Classic old-timey term for weapon that fires energy instead of bullets. Nowadays this seems retro, quaint, and faintly comedic. Much like the term "space cadet." AKA raygun, ragun, hand-ray, beam gun, blaster, laser gun, laser pistol, phaser, zap gun.
Melts, incinerates, or vaporizes the target with a blast of energy (generally atomic). Often but not always the energy is sent in a cone-shaped explosion instead of a precise focused beam. AKA blast pistol
Lethal weapon which punches long but narrow holes in the target either by deadly threadlike beams or with needle bullets. AKA needle-beamer, needle-ray, needle-gun
Weapon whose beam handwavingly causes any matter to quietly vanish or turn into a fog of disassociated protons and electrons (without incinerating everything in a ten kilometer radius from the waste heat). Occasionally for a gruesome effect the ray will only disintegrate the more weak materials: leaving behind belt buckles, zippers, and skeletons.
Some disintegrator punch holes or make jig-saw cuts in the target (MINDBRIDGE and THE ARMAGEDDON INEHRITANCE disintegrators transport matter caught in the beam into hyperspace or another dimension. This can also be done with a weaponized matter transmitter).
Others "infect" the target with creeping disintegration that eats away until the target is totally gone (see "Captain Terrel commits suicide"). Left unexplained is why the creeping disintegration doesn't infect the entire planet through the target's feet in contact with the ground.
AKA dis-ray gun, disintegrator ray
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.
Of course, the vast majority of the weapons above are total handwavium. The ones that are not are gone into with great detail in the subsequent pages.
Luke Campbell notes that a continuous beam laser can be called a "heat ray", and a pulse beam laser acts much like a "blaster."
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.
And remember: in free-fall you don't fall. Meaning that in microgravity if you shoot and kill the space pirate, their dead body is not going to fall to the floor. They will just sort of float where they died. In space it sometimes be difficult to tell the dead from the living.
8.0 × 1001
.22 short round 13mm Gyrojet round at 2 meters from muzzle (too close, little damage)
1.0 × 1002
Firecracker (50 mg of black powder)
4.75 × 1002
9mm Luger Parabellum round
5.2 × 1002
.38 Special round
5.4 × 1002
.45 ACP round (Colt M1911)
9.4 × 1002
.357 Magnum round
9.5 × 1002
13mm Gyrojet round at 18 meters from muzzle (rocket at full speed and maximum damage)
Range at which 13mm Gyrojet rounds loses effective velocity
Height of Empire State building
Effective range of M16A1 rifle
Maximum effective range of M4 carbine Maximum effective range of M16 rifle (point target)
Maximum effective range of M16 rifle (area target)
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 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 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 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."
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.
Shooting a Hole in the Hull
For the vast majority of space travelers, firearms and spacecraft habitat modules go together about as well as "inflatable ocean life-raft" and "throwing darts at a dart board". Some habitat modules have hulls about as thick as aluminum foil, and the hull is all that protects the travelers from a 90 second hideous death by traumatic abaryia. Since firearms are designed to efficiently drill holes in things, you can see the problem.
Cue the tired old tagline "In Space Nobody Can Hear You Scream."
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. This is to prevent some fumble-fingered gunslinger from accidentally blowing a hole in the hull and killing everyone in the compartment. Upon planetfall the weapons will be returned to their owners.
Any military or quasi-military ship will have all hull piercing weapons secured in the arms locker, with the key held by the captain or other authorized officers.
In the role-playing game Traveller, ships are sometimes boarded by space pirates. The pirates must be fought off, but the hull integrity must be preserved. For those reasons there are cutlasses racked near each airlock, since those will perforate a pirate but not the hull. A cutlass is used instead of a sword because it is shorter and the spacecraft corridor will probably be narrow (for the same reason a submachine gun will be prefereable to a long rifle). Swordplay on a spaceship is somewhat silly in the real world, but it does add a dramatic touch to a game, or a space opera for that matter.
