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."
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 Equivalent||Notes|
|8.0 × 1001||0.019 gram||.22 short round|
13mm Gyrojet round at 2 meters from muzzle (too close, little damage)
|1.0 × 1002||0.024 gram||Firecracker (50 mg of black powder)|
|4.75 × 1002||0.114 gram||9mm Luger Parabellum round|
|5.2 × 1002||0.124 gram||.38 Special round|
|5.4 × 1002||0.129 gram||.45 ACP round (Colt M1911)|
|9.4 × 1002||0.225 gram||.357 Magnum round|
|9.5 × 1002||0.227 gram||13mm Gyrojet round at 18 meters from muzzle (rocket at full speed and maximum damage)|
|1.009 × 1003||0.241 gram||.22 Centerfire Hornet round|
|1.2 × 1003||0.287 gram||Laser bolt from a Luke Campbell light laser pistol (60 pulses of 20 J each, spaced 4 microseconds apart)|
|1.308 × 1003||0.313 gram||M1 Carbine round|
|1.4 × 1003||0.335 gram||3.5 g AK-74 bullet fired at 900 m/s|
|1.56 × 1003||0.373 gram||.44 Magnum round (AutoMag)|
|1.6 × 1003||0.382 gram||Laser bolt from a Luke Campbell medium laser pistol|
|1.822 × 1003||0.435 gram||5.56mm Remington NATO round|
|2.045 × 1003||0.489 gram||7.62mm Soviet AK-47 round|
|2.56 × 1003||0.612 gram||.30-30 Winchester round|
|3.2 × 1003||0.765 gram||Laser bolt from a Luke Campbell heavy laser pistol|
|3.3 × 1003||0.789 gram||9.33 g NATO rifle cartridge fired at 838 m/s|
|3.469 × 1003||0.829 gram||.303 Lee-Enfield round|
|3.744 × 1003||0.895 gram||.308 Winchester round|
7.62x51mm NATO round
|4.184 × 1003||1 gram||= 1 microton|
|4.8 × 1003||1.2 grams||Laser bolt from a Luke Campbell assault laser|
|6.822 × 1003||1.6 grams||.458 Magnum Winchester "Africa" round|
|9.04 × 1003||2.2 grams||.450 Magnum Dakota round|
|1.0 × 1004||2.39 grams||Laser bolt from a Luke Campbell battle laser (50 pulses of 200 J each, spaced 10 microseconds apart)|
|1.0187 × 1004||2.44 grams||.460 Magnum Wetherby "elephant gun" round|
|1.7149 × 1004||4.1 grams||.50 Browning machine gun round|
|3.0 × 1004||7 grams||power pack magazine of Luke Campbell light laser pistol (25 full power bolts)|
|4.0 × 1004||9.6 grams||power pack magazine of Luke Campbell medium laser pistol (25 full power bolts)|
|4.8 × 1004||11.5 grams||power pack magazine of Luke Campbell heavy laser pistol (15 full power bolts)|
|5.4 × 1004||12.9 grams||20 mm autocannon round|
|1.3 × 1005||31 grams||Anti-personnel land mine|
|2.1 × 1005||50 grams||Single round of depleted uranium from an A-10 Warthog's GAU-8 rotating cannon (1,800 rpm)|
|8.4 × 1005||200 grams||1 stick TNT|
|9.5 × 1005||226 grams||Hand grenade|
|1.0 × 1006||239 grams||power pack magazine of Luke Campbell battle laser (100 full power bolts)|
|1.2 × 1006||287 grams||power pack magazine of Luke Campbell assault laser (250 full power bolts)|
|3.6 × 1006||860 grams||1 kilowatt hour|
|4.184 × 1006||1 kilogram||= 1 milliton|
|6.1 × 1006||1.4 kilogram||120mm Tank Gun KE Ammunition (KEW-A1)|
|2.1 × 1007||5 kg||Anti-tank mine|
|3.9 × 1007||9.3 kg||Impact energy of proposed Navy 64 megajoule railgun|
|1.2 × 1008||28 kg||1 gallon of gasoline|
|1.42 × 1008||28 kg||Vaporize a human body, leaving skeleton (turn all water into steam)|
|1.8 × 1008||43 kg||1 microgram of antimatter + 1 microgram of matter|
|5.3 × 1008||127 kg||Battleship Iowa 16 inch shell with 54 kg high explosive charge|
|8.5 × 1008||203 kg||1 second of output from an average commercial nuclear power reactor (850 MW)|
|1.9 × 1009||454 kg||Tomahawk cruise missile (TLAM-C)|
|3.0 × 1009||717 kg||Totally vaporize a human body, including skeleton (break all atomic bonds)|
|1.77 m||5' 10"||White male height in 50th percentile|
|2 m||Average range of a confrontation with a handgun|
|7.6 m||Maximum effective range of Taser X-26|
|9 m||Upper range of most confrontations with a handgun|
|12 m||Length of US city bus|
|18 m||Gyrojet round has accelerated to maximum velocity and maximum damage|
|23 m||Rule of thumb range, beyond which it would make more sense to use a slugthrower long-arm instead of slugthrower handgun|
|50 m||Rule of thumb maximum effective range of slugthower handgun|
Effective focus range for a Luke Campbell medium laser pistol
|100 m||Range for full damage of bolt from a Luke Campbell heavy laser pistol|
|109.728 m||360'||Length of US NFL football field|
|150 m||Maximum effective range of AK-47 grenade launcher|
|250 m||Effective focus range for a Luke Campbell assault laser|
|270 m||Maximum effective combat range of M1 carbine|
Length of US BB-62 battleship New Jersey
|300 m||Maximum average range of infantry engagement|
|350 m||Effective range of AK-47 rifle|
Range for full damage of bolt from a Luke Campbell battle laser
|365 m||Range at which 13mm Gyrojet rounds loses effective velocity|
|444 m||Height of Empire State building|
|460 m||Effective range of M16A1 rifle|
|600 m||Maximum effective range of M4 carbine|
Maximum effective range of M16 rifle (point target)
|800 m||Maximum effective range of M16 rifle (area target)|
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 the better part of an hour before air loss through a bullet hole is a problem.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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: