doc" Smith's The Skylark of Valeron, and "stunner" dates back to 1944 in C. M. Kornbluth's Fire-Power. Isaac Asimov invented "force-field blades" in his 1952 novel David Starr, Space Ranger, which was the father of the light-saber.

Our square-jawed, steely eyed rocketeers have to be adequately armed. But you have to take the surroundings into account. One shot from an atomic fission blaster might guarantee that Killer Kane never menaces the spaceways again, but you won't live to collect the reward if it also vaporizes a hole in the hull the size of Roger Manning's ego. On the other hand, trying to swing a cutlass in free fall is an exercise in futility. The gallant crew of the Polaris had paralo-ray pistols but it would be nice to have something more believable.

Joules (J)TNT EquivalentNotes
8.0 × 10010.019 gram.22 short round
13mm Gyrojet round at 2 meters from muzzle (too close, little damage)
1.0 × 10020.024 gramFirecracker (50 mg of black powder)
4.75 × 10020.114 gram9mm Luger Parabellum round
5.2 × 10020.124 gram.38 Special round
5.4 × 10020.129 gram.45 ACP round (Colt M1911)
9.4 × 10020.225 gram.357 Magnum round
9.5 × 10020.227 gram13mm Gyrojet round at 18 meters from muzzle (rocket at full speed and maximum damage)
1.009 × 10030.241 gram.22 Centerfire Hornet round
1.2 × 10030.287 gramLaser bolt from a Luke Campbell light laser pistol (60 pulses of 20 J each, spaced 4 microseconds apart)
1.308 × 10030.313 gramM1 Carbine round
1.4 × 10030.335 gram3.5 g AK-74 bullet fired at 900 m/s
1.56 × 10030.373 gram.44 Magnum round (AutoMag)
1.6 × 10030.382 gramLaser bolt from a Luke Campbell medium laser pistol
1.822 × 10030.435 gram5.56mm Remington NATO round
2.045 × 10030.489 gram7.62mm Soviet AK-47 round
2.56 × 10030.612 gram.30-30 Winchester round
3.2 × 10030.765 gramLaser bolt from a Luke Campbell heavy laser pistol
3.3 × 10030.789 gram9.33 g NATO rifle cartridge fired at 838 m/s
3.469 × 10030.829 gram.303 Lee-Enfield round
3.744 × 10030.895 gram.308 Winchester round
7.62x51mm NATO round
4.184 × 10031 gram= 1 microton
4.8 × 10031.2 gramsLaser bolt from a Luke Campbell assault laser
6.822 × 10031.6 grams.458 Magnum Winchester "Africa" round
9.04 × 10032.2 grams.450 Magnum Dakota round
1.0 × 10042.39 gramsLaser bolt from a Luke Campbell battle laser (50 pulses of 200 J each, spaced 10 microseconds apart)
1.0187 × 10042.44 grams.460 Magnum Wetherby "elephant gun" round
1.7149 × 10044.1 grams.50 Browning machine gun round
3.0 × 10047 gramspower pack magazine of Luke Campbell light laser pistol (25 full power bolts)
4.0 × 10049.6 gramspower pack magazine of Luke Campbell medium laser pistol (25 full power bolts)
4.8 × 100411.5 gramspower pack magazine of Luke Campbell heavy laser pistol (15 full power bolts)
5.4 × 100412.9 grams20 mm autocannon round
1.3 × 100531 gramsAnti-personnel land mine
2.1 × 100550 gramsSingle round of depleted uranium from an A-10 Warthog's GAU-8 rotating cannon (1,800 rpm)
8.4 × 1005200 grams1 stick TNT
9.5 × 1005226 gramsHand grenade
1.0 × 1006239 gramspower pack magazine of Luke Campbell battle laser (100 full power bolts)
1.2 × 1006287 gramspower pack magazine of Luke Campbell assault laser (250 full power bolts)
3.6 × 1006860 grams1 kilowatt hour
4.184 × 10061 kilogram= 1 milliton
6.1 × 10061.4 kilogram120mm Tank Gun KE Ammunition (KEW-A1)
2.1 × 10075 kgAnti-tank mine
3.9 × 10079.3 kgImpact energy of proposed Navy 64 megajoule railgun
1.2 × 100828 kg1 gallon of gasoline
1.42 × 100828 kgVaporize a human body, leaving skeleton (turn all water into steam)
1.8 × 100843 kg1 microgram of antimatter + 1 microgram of matter
5.3 × 1008127 kgBattleship Iowa 16 inch shell with 54 kg high explosive charge
8.5 × 1008203 kg1 second of output from an average commercial nuclear power reactor (850 MW)
1.9 × 1009454 kgTomahawk cruise missile (TLAM-C)
3.0 × 1009717 kgTotally vaporize a human body, including skeleton (break all atomic bonds)
1.77 m5' 10"White male height in 50th percentile
2 mAverage range of a confrontation with a handgun
7.6 mMaximum effective range of Taser X-26
9 mUpper range of most confrontations with a handgun
12 mLength of US city bus
18 mGyrojet round has accelerated to maximum velocity and maximum damage
23 mGeneral rule range, beyond which it would make more sense to use a slugthrower long-arm instead of slugthrower handgun
50 mGeneral rule maximum effective range of slugthower handgun
Effective focus range for a Luke Campbell medium laser pistol
100 mRange for full damage of bolt from a Luke Campbell heavy laser pistol
109.728 m360'Length of US NFL football field
150 mMaximum effective range of AK-47 grenade launcher
250 mEffective focus range for a Luke Campbell assault laser
270 mMaximum effective combat range of M1 carbine
Length of US BB-62 battleship New Jersey
300 mMaximum average range of infantry engagement
350 mEffective range of AK-47 rifle
Range for full damage of bolt from a Luke Campbell battle laser
365 mRange at which 13mm Gyrojet rounds loses effective velocity
444 mHeight of Empire State building
460 mEffective range of M16A1 rifle
600 mMaximum effective range of M4 carbine
Maximum effective range of M16 rifle (point target)
800 mMaximum effective range of M16 rifle (area target)

      The twin moons brooded over the red deserts of Mars and the mined city of Khua-Loanis. The night wind sighed around the fragile spires and whispered at the fretted lattice windows of the empty temples, and the red dust made it like a city of copper.

     It was close to midnight when the distant rumble of racing hooves reached the city, and soon the riders thundered in under the ancient gateway. Tharn, Warrior Lord of Loanis, leading his pursuers by a scant twenty yards, realized wearily that his lead was shortening, and raked the scaly flanks of his six-legged vorkl with cruel spurs. The faithful beast gave a low cry of despair as it tried to obey and failed.

     In front of Tharn in the big double saddle sat Lehni-tal-Loanis, Royal Lady of Mars, riding the ungainly animal with easy grace, leaning forward along its arching neck to murmur swift words of encouragement into its flattened ears. Then she lay back against Tharn’s mailed chest and turned her lovely face up to his, flushed and vivid with the excitement of the chase, amber eyes aflame with love for her strange hero from beyond time and space.

     “We shall win this race yet, my Tharn," she cried. “Yonder through that archway lies the Temple of the Living Vapor, and once there we can defy all the Hordes of Varnis!” Looking down at the unearthly beauty of her, at the subtle curve of throat and breast and thigh, revealed as the wind tore at her scanty garments, Tharn knew that even if the Swordsmen of Varnis struck him down his strange odyssey would not have been in vain.

     But the girl had judged the distance correctly and Thain brought their snorting vorkl to a sliding, rearing halt at the great doors of the Temple, just as the Swordsmen reached the outer archway and jammed there in a struggling, cursing mass. In seconds they had sorted themselves out and came streaming across the courtyard, but the delay had given Tharn time to dismount and take his stand in one of the great doorways. He knew that if he could hold it for a few moments while Lehni-tal-Loanis got the door open, then the secret of the Living Vapor would be theirs, and with it mastery of all the lands of Loanis.

     The Swordsmen tried first to ride him down, but the doorway was so narrow and deep that Tharn had only to drive his sword-point upward into the first vorkl’s throat and leap backward as the dying beast fell. Its rider was stunned by the fall, and Tharn bounded up onto the dead animal and beheaded the unfortunate Swordsman without compunction. There were ten of his enemies left and they came at him now on foot, but the confining doorway prevented them from attacking more than four abreast, and Tharn’s elevated position upon the huge carcass gave him the advantage he needed. The fire of battle was in his veins now, and he bared his teeth and laughed in their faces, and his reddened sword wove a pattern of cold death which none could pass.

     Lehni-tal-Loanis, running quick cool fingers over the pitted bronze of the door. found the radiation lock and pressed her glowing opalescent thumb-ring into the socket, gave a little sob of relief as she heard hidden tumblers falling. With agonizing slowness the ancient mechanism began to open the door; soon Tharn heard the girls clear voice call above the clashing steel, “Inside, my Tharn, the secret of the Living Vapor is ours!”

     But Tharn, with four of his foes dead now, and seven to go, could not retreat from his position on top of the dead vorkl without grave risk of being cut down, and Lehni-tal-Loanis, quickly realizing this, sprang up beside him, drawing her own slim blade and crying, “Aie, my love! l will be your left arm!”

     Now the cold hand of defeat gripped the hearts of the Swordsmen of Varnis: two, three, four more of them mingled their blood with the red dust of the courtyard as Tharn and his fighting princess swung their merciless blades in perfect unison. It seemed that nothing could prevent them now from winning the mysterious secret of the Living Vapor, but they reckoned without the treachery of one of the remaining Swordsmen. Leaping backward out of the conflict he flung his sword on the ground in disgust. “Aw, the Hell with it!” he grunted, and unclipping a proton gun from his belt he blasted Lehni-tal-Loanis and her Warrior Lord out of existence with a searing energy-beam.

From THE SWORDSMEN OF VARNIS by Clive Jackson (1950)


Futuristic weapons have names drawn from analogies with their nearest real-world equivalent. Which leads to some oddities, since some weapons just do not fit. For instance, many science fiction novels feature "laser rifles" even though such weapons have zero rifling since they shoot coherent light instead of bullets.


A firearm is a portable gun (a barreled ranged weapon) that inflicts damage on targets by launching one or more projectiles driven by rapidly expanding high-pressure gas produced by exothermic combustion of propellant within an ammunition cartridge.

A weapon that shoots bullets, in other words.

So technically a weapon that shoots caseless ammo is not a firearm, though logically it should be.


In international arms control, small arms are man-portable firearms that shoot kinetic projectiles, including handguns (revolvers and pistols) and individual-operated long guns such as rifles and carbines, shotguns, submachine guns, personal defense weapons, and light machine guns.

A single person is strong enough to carry a small arm.


In international arms control, light arms are either are team-operated (e.g., heavy machine guns, portable anti-aircraft guns) or shoot explosive warheads.

Light arms are heavy enough to require two or more people to carry it.

A derringer is generally the smallest usable handgun of a given caliber. They are lightweight and easily concealable. However they commonly have very small magazine, typically only one or two bullets.
A U.S. term for any small, pocket-sized semi-automatic pistol, (or less commonly derringer, or small revolver), suitable for concealed carry in either a front or rear pocket of a pair of trousers, or in an exterior coat pocket.

A handgun is a handheld firearm designed to be operated with only one hand. Although handgun use often includes reinforcing the grip with the other hand for stability, the conceptual facility for one-handed operation is its essential distinguishing characteristic. This characteristic differentiates handguns from long guns such as rifles and shotguns, which usually mandate holding with both hands and braced against the shoulder for proper shooting.

Major handgun subtypes are the revolver and pistol (including single-shot pistols, semi-automatic pistols, and machine pistols); other subtypes include derringers and pepperboxes. Due to the dominant prevalence of pistol-type handguns in modern times, The words "pistol" and "handgun" have overlapping variations in meaning.

A pistol is a type of handgun, especially one with a single chamber integral with the barrel. The most common types of pistol are the single shot, and semi-automatic.
A revolver is a repeating handgun that has a revolving cylinder containing multiple chambers and at least one barrel for firing. Revolvers might be regarded as a type of pistol, or as a subset of handguns, distinct from pistols, which in this case are defined as handguns with a single chamber.
A machine pistol is typically a handgun-style machine gun, capable of fully automatic or burst fire, and chambered for pistol sized cartridges.
A long gun is a category of firearms with longer barrels than other classes. In small arms, a long gun is generally designed to be held by both hands and braced against the shoulder, in contrast to a handgun, which can be fired being held with a single hand.
A carbine is a long gun firearm but with a shorter barrel than a rifle. Many carbines are shortened versions of full-length rifles, shooting the same ammunition, while others fire lower-powered ammunition, including types designed for pistols. The smaller size and lighter weight of carbines make them easier to handle. They are typically issued to high-mobility troops such as special-operations soldiers and paratroopers, as well as to mounted, artillery, logistics, or other non-infantry personnel whose roles do not require full-sized rifles.

A personal defense weapon (PDW) is a class of compact magazine-fed, self-loading firearms — essentially a hybrid between a submachine gun and a carbine, retaining the compact size and ammunition capacity of the former while adding the stopping power, accuracy and penetration of the latter (i.e., a submachine gun that fires rifle-caliber cartridges instead of pistol-caliber). Most PDWs fire a small-caliber, high-velocity bottleneck cartridge, resembling a small or shortened intermediate rifle cartridge. This gives the PDW better range, accuracy and armor-penetrating capability than submachine guns, which fire pistol-caliber cartridges.

The name describes the type's original role: as a compact but powerful defensive weapon that can be carried by troops behind the front line such as military engineers, drivers, artillery crews or signallers. These soldiers may be at risk of encountering the enemy, but rarely enough that a long-barrel weapon would be an unnecessary burden during their normal duties. Because of their light weight and controllability, they have also been used by special forces and by heavily-armed police.

A submachine gun (SMG) is a magazine-fed, fully automatic carbine designed to fire pistol cartridges. Today, submachine guns have been largely replaced by assault rifles, which have a greater effective range and are capable of penetrating the helmets and body armor used by modern infantry. However, submachine guns are still used by military special forces and police SWAT teams for close quarters battle (CQB) because they are "a pistol-caliber weapon that's easy to control, and less likely to over-penetrate the target."
The U.S. Army defines assault rifles as "short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachine gun and rifle cartridges."
Battle rifle is a post-World War II term for military service rifles that are fed ammunition via detachable magazines and fire a full-powered rifle cartridge. The term "battle rifle" was created largely out of a need to better differentiate the intermediate-power assault rifles from full-powered automatic rifles as both classes of firearms have a similar appearance and share many of the same features such as detachable magazines, pistol grips, etc.
A rifle is a firearm designed for precision shooting, to be fired held with both hands and braced against the shoulder, and with a barrel that has a helical pattern of grooves ("rifling") cut into the barrel walls. The word "rifle" originally referred to the grooving, and a rifle was called a "rifled gun." The word "rifle" is now used for any long hand-held aimed device activated by a trigger, such as Air rifles and the Personnel halting and stimulation response rifle (PHASR) (meaning the PHASR is a laser weapon, and thus has not rifling, but they call it a rifle anyway).
A designated marksman rifle (DMR) is the weapon used by infantries in the designated marksman (DM) role. Although the "sniper" and the "designated marksman" are distinguished by mission and deployment role, rather than by operational range, the DM's role generally fills the range gap between a regular infantryman and a sniper. DMRs have been developed with this middle ground in mind.
A sniper rifle is a high-precision rifle designed for sniper missions. It serves to fulfil the tactical need for long range surveillance, antipersonnel and anti-material operations, and can be used by both military and law enforcement. The modern sniper rifle is a portable shoulder-fired weapon system with a choice between bolt-action or semi-automatic action, fitted with a telescopic sight for extreme accuracy and chambered for a high-performance military centerfire cartridge.

A side arm or sidearm is a weapon, usually a handgun but sometimes a sword, dagger, knife, bayonet or other mêlée weapon, which is worn on the body in a holster or sheath (in the case of a sword, dagger, knife, or bayonet) to permit immediate access and use. A sidearm is typically required equipment for military officers and is usually carried by law enforcement personnel. Usually, uniformed personnel of these services wear their weapons openly, while plainclothes personnel have their sidearms concealed under their clothes. A sidearm may be carried alone, or as a back-up to a primary weapon such as a rifle, carbine, or submachine gun.

Historically in western armies, and in many contemporary armies, the issue of a sidearm in the form of a service pistol is a clear sign of authority and is the mark of a commissioned officer or senior NCO. In the protocol of courtesy, the surrender of a commander's sidearm is the final act in the general surrender of a unit. If no ill will is meant, and a strict interpretation of military courtesy is applied, a surrendering commander may be allowed to keep his sidearm in order to exercise his right of command over his men.

A service pistol is any handgun issued to military personnel or law enforcement officers. Typically service pistols are revolvers or semi-automatic pistols issued to officers, non-commissioned officers, and rear-echelon support personnel for self defense, though service pistols may also be issued to special forces as a backup for their primary weapons. Pistols are not typically issued to front-line infantry.
The service rifle (also known as standard-issue rifle) of a given army or armed force is that which it issues as standard to its soldiers. In modern forces, this is typically a highly versatile and rugged assault rifle, battle rifle or carbine suitable for use in nearly all theatres and environments.

Basic Safety

In many SF novels, the captains of space passenger liners and tramp freighters will require all weapons capable of breaching the ship's hull to be surrendered and locked away for the duration of the voyage. Upon planetfall they will be returned to the owner.

But hull holes might not be a primary concern, it is going to take almost 17 minutes before air loss through a bullet hole causes people to suffocate..

Mike Williams notes that it isn't just the hull that is vulnerable to stray shots. There is plenty of equipment you don't want to damage or it will spray corrosive chemicals / shut down the oxygen / make the atomic reactor go critical / do something else equally nasty. Space Patrol cadets are warned not to give asteroid pirates any ideas (e.g., don't take cover next to a large fluorescent orange pipe with the label "DANGER: LIQUID SODIUM" stenciled right next to the skull and crossbones)

The safest policy (for the ship at least) is to forbid firearms on board. But this isn't really an option. As Dr. John Schilling said:

Part of the Space Patrol's mission will involve checking out suspicious, rather than overtly hostile, activity, as with the present Coast Guard. If you know that Space Transport THX-1138 has been seized by Space Pirates (tm) who slaughtered the entire crew, you can lase it from a thousand kilometers away. If you're only guessing on the basis of some strange comm traffic, you've got to put a boarding party on the ship. If they are unarmed, you are only sending the pirates hostages.

From Dr. John Schilling

      Captain Ramius: [during a shootout in the submarine missile room] Hey, Ryan, be careful what you shoot at. Some things in here don't react too well to bullets.
     Jack Ryan: [mutters] Yeah, like me. I don't react too well to bullets.
     [Moves closer to enemy, who fires several shots at him]
     Jack Ryan: I have to be careful what I shoot at?


Proper markmanship includes grip, aiming, breath control, trigger squeeze, target engagement, and positions. Don't rely upon what you see in Hollywood movies, most of it is utterly worthless. Especially holding your pistol sideways, with your palm down.

And there will be a few slight difference with different types of weapons. For instance, slugthrowers have plenty of recoil, gyrojet rocket guns have a small amount of recoil, and laser weapons have no recoil at all.

Excerpts from FM 3-23.35 Combat training with pistols. Refer to the manual for other factors not touched upon below. Images from Wikimedia Commons. Sidearm pictured is a Beretta 92F


One Hand Grip

Hold the weapon in the nonfiring hand; form a V with the thumb and forefinger of the strong hand (firing hand). Place the weapon in the V with the front and rear sights in line with the firing arm. Wrap the lower three fingers around the pistol grip, putting equal pressure with all three fingers to the rear. Allow the thumb of the firing hand to rest alongside the weapon without pressure. Grip the weapon tightly until the hand begins to tremble; relax until the trembling stops. At this point, the necessary pressure for a proper grip has been applied. Place the trigger finger on the trigger between the tip and second joint so that it can be squeezed to the rear. The trigger finger must work independently of the remaining fingers. NOTE: If any of the three fingers on the grip are relaxed, the grip must be reapplied.

Two Handed Grips

The two-hand grip allows the firer to steady the firing hand and provide maximum support during firing. The nonfiring hand becomes a support mechanism for the firing hand by wrapping the fingers of the nonfiring hand around the firing hand. Two-hand grips are recommended for all pistol firing. WARNING Do not place the nonfiring thumb in the rear of the weapon. The recoil upon firing could result in personal injury.


The qualification course is fired from a standing, kneeling, or crouch position. During qualification and combat firing, soldiers must practice all of the firing positions described below so they become natural movements. Though these positions seem natural, practice sessions must be conducted to ensure the habitual attainment of correct firing positions. Practice in assuming correct firing positions ensures that soldiers can quickly assume these positions without a conscious effort. Pistol marksmanship requires a soldier to rapidly apply all the fundamentals at dangerously close targets while under stress. Assuming a proper position to allow for a steady aim is critical to survival.

NOTE: During combat, there may not be time for a soldier to assume a position that will allow him to establish his natural point of aim. Firing from a covered position may require the soldier to adapt his shooting stance to available cover.

Mozambique Drill

The Mozambique Drill, also known as the Failure Drill, Failure to Stop drill, or informally, "two to the chest, one to the head," is a close-quarters shooting technique that requires the shooter to fire twice into the torso of a target (known as a double tap to center of mass), rapidly assess whether the target has been stopped, and follow up if necessary with a more difficult head shot that, if properly placed, will instantly kill.

Theory and technique

The Mozambique Drill is intended to ensure that the target is immediately stopped, by first placing two shots into the larger, easier-to-hit mass of the upper body, then, if the target is still active, following with a third, more precisely aimed and difficult head shot. Due to factors such as body armor, the bolstering effect of drugs, or failure to hit vital organs, the body shots may not be immediately effective, necessitating the third shot. To guarantee instant incapacitation by impacting the brain and central nervous system, the head shot must be delivered to the area between eyebrows and upper lip, otherwise, various bony areas of the skull could deflect the bullet.

From the Wikipedia entry for MOZAMBIQUE DRILL

Double Tap

A double tap is a shooting technique where two shots are fired in rapid succession at the same target with the same sight picture (different from the controlled pair, where a second sight picture is acquired for the second shot). Instruction and practice of the double-tap improves overall accuracy as shooters often do not have the gun fully extended on the first shot meaning the second of a double-tap is usually the better. The term hammer is sometimes used to describe a double tap in which the firearm's sights are not reacquired by the shooter between shots.


In the double-tap technique, after the first round is fired, the shooter quickly reacquires the sights for a fast second shot. This skill can be practiced by firing two shots at a time, taking time between the shots to reacquire the sights. With practice, the time between shots grows shorter and shorter until it seems to the observer as if the shooter is just pulling the trigger twice very quickly.

There is a natural arc of the front sight post after the round is fired and the recoil kicks in. The soldier lets the barrel go with this arc and immediately brings the front sight post back on target and takes a second shot. The soldier does not fight the recoil. In combat, soldiers shoot until the enemy goes down. For multiple targets, each target should receive a double tap.

From the Wikipedia entry for DOUBLE TAP

Palm Pistol

When you want your science-fictional sidearm to have that touch of the bizarre reminding the reader that they ain't in Kansas any more, palm pistols are startling abet impractical.

Instead of the weapon barrel positioned atop the user's fist as is conventional, it instead protrude from between the user's fingers. Either between the index (1st) and middle (2nd) finger, or between the middle (2nd) and ring (3rd) finger.

In the real world, such strange weapons are designed to be easily concealable or ergometric. The drawback is trying to fit the ammo and the firing mechanism in the palm of your hand.


The Protector Palm Pistol is a concealable design carrying seven .32 rimfire rounds in a "turret" rotary action. Since each bullet cannot be longer than the weapon's radius, each round was really short. Which means each round had the stopping power of a whiffle ball.

The trigger rested against the ball of the user's thumb, firing was by squeezing the weapon. Reloading was time-consuming since you had to dismantle the entire thing.

Apparently the barrel could protrude between either fingers 1 & 2 or 2 & 3. Barrel between 3 & 4 was possible but awkward.

The target demographic appeared to be for those wanting inconspicuous defense or assasins.


The Constitution Arms Palm Pistol™ is an ergometric design that only has a single .38 special round, contained in the barrel. The trigger is a button on the top, activated by the thumb.

According to the documention it can be held so that the barrel protrudes between any pair of adjacent fingers you wish. Just in case the user had to have a finger amputated for medical reasons or something. The company also maintains that having only a single shot is not a bug, it's a feature.

It is for for when Granny's arthritic hands aren't what they used to be. Or according to the company: It is an adaptive aid intended for seniors, disabled or others with grip limitations due to hand strength, manual dexterity or phalangeal amputations.


In the Genesis II movie the pacifists of PAX use tiny pneumatic pistols firing "PAXer" darts containing knockout drugs.

It appears that the barrel must protrude between fingers 1 & 2.

Needle Gun 1

      This was another one of those times when Bigman was glad he carried a needle-gun even in the face of Lucky's disapproval. Lucky considered it an unreliable weapon, as it was too hard to focus accurately, but Bigman would sooner doubt the fact that he was as tall as any six-footer as doubt his own skill. When Summers didn't turn at Bigman's shout, Bigman clenched his fist about the weapon (of which only half-inch of snout, narrowing to a needlepoint, showed between the second and third fingers of his right hand) and squeezed just tightly enough to activate it.
     Simultaneously there was a flash of light six inches in front of Summers' nose, and a slight pop. It was not very impressive. Only air molecules were being ionized. Summers jumped, however, and panic, transmitted by the V-frog, rose sharply.
     "Everybody," called Bigman. "Freeze! Freeze! You split-head, underlipped miseries." Another needle-gun discharge popped the air, this time over Summers' head where all could see it plainly.
     Few people might have handled needle-guns, which were expensive and hard to get licenses for, but every­body knew what a needle-gun discharge looked like, if only from subetheric programs, and everyone knew the damage it could do…
     …"Am I? You're a brave man, Summers, when you've got fifty against two. Let's see you stay brave against a needle-gun. They're hard to aim, of course, and I might miss."
     He clenched his fist again, and this time the pop of the discharge was sharply ear-splitting and the flash dazzled all the spectators but Bigman, who, of them all, was the only one who knew exactly when to close his eyes for a moment.
     Summers emitted a strangled yell. He was untouched except that the top button on his shirt was gone.

Needle Gun 2

      The area before Devoure's offices was wide and bathed in the artificial light that reproduced Sirius's faintly bluish tinge. Bigman stood alone in the center, and at a hundred yards' distance were five robots. Others were approaching from another direction.
     "Come and get that," roared Devoure, gesturing to the nearer robots and pointing to Bigman.
     "They won't come any closer," roared back Bigman. "If they make a move toward me I shall burn your heart out of your chest, and they know I'll do it. At least they can't take the chance I won't." He stood there easily, mockingly.
     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.

From LUCKY STARR AND THE RINGS OF SATURN, by Isaac Asimov (1958)


In 1910, the U.S. Army adopted the classic "web belt", including grommets to allow holsters and other equipment to be attached. Variations on this were in use up to about 1997.

As befitting an interstellar desperado, Han Solo has a quick-draw holster for his blaster. Note how the blaster is slung low, so the butt of the blaster is level with his hand.

The crew of the Starship Enterprise did not need holsters. Their phasers would stick to their hips by virtue of the "magnatomic adhesion areas" on the pistol grip (apparently some kind of high-tech velcro).

The valiant crew of the Space Battleship Yamato use "cross-draw" holsters. The butt of the cosmogun (this was anglicized to "astro-automatic" in the English translation) juts forwards, instead of backwards as is conventional. While this does make an interesting visual metaphor (making the butt look like the hilt of a samurai sword) in practice a cross-draw has problems. A quick draw from a cross-draw holster will be much slower than from a conventional holster, and as the sidearm is swung to the target, the barrel will sweep across innocent bystanders. It is also easier for an assailant at close quarters to prevent you from drawing your weapon. About the only advantages are that it is easier to draw if you are sitting down or in a fighter plane cockpit, or if the weapon is covered by a coat or other article of clothing.

In the original Battlestar Galactica, the weapon holster was a cylinder with a slot down the side, constructed of something springy. The laser pistol could be extracted from the holster by pulling it sideways out of the spring grip. Personally I always thought that it would make more sense to have the slot in the front instead of the side. This would allow the weapon to be extracted and swung up to firing position in one motion, instead of two (pull to the left then raise upward).

Trigger Guard

A handgun for vacuum use will require an over-sized trigger guard to accept a space suited finger. András Bónitz mentions that many pistols today have large trigger-guards for gloved hands. However, a space suited finger is huge compared to a gloved finger. Weapons that are intended for use in extreme cold climates sometimes are fitted with an "arctic trigger guard." This is a guard that can momentarily swivel out of the way or be unbolted and set to "arctic mode" to accommodate gloved hands.

Gun Sight

As you all know a gunsight is a gadget used to aim the gun so it shoots your opponent.

Iron sights work pretty well in the science fiction future (or at least as well as they do in the real word). But telescopic sights have a problem.

Unlike iron sights, a telescopic sight has, well, a telescope. Ordinary telescopes have one place one's eye on the eyepiece, but weapon recoil makes that a very bad idea on a telescopic aimsight. You'll have to have the telescope surgically removed from your eye. To avoid that unhappy state of affairs, such sights have "eye relief". The scope is designed so the shooter can have their eye at a safe standoff distance from the eyepiece.

The trouble is that the eye relief is generally from 25 mm to 100 mm. The trouble is that a space suit with a fishbowl helmet has a much longer distance from one's eyes and the surface of the fishbowl. Not that you can place the surface of the fishbowl on the eyepiece. The weapon recoil will hammer the scope into the helmet and shatter it like an incandescent light bulb (unless it is a no-recoil laser or particle beam weapon. Or a gyrojet weapon).

But the basic problem is you cannot easily use a telescopic sight with a space helmet.

Possible low-tech solutions include:

A more high-tech solution is using a camera. The old Sero EOP system consists of a head mounted monitor and a light weight CCD camera attached to the weapon. That was designed to cope with the drawbacks of the .50 BMG, which had such a brutal recoil that it would break your shoulder. Since you had to fire it from the hip or braced on a wall you really couldn't use the iron sights. The EOP let you aim the blasted thing.

The EOP had a little video screen mounted above one eye, but for our purposes it could be replaced by a sizable video screen mounted on the weapon, say the size of a smartphone. This would be usable by somebody wearing a space helmet.

This would be even easier with laser weapons. You do not have to add a camera, you can actually use the same optics utilized by the laser weapon. This would make the laser weapon act like an old fashioned reflex camera.

If you want to go real high tech, instead of sending the camera aiming image to a video screen, project it on the inside of the space helmet as a heads-up display. Something like Iron Man but slightly less elaborate.


(ed note: In 2039, the U.S. Marines are in combat with U.N. forces on Mars. Technically Mars has an atmosphere, but practically you need to wear space suits because the air is just silly millimeter away from vacuum.)

The figure in the lock was aiming an assault rifle at Groller. It took Kaminski a frozen instant to realize that the guy was firing the rifle; he could see the rapid flicker of the muzzle flash, could see him struggle with the weapon’s climb as he loosed a burst at Groller’s back on full auto.

Kaminski broke into a clumsy run, unslinging his ATAR M-29 (advanced technology assault rifle) as he surged forward through loose sand. In the cold, the upper layers of the sand tended to freeze, the grains sticking together in a brittle crust, and each step was an unsteady stride-lurch as the crust broke beneath his boots.

Amazingly, the gunman appeared to have missed his target; Kaminski didn’t know where that stream of rapid-fire lead had gone, but it had apparently sailed past the unsuspecting Groller without coming near enough to hit him. He remembered the problems the Marines had had on the firing range; maybe the gunman was having difficulty with the local gravity as well. Kaminski came to a clumsy halt, raised his ATAR, and sighted in on the gunman.

Directly aiming a rifle in a space suit is next to impossible, if for no other reason than that you can’t get your eye close to the rear sight. The M-29, however, used a video low-light scan system that picked up the target picture through a camera lens mounted on the rifle’s back and fed the magnified image to the rifleman’s helmet electronics. In the green glow of his HUD’s image feed, he could see only that the target was wearing UN armor and seemed to be trying to brace himself against the open airlock’s seal for another shot. The laser rangefinder gave him a range of 243.6 meters. He dragged the crosshairs over the target…then cursed as the man ducked back out of sight.

From SEMPER MARS by Ian Douglas aka William H. Keith, Jr. (1998)



With a reaction built in from hundreds of hours of practice, Lt. Larry McQueen thought the gun into his hand.

To one practiced in the fast draw, this is enough to trigger the reflexes needed. The holster used by the Solarian Patrol finished functionality evolving hundreds of years previously. It was a hard piece of leather, rigidly attached to the wide belt so it would not bend, twist or flop when the gun was drawn; of hard leather so the gun to which it was fitted would not bind or stick. Across the top of the holster was a strap of leather connected to the side of the holster with a snap. The strap prevented the gun from falling out of the holster or being removed without the owner's knowledge. The end of the strap being curved out instead of flat against the side, indicated to those who knew the difference between an officer familiar with his weapon and one who was not.

In the fast draw the heel of the hand comes up along the side of the holster, striking the curved arc of leather, releasing the snap and moving it out of the way. The fingers take hold of the butt of the gun, moving it clear of the holster and turning it ready for firing. As the gun points, the thumb snaps off the safety and the gun fires. The whole operation takes considerably less than 200 milliseconds from intent to execution. The sequence of movements is automatic, since there is no time to think out any one of them.

More than one person has, under pressure, shot a hole in his foot because he didn't have the sequence under control. Others, thinking themselves able to draw like lightening, were dead because they tried to outdraw someone who had them covered.

From NEW LENSMAN by William Ellern

The colonist on the planet Pyrrus have the ultimate quick draw in a gadget called the "power-holster." The holster is strapped to your forearm. When you arrange your hand in "holding-a-pistol" posture, a mechanical actuator slams the gun out of the holster and into your hand.


"Every gun is fitted to its owner and would be useless on anyone else," Brucco said. "I'll show you why." He led Jason to an armory jammed with deadly weapons. "Put your arm in this while I make the adjustments."

It was a box-like machine with a pistol grip on the side. Jason clutched the grip and rested his elbow on a metal loop. Brucco fixed pointers that touched his arm, then copied the results from the meters. Reading the figures from his list, he selected various components from bins and quickly assembled a power holster and gun. With the holster strapped to his forearm and the gun in his hand, Jason noticed for the first time they were connected by a flexible cable. The gun fitted his hand perfectly.

"This is the secret of the power holster," Brucco said, tapping the flexible cable. "It is perfectly loose while you are using the weapon. But when you want it returned to the holster-" Brucco made an adjustment and the cable became a stiff rod that whipped the gun from Jason's hand and suspended it in midair.

"Then the return." The rod cable whirred and snapped the gun back into the holster. "The drawing action is the opposite of this, of course."

"A great gadget," Jason said. "But how do I draw? Do I whistle or something for the gun to pop out?"

"No, it is not sonic control," Brucco answered with a sober face. "It is much more precise than that. Here, take your left hand and grasp an imaginary gunbutt. Tense your trigger finger. Do you notice the pattern of the tendons in the wrist? Sensitive actuators touch the tendons in your right wrist. They ignore all patterns except the one that says hand ready to receive gun. After a time the mechanism becomes completely automatic. When you want the gun, it is in your hand. When you don't, it is in the holster."

Jason made grasping motions with his right hand, crooked his index finger. There was a sudden, smashing pain against his hand and a loud roar. The gun was in his hand-half the fingers were numb-and smoke curled up from the barrel.

"Of course, there are only blank charges in the gun until you learn control. Guns are always loaded. There is no safety. Notice the lack of a trigger guard. That enables you to bend your trigger finger a slight bit more when drawing so the gun will fire the instant it touches your hand."

It was without doubt the most murderous weapon Jason had ever handled, as well as being the hardest to manage. Working against the muscle burning ache of high gravity, he fought to control the devilish device. It had an infuriating way of vanishing into the holster just as he was about to pull the trigger. Even worse was the tendency to leap out before he was quite ready. The gun went to the position where his hand should be. If the fingers weren't correctly placed, they were crashed aside. Jason only stopped the practice when his entire hand was one livid bruise.

Complete mastery would come with time, but he could already understand why the Pyrrans never removed their guns. It would be like removing a part of your own body. The movement of gun from holster to hand was too fast for him to detect. It was certainly faster than the neural current that shaped the hand into the gun-holding position. For all apparent purposes it was like having a lightning bolt in your fingertip. Point the finger and blam, there's the explosion.

From DEATHWORLD by Harry Harrison


There are a few science fiction stories where the futuristic societies allow people to settle their differences by a duel to the death. This does looks suspiciously like the old Showdown at High Noon trope common to old cowboy westerns. And there are online forum flamewars that have been raging for decades over that single quote in Heinlein's Beyond This Horizon: "An armed society is a polite society."

Romance of the cowboy western aside, there is evidence that this simply is not the case. Logically in an armed society, a person who is sufficiently talented as a gunslinger can be just as impolite as they want. In cave man times the person with the strongest fist could be a rude bully, which didn't change when the fist was superseded by the club, the club by the sword, and the sword by the gun. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The joke on 1d4chan is God made men, Sam Colt made them equal, and John Browning made them civilized.

In any event, even when dueling is legal, there are strict rules to follow. The rules may be different in a given science fiction novel, but some sort of rule set will exist. Otherwise it is the functional equivalent of an illegal shoot-out between rival gangs.


      "Me? Shucks, no. I'm one long joke on myself. Remind me to tell you about it sometime. But look—the other thing I came to see you about. Notice my new sidearm?"
     Monroe-Alpha glanced at Hamilton's holster. In fact, he had not noticed that his friend was bearing anything new in the way of weapons-had he arrived unarmed Monroe-Alpha would have noticed it, naturally, but he was not particularly observant about such matters, and could easily have spent two hours with a man and never noticed whether he was wearing a Stokes coagulator or a common needlebeam.
     But, now that his attention was directed to the matter, he saw at once that Hamilton was armed with something novel…and deucedly odd and uncouth. "What is it?" he asked.
     "Ah!" Hamilton drew the sidearm clear and handed it to his host. "Woops! Wait a moment. You don't know how to handle it—you'll blow your head off. " He pressed a stud on the side of the grip, and let a long flat container slide out into his palm. "There—I've pulled its teeth (no, you haven't. You also have to check that there is no round in the chamber). Ever see anything like it?"
     Monroe-Alpha examined the machine. "Why, yes, I believe so. It's a museum piece, isn't it? An explosive-type hand weapon?"
     "Right and wrong. It's mill new, but it's a facsimile of one in the Smithsonian Institution collection. It's called a point forty-five Colt automatic pistol."
     "Point forty-five what?"
     "Inches…let me see, what is that in centimeters?"
     "Huh? Let's see—three inches make a yard and a yard is about one meter. No, that can't be right. Never mind, it means the size of the slug it throws. Here…look at one." He slid one free of the clip. "Damn near as big as my thumb, isn't it?"
     "Explodes on impact, I suppose."
     "No. It just drills its way in."
     "That doesn't sound very efficient."
     "Brother, you'd be amazed. It'll blast a hole in a man big enough to throw a dog through."
Monroe-Alpha handed it back. "And in the meantime your opponent has ended your troubles with a beam that acts a thousand times as fast. Chemical processes are slow, Felix."      "Not that slow. The real loss of time is in the operator. Half the gunfighters running around loose chop into their target with the beam already hot. They haven't the skill to make a fast sight. You can stop 'em with this, if you've a fast wrist. I'll show you. Got something around here we can shoot at?"
     "Mmm…this is hardly the place for target practice."
     "Relax. I want something I can knock out of the way with the slug, while you try to burn it. How about this?" Hamilton picked up a large ornamental plastic paperweight from Monroe-Alpha's desk.
     "Well…I guess so."
     "Fine." Hamilton took it, removed a vase of flowers from a stand on the far side of the room, and set the target in its place. "We'll face it, standing about the same distance away. I'll watch for you to start to draw, as if we really meant action. Then I'll try to knock it off the stand before you can burn it."
     Monroe-Alpha took his place with lively interest. He fancied himself as a gunman, although he realized that his friend was faster. This might be, he thought, the split second advantage he needed. "I'm ready."
     Monroe-Alpha started his draw.
     There followed a single CRACK! so violent that it could be felt through the skin and in the nostrils, as well as heard. Piled on top of it came the burbling Sring-ow-ow! as the bullet ricocheted around the room, and then a ringing silence.
     "Hell and breakfast, " remarked Hamilton. "Sorry, Cliff—I never fired it indoors before." He stepped forward to where the target had been. "Let's see how we made out. "
     The plastic was all over the room. It was difficult to find a shard large enough to show the outer polish. "It's going to be hard to tell whether you burned it, or not."
     "I didn't."
     "That noise—it startled me. I never fired."
     "Really? Say, that's great. I see I hadn't half realized the advantages of this gadget. It's a psychological weapon, Cliff."
     "It's noisy."
     "It's more than that. It's a terror weapon. You wouldn't even have to hit with your first shot. Your man would be so startled you'd have time to get him with the second shot. And that isn't all. Think…the braves around town are used to putting a man to sleep with a bolt that doesn't even muss his hair. This thing's bloody. You saw what happened to that piece of vitrolith. Think what a man's face will look like after it stops one of those slugs. Why a necrocosmetician would have to use a stereosculp to produce a reasonable facsimile for his friends to admire. Who wants to stand up to that kind of fire?"

     "Pick it up in your fingers, and crack the shell." Monroe-Alpha attempted to comply, somewhat clumsily, but the greasy, hard surface skidded between his fingers. He attempted to recover and knocked it over the edge of the balcony rail at his elbow.
     He started to rise; Hamilton put a hand on his forearm. "My fault, " he said. "I will repair it." He stood up and looked down at the table directly beneath their booth.
     He did not see the stray bit of seafood at once, but he had no difficulty in telling approximately where it had landed. Seated at the table was a party of eight. Two of them were elderly men who wore the brassards-of-peace. Four women alternated with the males around the table. One of them, quite young and pretty, was dabbing at something which seemed to have stained her gown. The wayward crab leg was floating in a crystal bell of purple liquid directly in front of her; cause and effect were easy to infer.
     The two remaining men were both armed, both standing, and staring up at the balcony. The younger, a slender youth in bright scarlet promenade dress, resting his right hand on the grip of his sidearm, seemed about to speak. The older man turned coldly dangerous eyes from Hamilton to his youthful companion. "My privilege, Cyril, " he said quietly, "if you please."
     The young brave was clearly annoyed and reluctant to comply; nevertheless he bowed stiffly and sat down. His elder returned the bow punctiliously and turned back to Hamilton. The lace of his cuff brushed his holster, but he had not touched his weapon—as yet.
     Hamilton leaned over the balcony, both his hands spread and plainly visible on the rail. "Sir, my clumsiness has disturbed the pleasure of your meal and invaded your privacy. I am deeply sorry."
     "I have your assurance that it was accidental, sir?" The man's eyes were still frosty, but he made no move to draw. But he did not sit down.
     "You have indeed, sir, and with it my humble apology. Will you graciously permit me to make reparation?"
     The other glanced down, not at the youth, but at the girl whose gown had been splashed. She shrugged. He answered Hamilton, "The thought is taken for the deed, sir."
     "Sir, you leave me indebted."
     "Not at all, sir."

     They were exchanging bows and were about to resume their seats, when a shouted remark from the balcony booth directly opposite interrupted them. "Where's your brassard?"
     They both looked toward the source of the disturbance; one of a party of men—armed citizens all apparently, for no brassards were to be seen—was leaning out of the booth and staring with deliberate rudeness. Hamilton spoke to the man at the table below. "My privilege, is it not, sir?"
     "Your privilege. I wish you well." He sat down and turned his attention back to his guests.
     "You spoke to me?" asked Hamilton of the man across the ring.
     "I did. You were let off lightly. You should eat at home—if you have a home. Not in the presence of gentlefolk."
     Monroe-Alpha touched Hamilton's arm. "He's drunk, " he whispered. "Take it easy."
     "I know, " his friend answered in a barely audible aside, "but he gives me no choice."
     "Perhaps his friends will take care of him."
     "We'll see."
     Indeed his friends were attempting to. One of them placed a restraining hand on his weapon arm, but he shook him off. He was playing to a gallery—the entire restaurant was quiet now, the diners ostentatiously paying no attention, a pose contrary to fact. "Answer me!" he demanded.
     "I will, " Hamilton stated quietly. "You have been drinking and are not responsible. Your friends should disarm you and place a brassard on you. Else some short-tempered gentleman may fail to note that your manners were poured from a bottle."
     There was a stir and a whispered consultation in the party behind the other man, as if some agreed with Hamilton's estimate of the situation. One of them spoke urgently to the belligerent one, but he ignored it.
     "What's that about my manners, you misplanned mistake?"
     "Your manners, " Hamilton stated, "are as thick as your tongue. You are a disgrace to the gun you wear."
     The other man drew too fast, but he drew high, apparently with the intention of chopping down.
     The terrific explosion of the Colt forty-five brought every armed man in the place to his feet, sidearm clear, eyes wary, ready for action. But the action was all over. A woman laughed, shortly and shrilly. The sound broke the tension for everyone. Men relaxed, weapons went back to belts, seats were resumed with apologetic shrugs. The diners went back to their own affairs with the careful indifference to other people's business of the urbane sophisticate.
     Hamilton's antagonist was half supported by the arms of his friends. He seemed utterly surprised and completely sobered. There was a hole in his chemise near his right shoulder from which a wet dark stain was spreading. One of the men holding him up waved to Hamilton with his free arm, palm out. Hamilton acknowledged the capitulation with the same gesture.

     The presence of some types held obvious explanations. The occasional man with a brassard was almost certainly out at this hour because his business required him to be. The same rule applied without exception to the few armed men who also wore brassards—proclaiming thereby their unique status as police monitors, armed but immune to attack.