In reality a better solution to repelling hostile boarders is a firearm with special ammunition. In other words ammo that will perforate a pirate but not the hull. Examples include frangible rounds, flechettes, shotgun shells, riot guns and the Quiet Special Purpose Revolver. In the real world, the shotguns are often recommended for personal defence if living in apartment buildings. A shotgun blast will severely wound a burglar, but be unlikely to penetrate the apartment walls and accidentally wound your neighbor.
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's hull 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.
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.
Grip the weapon as with the one-hand grip. Firmly close the fingers of the nonfiring hand over the fingers of the firing hand, ensuring that the index finger from the nonfiring hand is between the middle finger of the firing hand and the trigger guard. Place the nonfiring thumb alongside the firing thumb. NOTE: Depending upon the individual firer, he may chose to place the index finger of his nonfiring hand on the front of the trigger guard since M9 and M11 pistols have a recurved trigger guard designed for this purpose.
Palm Supported Grip
This grip is commonly called the cup and saucer grip. Grip the firing hand as with the one-hand grip. Place the nonfiring hand under the firing hand, wrapping the nonfiring fingers around the back of the firing hand. Place the nonfiring thumb over the middle finger of the firing hand.
Apply this grip the same as the fist grip. The only exception is that the nonfiring thumb is wrapped over the firing thumb.
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.
In the pistol-ready position, hold the weapon in the one-hand grip. Hold the upper arm close to the body and the forearm at about a 45-degree angle. Point the weapon toward target center as you move forward.
Standing Position without Support
Face the target. Place feet a comfortable distance apart, about shoulder width. Extend the firing arm and attain a two-hand grip. The wrist and elbow of the firing arm are locked and pointed toward target center. Keep the body straight with the shoulders slightly forward of the buttocks.
In the kneeling position, ground only your firing-side knee as the main support. Vertically place your firing-side foot, used as the main support, under your buttocks. Rest your body weight on the heel and toes. Rest your nonfiring arm just above the elbow on the knee not used as the main body support. Use the two-handed grip for firing. Extend the firing arm, and lock the firing-arm elbow and wrist to ensure solid arm control.
Use the crouch position when surprise targets are engaged at close range. Place the body in a forward crouch (boxer's stance) with the knees bent slightly and trunk bent forward from the hips to give faster recovery from recoil. Place the feet naturally in a position that allows another step toward the target. Extend the weapon straight toward the target, and lock the wrist and elbow of the firing arm. It is important to consistently train with this position, since the body will automatically crouch under conditions of stress such as combat. It is also a faster position from which to change direction of fire.
Lie flat on the ground, facing the target. Extend your arms in front with the firing arm locked. (Your arms may have to be slightly unlocked for firing at high targets.) Rest the butt of the weapon on the ground for single, well-aimed shots. Wrap the fingers of the nonfiring hand around the fingers of the firing hand. Face forward. Keep your head down between your arms and behind the weapon as much as possible.
Standing Position with Support
Use available cover for support—for example, a tree or wall to stand behind. Stand behind a barricade with the firing side on line with the edge of the barricade. Place the knuckles of the nonfiring fist at eye level against the edge of the barricade. Lock the elbow and wrist of the firing arm. Move the foot on the nonfiring side forward until the toe of the boot touches the bottom of the barricade.
Kneeling Supported Position
Use available cover for support—for example, use a low wall, rocks, or vehicle. Place your firing-side knee on the ground. Bend the other knee and place the foot (nonfiring side) flat on the ground, pointing toward the target. Extend arms alongside and brace them against available cover. Lock the wrist and elbow of your firing arm. Place the nonfiring hand around the fist to support the firing arm. Rest the nonfiring arm just above the elbow on the nonfiring-side knee.
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.
PROTECTOR PALM PISTOL
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.
CONSTITUTION ARMS PALM PISTOL™
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.
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.
It appears that the barrel must protrude between fingers 1 & 2.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: