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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Convention versus Reality

   
Author Topic: Convention versus Reality
babooher
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I was reading an article about why blasters are some of the stupidest weapons ever (they, like lightsabers, would cauterize the wound) and I got to thinking about something I had seen about why axes were better weapons than swords (the right kind of battle ax can chop, slice, pierce, and hook while a sword generally could only chop, slice, and pierce). I then pieced that with something I think Dave Wolverton wrote about how genre fiction readers expect certain conventions (like blasters in space-opera scifi and swords in fantasy--my examples but his idea). Of course, I know there is more than one way to skin a cat and as an author I can write anything I want, but how many people think it would be worthwhile to defy convention for the sake of some sanity? I think blasters on my interstellar ship sound fine, but the landing party probably wants something that leaves the target bleeding, but if I'm going to lose readers over it (imagining that I had readers) then I guess blasters will go ablazing!
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LDWriter2
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I'm not sure if those premises are true anymore.

I've read plenty of space opera without blasters.

In fact the hand weapon of choice for the last few years seems to be a flechette shooter. But I've seen hand lasers and something else. Sorry I can't recall at the moment what that something else is but it's usually the rifle type of handguns. David Weber uses it in the Honor Harrington series and Mike Shepard uses it in his series. That last one might be a form of blaster.

More later

It's later.
And sorry I can't think of the technical term for long barrel weapon held in two hands. DUH. Of course they don't all have long barrels but you get the idea.

Anyway, I've seen few SO with blasters these days.

And I have read fantasy with axes. Of course usually, but not always, dwarves are the ones who use axes. In fact I've seen one fantasy where the MC used a made up blade weapon.

So use what you want it, or something similar, has probably been used before.

[ April 03, 2013, 11:16 PM: Message edited by: LDWriter2 ]

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MattLeo
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Depending on the sword, you *can* hook with it. A large knightly sword can be held reversed in your gauntlets and the opponent tripped with the crosspiece of the guard. A Chinese hook sword has hooks all over the place. There are so many kinds of swords that there's practically no generalizing about them. The earliest bronze swords used in Egypt were distinctly ax-like.

The main advantage most sword types have over an ax is that they can be used both defensively and offensively in close coordination. It's hard to parry with an ax and then bring it into offensive play.

As for the blaster, since writers seldom try to explain the physical agency you can't say much about them (e.g. whether they cauterize the wound). The main advantage they clearly have is nearly unlimited number of shots with no ammo to carry. Another is that there is no range adjustment; the beam should be perfectly collimated with the weapon's sights. Those are powerful and practical advantages.

For lethality it's hard to beat a bullet, provided you can hit your target with it. It kills four ways: mechanical destruction of tissue, hydrostatic shock, bleeding and sepsis. But for accuracy and convenience, a ray gun as depicted in most sci-fi stories beats a firearm.

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babooher
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Yeah, hand laser...a weapon sure to cauterize. I've seen the flechette shooter, and I've seen nanobite-laced darts, but I didn't see them in I guess what I take as space-opera.

Of course, I've not been too keen on the more military-like scifi stuff, either. I've just never liked that wagon train.

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redux
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quote:
but the landing party probably wants something that leaves the target bleeding
That to me would be justification enough to buck the system and not use blasters since it sounds like it's not enough to be victorious, but to demoralize the enemy.

If the weapon is incidental to the story, then sticking to conventions is fine, but it sounds to me like you have an actual story reason to have a different weapon.

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LDWriter2
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Oh, I forgot what is wrong with having the wound cauterize?

Yeah, it stops the bleeding but in a battle on board a ship or station that could be a good thing. Don't want a lot of blood drops floating around. And a blaster could be adjusted down enough not to penetrate the hull.

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genevive42
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You're not going to lose readers if you invent your own weapons instead of using blasters. Bujold has a whole array of energy weapons and other things that aren't blasters, some of which are very nasty, and some less so. There are also armor types to counter the effect of various weapons. I've heard different authors handle this many different ways. Don't worry about it. Do what you want.
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Osiris
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I've been using gauss cannons, flechette, and EMP cannons in my stories lately. Keep in mind the nature of the target and the desired result. Flechette won't be very effective against armor, but will shred soft targets. An EMP cannon won't do much to organic targets, but can disable vehicles in which you want the passengers unharmed. Gauss cannons are great for accelerating a projectile at very high speeds without overheating as quickly as standard gunpowder-based ballistic weapons. Laser weaponry, then, would be great for disabling an organic from very far away so you could capture him/her.
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Robert Nowall
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Can't see the objection...I suppose a blaster bolt in the chest would be as deadly as a bullet. The only difference would be the smells...
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rcmann
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Like modern military, I doubt that sci-fi military would specialize. Current plans include hi-power laser cannon in ships and planes in the next few years, and mobile land based units are already in production.

Recently, a prototype lightning cannon was developed. It uses a laser beam heated to plasma temperature as a guide for the electrical charge until it hits the target, whereupon the electrical potential is discharged to ground through the target, just like a lightning strike. They blew up a car with it.

Rail guns, magnetic cannon, are also in current development and planned for deployment. There's also the issue of what kind of weapon would work best against a robot opponent. And then there is the bomb that was used in the early days of desert storm. It dropped a cloud of highly flammable material, not sure but I think it was magnesium dust, into an enemy position then dropped a follow-up bomb to ignite the cloud - turning the area into a hell blasted inferno.

Whatever a writer dreams up, I doubt that there is not already something in the real world to match it, or in planning.

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EVOC
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I don't think you have to worry about it. In fact, when I was reading about "blasters" many people think bolts of laser, but scientists have said plasma would be a more likely "ammo" for a blaster.

In my novel the characters called it an "L-Pistol" short of Laser Pistol. I don't think it is directly mentioned in the novel, but it shoots plasma, not lasers.

I think the first question I thought was, why would your boarding party want to leave a bloody mess? A blaster bolt through the head, chest, stomach (primary targets in a deadly confrontation) will be just as deadly as a projectile weapon.

If the boarding part is more looking to incapacitate rather than kill, why not some type of stun weapon? If it is a torture thing, why not a stun weapon that attacks the nervous system causing pain?

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rcmann
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You also need to consider what the hero is fighting. If the alien has an exoskeleton six inches thick, and comes from a a planet with a mean surface temperature equivalent to Mercury, a heat based weapon might not be the best choice.
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extrinsic
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Consider whether the weaponry is probable, improbable, impossible, or fantastical; whether particle, wave, field, or permutations or combinations thereof, or of physical state, or gas, liquid, solid, plasma, or quantum; whether Newtonian or relativistic kinetic or potential energy; whether countermeasures and counter-countermeasures' effectiveness influences weaponry.

What if——a relativistic weapons system's effectiveness is blunted by a fractyon field generator. The fractyon realm exists past the bradyon absolute zero asymptote. Beyond the bradyon light speed asymptote is the relativistic or tachyon realm. Weird chaos energies and matter states exist therein, both the fractyon and relativistic domains.

Where e=mc², and m=i^n, and any m=[n^n/n], a two-dimensional plot expresses a graphical representation of the unified bradyon, tachyon, and fractyon domains. The unified domains' curve appearance resembles a suspension bridge's wire supports, with the absolute zero and light speed asymptotes being the suspension pillars and the bradyon apex of an inverted nonfunction parabola. Human perception, actual or through instrumentation arrays, exists primarily within a small window near the parabola's apex.

[ April 04, 2013, 10:11 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Pyre Dynasty
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The good thing about a blaster is (many of them) are adjustable. You can do exactly the amount of damage that you want to. Perhaps you just want to stun them, or just mark them for the missiles. Or perhaps you want to just skip right to vaporization. It's a more civilized weapon for a more civilized age.

As an aside: Dave Wolverton's son was in an accident and he's asking for prayers.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
Whatever a writer dreams up, I doubt that there is not already something in the real world to match it, or in planning. [/QB]

Challenge accepted: a time traveling pistol round that you can fire into a space that the target will occupy or has occupied, thus killing him in the past or future.
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rcmann
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It's called windage.

It also works to hit a target where it once was, if the target is in orbit,

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ForlornShadow
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Just because a wound is cauterized doesn't mean the person isn't going to die. I don't know much about blasters and things of that nature since all of my scifi stories happen to not have them. The thing to remember about wounds and especially mortal wounds is the impact to the surrounding tissues. Guns, efficient guns, kill by creating a temporary body cavity much larger than the bullet itself. The resulting expansion and contraction of the cavity is what causes most of the tissue damage. Plasma or laser guns, I'm assuming, would create a permanent cavity which would be much more harmful.
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rcmann
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Might be. Would depend on how it functions. If it seals the blood vessels as it passes through it might cause minimal disruption. The body cavity from a bullet or blade is harmful because it permits massive internal bleeding. Of course, there is always the issue of nerve damage to consider.
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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
Might be. Would depend on how it functions. If it seals the blood vessels as it passes through it might cause minimal disruption. The body cavity from a bullet or blade is harmful because it permits massive internal bleeding. Of course, there is always the issue of nerve damage to consider.

I think that depends on exactly how large a hole and where the hole was made.

Most blasters seem to make a hole at least a baseball could go through. That is going to cause a lot of damage even without secondary tissue and blood vessel injury. If it's close to the heart or another major organ it could kill.

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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by Pyre Dynasty:
The good thing about a blaster is (many of them) are adjustable. You can do exactly the amount of damage that you want to. Perhaps you just want to stun them, or just mark them for the missiles. Or perhaps you want to just skip right to vaporization. It's a more civilized weapon for a more civilized age.

As an aside: Dave Wolverton's son was in an accident and he's asking for prayers.

I haven't seen a blaster quite that wide a range--with one possible exception--but you could do with it what you want.


And There is now a fund to help pay for David's son's medical expenses.

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Robert Nowall
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This recent development might be of some significance to the discussion:

http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2013/04/08/future-is-now-navy-to-deploys-lasers-on-ships-in-2014/?test=latestnews

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Reziac
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Technical aspects of the blasters in my space opera aren't dwelt upon and I don't know exactly what they shoot, but the impact on flesh is kinda like a bad electrical burn; a direct hit can kill, and a near-miss will give you a nice scorch mark. They can also be set for close work and used as a low-quality welding/cutting torch. The everyday blaster pistol most everyone totes isn't particularly high-powered, tho there are also blast rifles with a lot more juice.

I used the term because it's generic enough that the reader can imagine whatever they wish, and will be in the ballpark for intent.

We also have the "needler", which shoots an explosive charge and makes a fairly nasty and bloody hole (probably of varying size depending on the model). More or less the same niche as mundane firearms, but not commonly used. It says something unpleasant about you if it's your preferred weapon.

We've also encountered a laser pistol, which as seen was an assassin's more-discreet weapon for use in public.

And the disruptor, which in my universe does the "excite the atoms into a frenzy" thing and requires no great aim. The beam has a nimbus that can do neurological damage. Rare.

I suppose they have more, but I haven't seen 'em yet. [Big Grin]

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InarticulateBabbler
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Babooher, have you read Steve Perry's Matador series? It is Space Opera. The first book, The Man Who Never Missed, the protagonist, Khadji, uses an interesting weapon called a spetsdöd. If you haven't read the series, it's a worthy study (and a bestseller). Steve's a great guy, too. He actually critiqued a short story for me a few years back.
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babooher
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InarticulateBabbler, I have not read Steve Perry's Matador series. I shall be looking it up, shortly. Thanks.
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hoptoad
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I was interested to read that, depsite their big-axe image, the most common weapon used by vikings was the club. It was cheap and easily replaced when broken. I imagine that in space and on extended forays into the manifold universe any weapon requiring ammunition will eventually be self-limiting unless you have some way of making/obtaining more ammunition or a supply chain. If you are on a ship capable of such a voyage, I imagine it would have a virtually unlimited energy supply. Perhaps an energy weapon might be the cheap, easy and longest-lasting option?
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enigmaticuser
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Another advantage/disadvantage to the 'blaster' is that it's not moving much in the way of mass. Therefore the 'kick' is minimal. Which could be very good in a low-g environment.

On the other hand, I wrote a story with one and realized that without said kick following rounds will pretty much go in the same place. You lose the destructive value of a group. My solution was to have the weapon's aiming apparatus automatically cycle to change the trajectory by a small amount depending on range.

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