     Hamilton chewed his lip. "I say…you'll pardon me…but isn't it indiscreet for a man who does no fighting to appear in public armed?"
     Mordan smiled. "You misconstrue. Watch." He indicated the far wall. It was partly covered with a geometrical pattern, consisting of small circles, all the same size and set close together. Each circle had a small dot exactly in the center.
     Mordan drew his weapon with easy swiftness, coming up, not down, on his target. His gun seemed simply to check itself at the top of its swing, before he returned it to his holster.
     A light puff of smoke drifted up the face of the wall. There were three new circles, arranged in tangent trefoil. In the center of each was a small dot.

     "But dammit! How can there be any progress if we don't break customs?"
     "Don't break them—avoid them. Take them into your considerations, examine how they work, and make them serve you. You don't need to disarm yourself to stay out of fights. If you did you would get into fights—I know you!—the way Smith did. An armed man need not fight. I haven't drawn my gun for more years than I can remember."
     "Come to think about it, I haven't pulled mine in four years or more."
     "That's the idea. But don't assume that the custom of going armed is useless. Customs always have a reason behind them, sometimes good, sometimes bad. This is a good one."
     "Why do you say that? I used to think so, but I have my doubts now."
     "Well, in the first place an armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life. For me, politeness is a sine qua non of civilization. That's a personal evaluation only. But gun-fighting has a strong biological use. We do not have enough things to kill off the weak and the stupid these days. But to stay alive as an armed citizen a man has to be either quick with his wits or with his hands, preferably both. It's a good thing.

(ed note: this is the old argument that since technology has brought the end of natural selection we had better institute some type of artificial selection. The novel does mention genetic screening, but the legal dueling law appears to be a societal function to actually kill the quote "unfit" unquote. The question is: does this process select for the traits you really want?)

     "Of course," he continued, "our combativeness has to do with our ancestry and our history." Hamilton nodded; he knew that Mordan referred to the Second Genetic War. "But we have preserved that inheritance intentionally. The Planners would not stop the wearing of arms if they could."
     "Maybe so," Felix answered slowly, "but it does seem like there ought to be a better way to do it. This way is pretty sloppy. Sometimes the bystanders get burned."
     "The alert ones don't," Mordan pointed out. "But don't expect human institutions to be efficient. They never have been; it is a mistake to think that they can be made so—in this millennium or the next."

From BEYOND THIS HORIZON by Robert Heinlein (1948)

The patient tried to turn his head to look at Devlin, despite the fact that it was physiologically impossible for the human neck to travel through one hundred and eighty degrees. He sounded very angry as he said, “Are you suggesting that I’m some kind of Maxer? Listen, Doctor. You belong to one of the few professions that don't wear the belt and don’t suffer loss of status by not wearing it. But that does not give you the right to insult—”

Devlin, who was putting the finishing touches to the dressing, paused to put his hand on the other’s shoulder. He said seriously, “I did not mean to insult you and I unreservedly apologize. But I had an old man, too and for a while there I was talking just like him. And I agree with you about mixed affairs—women are neither physically nor temperamentally suited to fighting death duels with men—and I think you behaved as a responsible citizen should. I also agree that men should wear the trousers, but I disagree with the idea that the proper way to hold them up is by wearing a gun belt.

The patient was silent for a few minutes, and the color of his neck and ears became a less angry shade of pink. He said, “Your apology, is accepted without loss of honor by either side.” Less formally, he went on, “Some of us have to wear belts, Doctor. As a salesman I must wear one to talk to armed executive-level people that I have to do business with. If I went dressed like a sheep they wouldn’t let me in to talk at all. At the same time, if I went in with too many studs on my belt they would think that I was the touchy kind who would as soon fight as sell, or the type who sells by intimidation, and I wouldn’t get many more appointments.

“I don’t want a belt loaded with studs, anyway,” he ended. “People are too touchy about their honor these days.”

“No need to apologize,” said Devlin, holding up his hand. “If you stop to think for a minute you’ll realize that I prefer people to talk their way out of trouble—it makes less work for me. As for the wound itself, come back in three days unless it begins to feel hot. And rest—don’t do anything more energetic than watching television for at least a week. After you are back on your feet, wear a wound disk on your belt at least a month.”

He had only one private visit to make that day. It was on the edge of the city more than seven miles away and, although he did not like the thought of a round trip of fifteen miles, he had to take some risks if he were to build up a private practice. The high-density central areas provided resident medics for each block of apartments, but it was listed as an essential service covered by the rental and the salary of the doctor concerned was not high.

Private patients occupied family dwellings rather than living in two-thousand-room apartment buildings, and they had to be very rich or very brave or very well liked to be able to survive at all in such small defensive units. The Bennetts were an unusual combination, Devlin had discovered during his two earlier visits, they were both rich and well liked.

Before leaving his office he called city security to check on route safety and found there was only one major trouble spot between his block and the Bennett home. Two large rival bands of Maxer mercenaries had started a shoot-out in the early hours at a shopping complex about four miles away. Casualties were reported to be heavy and ambulances were standing by, but they could not go in because of the danger of their being hijacked and used by the combatants as armored personnel carriers—APC’s. City security forces could not go in because the situation was complicated by pockets of property-owners and members of their night staffs who were trying to defend various buildings against both Maxer factions, and the forces were being used merely to contain the trouble until it burned itself out. People with business in the area were advised to stay clear for at least three hours unless equipped with vehicles possessing overall armor and gas-filtration apparatus.

Devlin mentally plotted a course which would skirt the trouble spot, grabbed his bag and headed for the elevator.

The laugh and the tone sounded so odd that Devlin glanced aside from his periscope, and when he looked back there was a car nosing out of a side street. He braked hard, skidded, but stopped broadside on to the other car without hitting it. A large, fat man wearing a belt got out of the car. Devlin muttered under his breath and prepared to do some serious apologizing.

“This was my fault, Doctor,” said Brother Howard, climbing out on the other side. “I distracted you.”

They stood together for several minutes while the other driver told them what he thought of their stupidity at not looking where they were going. If they had been wearing gun belts, the other driver would have been in the wrong but, as things were, sheep were never in the right.

Devlin was used to this kind of thing and so, no doubt, was the Brother. No actual damage had been done, and the tongue-lashing probably would not last for long because a line of vehicles was beginning to form. He amused himself by counting the number of times the fat man repeated himself and wondering if the if over-tight belt was upsetting the other’s digestion.

But a small crowd had gathered, including a boy of fourteen or fifteen who was also wearing a gun belt. It was plain that the things which the fat man was saying to the two sheep, or at least to the Brother, were beginning to embarrass the young citizen—so much so that he was about to join in.

Brother Howard had noticed the boy as well, Devlin saw, and seemed to be just as anxious as the Doctor was not to be the cause of an affair. The Brother stepped forward and held up his hand.

“Don’t you dare interrupt me, you stupid sheep,” said the fat man furiously. “Your profession will save your life but not your honor, if you ever had any. A sheep like you should be—”

“I prefer,” said the Brother quietly, “to be called a shepherd. In any case, the condition of sheep is a temporary one which can be ended at any time, for any desired period of time.” He swung around and walked to the boy. Very politely and correctly he said, “Pardon, Citizen. I would be obliged if you would lend me your belt.”

“But Reverend…” began the boy.

“I would be obliged if you would retain your weapon, Citizen, and lend me your belt.”

The fat man had paled when the Brother had turned wolf suddenly, and Devlin realized that he had probably been greatly relieved when two sheep had climbed out of the car a few minutes earlier. If a full, belt-wearing citizen had been driving, there would have been an affair on the spot with the possibility of the fat man being killed. There was, after all, an awful lot of him to aim at. Probably he was not very fast, either, and knew that he would have died unless he publicly accepted all blame for the near-accident. But relief had made him vicious rather than gracious, and now that he had the double relief of shooting at a suicidal maniac it was unlikely that he would be satisfied with inflicting a token wound.

“Excuse me, Citizen,” said Devlin desperately to the fat man. “My friend has had a very severe mental shock—a young boy who…”

“It is my considered opinion,” said Brother Howard, joining them again with his hands hanging very still below his empty, borrowed belt, “that you are self-indulgent in food and alcohol, vastly overweight, completely lacking in manners and the worst driver that I have ever seen. If you wish to dispute this opinion, be prepared to defend yourself.”

For an instant Devlin felt a wild hope that the fat man would pass out from a cerebral haemorrhage before he was able to draw. His face had gone an improbable plum color. But no, Devlin saw him begin to draw, very clearly. Less distinctly he saw the man’s gun wrist and nose broken, not necessarily in that order, by the blunt edges of two flesh-colored blades that had been the Brother’s hands. Clearly, because it was the last and slowest blow, he saw a set of stiffened fingers sink into the other’s diaphragm—a blow that would have been fatal but for the thick layer of adipose in the area.

Devlin brought a litter from his car and made the fat man as comfortable as possible while the Brother returned the boy’s belt. Judging from the conversation, he had gained a convert as well as a hero-worshipper.

Devlin wanted to say that he would look after his daughter for an hour or so and see her safely to her apartment, but that would have embarrassed them. A man without a belt was not considered capable of looking after anyone in this situation, and they would have been forced to tell him so.

Seriously, the Brother went on, “I won’t insult your intelligence by asking if you are happy with things as they are, Doctor. But just how unhappy are you?”

“With things as they are?”

Brother Howard nodded. “As detailed a list as you can manage.”

Devlin began to laugh, then stopped, his amusement changing suddenly to irritation. He said, “There is a long list of things I'm unhappy about. Arming so-called responsible citizens before they have reached maturity, much less achieved a sense of responsibility. I don’t like the way the majority of these citizens treat the sheep, or the way,the Maxers overreact if someone so much as sneezes without using a tissue, or the way city security can’t seem to be able to keep the peace without waging total war on all and sundry. No, that isn’t quite fair to the security people, but it is pretty obvious they can’t trust anyone who is not another security man, and they don’t bother to hide that fact.

“Oh, I know that the citizens and Maxers started out with the highest possible motives,” Devlin went on angrily. “We were on the verge of anarchy and it was thought that sober and responsible citizens bearing arms would be able to curb the worst excesses—the wholesale muggings and murders and bombings. And the idea of maximum rather than minimum response to violent crime worked for a while, too. But then the citizens and the Maxers began looking for wrongs to right, and when they could no longer find even a minor wrong they…”

Devlin broke off, took a deep breath, and continued, “I don’t like the mass processing of patients and the complete depersonalization in present-day hospitals, or the lack of sympathy and the increasing loneliness that overcrowding brings. You have only to walk through a crowded rec hall at night to know what I mean.

“Curative treatment for these social ills should have started many generations ago,” Devlin went on bitterly. “I realize nothing can be done at this late date, but I don't have to like the situation. In my profession one is conditioned to dislike illness, I suppose, and I especially do not like the illness, the rot, which is afflicting society these days. The sickness goes through to the center and from the top to the bottom. There is no secure place, nothing to hold on to, nobody in authority who is fully trustworthy, nowhere to go that is any better. I’m generalizing, of course. There are bound to be some individuals or groups trying to do something, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule, and they will eventually go soft and rotten like the rest of us. Their psychiatrists or friends will explain the folly of remaining firm while everyone else is going loose. They will be given, or elect to take, one of the personality-change series that will chemically tailor their minds to fit happily into present-day society. Sheep into citizens or vice-versa with a couple of color-coded pills!”

From THE DREAM MILLENNIUM by James White (1974)

But that, too, was all right. He made his hands relax, savoring the thought of the gossip and sidelong glances his disgrace must have brought upon the noble Duke and treasuring the look on his father's face as his sword snapped (as he was court-martialed and expelled from the navy). All his life, his father had preached to him of duty and responsibility, of the glorious role his family had played in the history of the Kingdom. But duty and responsibility hadn't paid his debts. Family history hadn't won him the respect and fear it won the "true" line.

No, those things he had earned himself, earned on the "field of honor" while he laughed at their pretensions.

He opened his eyes once more, staring at his reflection in the com screen, remembering the dawn quiet and the weight of a pistol. Remembering the seconds and the master of the list's stern expression as he stared across thirty meters of smooth grass at a pale-faced opponent. It had been … Bullard? No. That first time had been Scott, and he shivered as his palm felt again the shock of recoil and Scott's white shirt blossomed crimson and he fell.

He shook himself. It had been a business transaction, nothing more, he told himself, and knew he lied. Oh, it had been business, and the money his secret sponsor had slipped him had cleared his debts … for a time. Until the next time. But the sensual thrill of knowing, even as Scott crumpled, that his bullet had blown his target's aristocratic heart apart—that had been his true reward. And the reason it had been so easy to accept the next assignment, and the next.

Yet in the end, the very people he hated with all his soul had won. "Professional duelist," they'd called him, when all the time they'd meant "paid killer." And they'd been right. He admitted that here in the quiet, empty room. But he'd killed too many of them, even when his sponsors would have been willing to settle for a wound. The blood taste had been too sweet, the aura of fear too heady, and finally the Corps had had enough.

He'd killed a "brother officer"—as if the uniform a dead man wore should matter! He wasn't the first serving officer to do so, but there were too many bodies in his past, too many families that owed too many debts. They couldn't try him for murder, for duels were legal. He'd faced his opponent's fire, and they couldn't prove he'd accepted money for it. But they'd all known the truth, and they could bring up his entire record: his gambling, his women, the adulterous affairs he'd used to lure targets onto the field, the arrogance he'd let color his relations with senior officers as the terror of his reputation grew. And that had been enough to find him "unfit to wear the Queen's uniform" and led to that bright, hot morning and the slow, degrading tap of the drums.

And it had led here, as well. Here where the money was good, but even here the money was only part of it. Only the means to an end that let him sneer at their self-proclaimed nobility of purpose and avenge himself upon them again and again, even if they never knew it.

From ON BASILISK STATION by David Weber (1993)

      Emil had been fumbling in the back. Now he pressed something into my hand and said, "Here, take this." To my amazement I found myself holding a sonic stunner.
     "That's illegal!" I whispered furiously.
     "Why are you whispering? Kidnapping Kdatlyno is illegal, too. We may be glad we've got these before we're finished."
     "But where did you get police stunners?"
     "Let's say some criminal slipped them into my luggage. And if you'll look at the butts, you'll see they aren't police stunners."
     They'd started life as police stunners, but they weren't anymore. The butts were hand-carved from big cultured emeralds. Expensive. Dueling pistols?
     Sure, dueling pistols. Lose a duel with one of these and you'd lose nothing but face. I hear most Jinxians would rather lose an arm, permanently. They were not illegal — on Jinx.

     Too bad the dueling pistols didn't have more power. The craftsmen who had carved their emerald butts had scaled them down because, after all, they would be used only to prove a point. It would take a shopful of tools to readjust them, because readjusting them to their former power would violate Jinxian law. Real police stunners will knock a man out for twelve hours or more.

From GRENDEL by Larry Niven (1968)


The weapon pictured on the right originally was created by Kelly Freas for the cover of a Telzey Amberdon book. Model maker Ed Klein liked the picture enough to create an actual prop model (with working laser) as a gift for Mr. Freas. Model was used in the Kelly Freas cover of the audio version of Slan, and in the above illustration at the insistence of Sean Barrett. It was also used by Laura Freas for an interior illustration of The Left Hand of Darkness. Anybody with scans of any of these image is encouraged to contact the webmaster.

The man known as DWP informed me of the address of Ed Klein's website. On it, I found the following:

This pistol was inspired by a cover painted by Frank Kelly Freas in the 1960's for Analog Science Fiction. Ed made the gun and installed freon jets, a gas laser, and a sound effect and carried it as his showpiece for many years. In 1983, Ed gave it to Kelly for his birthday, and Kelly uses it to this day as a laser pointer when he lectures.

Ed Klein

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