Ask Correia 3: Sci-Fi Weapons

Looks like we’ve started a tradition. In the last On Writing post I was asked this:

A New Writing Question:

Hi Larry. Here is a new writing question. What would be the best approach for writing about futuristic weapons (say 200-300 years in the future)? How does one figure out what those weapons would look like, act like, sound like, etc.? I look at authors like David Weber and can only shake my head at how they figure out weapon calibers, etc.

Are there certain limitations and factors to consider that would hold no matter when a weapon is designed?

Let’s limit it to “average” army weapons (e.g. pistols, assualt rifles, sniper rifles etc.).

Thanks,

Scott

That’s an awesome question, but I’m no expert. I’m not really a sci-fi writer (yet), but I do know a bunch about guns. And as the philosopher Ron Perlman warns us in Fallout, “and war never changes.”  (because war has always consisted of hitting giant radioactive scorpions with sledgehammers), regardless of tech, some small arm’s features are universal.

There were already some very smart responses in the comments.  From Tim P:

The last 200-300 years have seen major changes to firearms, it would be very hard to work out what the next 200-300 years will hold. It’s possible we’ll just have fancier versions of what’s used Today, or we might have entirely switched to something completely new. Probably the most important part is to make sure the ergonomics of the weapon make sense. Some of the Star Trek phasers (I think NG) are examples of doing this wrong. They where shaped in such a way that it would have been almost impossible to point them with any precision. Obviously more relevant to TV and movies that books though, but it still applies if you’re going to describe the usage of the weapon in detail.

I totally agree on the phasers.  Really, space marines will never go into combat with dust busters. I don’t care if your pistol can be set with power levels from tickle to disintegrate to hand grenade (as the plot requires), you still need to aim the damn things. And since I didn’t see any sort of targeting system built into their comfy looking space-jammies, I’m guessing they did a lot of point shooting instruction at Star Fleet Academy.

There are a few universals. You need to aim it somehow. Hitting stuff is helpful. Ergonomics are nice too. I love sci-fi where guns in the future will have no stocks but are really large.  If the show is really forward thinking, they’ll put lots of glowing lights on the weapon, because A. it looks cool. and B. you never have to wait for the enemy to spot you.

Another potential fault would be to make the limitations of your sci-fi super weapon such that modern weapons would be better. Sure your super-laser will vaporise people with a single shot, but it’s super fragile, only has one shot before it needs to sit for five minutes to recharge, and costs a fortune; why not just give your soldiers AK-47s? Obviously this is a hard mistake to make, but I have seen it occasionally

Once again, Tim nails it. I remember one series I read as a kid where they were using small arms (some sort of plasma weapon, if I recall correctly) but the barrels would get super hot and melt, and needed to be ejected and replaced every few shots… Okay, I don’t care if your pistol makes the other dude explode, if he’s got a couple of friends with rocks, you’re screwed. That is not a step up.  Realistically, if there was  a weapon system like that, and it was super powerful and line of sight capable of smoking a tank, then you would run one in a squad, with several other guys shooting guns that didn’t need significant parts replaced every few seconds.

You all may know him as the opening quote guy from Monster Hunter International, but Dillis Freeman is also a smart gun guy and writer. He also gave some great advice:

Beyond physics and the tradeoffs inherent in any man portable system, there are two questions I’ve found helpful when “designing” weapons: 1) what is the purpose of the weapon and 2) what kind of society/character designed it? In some circumstances, they are related. Is the society one where function, cost and simplicity the main goal? In that case, you might end up with something like an AK: cheap, shoddy to some, yet very reliable. The weapon’s purpose is to be sufficiently cheap to arm mass numbers, yet effective enough that it will do its job. Is the society one where harming another “excessively” or “unnecessarily” frowned upon? You could have a 22nd Century Hague convention which limited the nature of ammuniton. Or perhaps all weapons will require safety interlocks to insure only certain people could use them. Such a society would also lean heavily towards less than lethal weapons (which shows how purpose and societal background are related).

You see that now in the modern world. Many nations are currently trying to develop alternative “less-lethal” methods of fighting. The main reason being societal, because you know, killing your enemies is messy and gets on the news. I’ve seen glue sprayers, all manner of OC, sound wave thingies, paralysis agents, or even really bad music at loud volumes. Meanwhile non-cuddly countries are trying to figure out how to modernize AKs or plastic AR-18s with air bursting grenades.

As with everything, research is key. The one thing you don’t want to do is to violate physics and common sense without very good reason. Anything projectile launcher will have recoil commensurate with the physics involved unless it’s a self-propelled round or has some handwavium going on (nothing like reading about recoilless rail guns or small arms throwing objects at relativistic speeds without ill effect on the shooter to reveal that the author either misunderstood what was happening or left out a step like “inertial dampening” when describing the scene. If the rest of the technology doesn’t reflect that such things exist, then the former answer is more likely than the latter).

Way over my little accountant brain. (but I learned my accounting on the street!).  Just remember, the mack-daddy of all sci-fi said There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Energy isn’t free, recoil sucks, and somebody has to carry the damn thing.

In all honesty, it’s important to remember that the more things change, the more they remain the same. As others have stated, we’ve reached a certain pinnacle of small arms. Most development now is evolutionary rather revolutionary, and the really revolutionary stuff (i.e. directed energy weapons) has some significant drawbacks. If Han Solo hadn’t had a very compact power source and highly effective energy projection and heat dispersal capabilities, along with some mechanism for handling considerable recoil (even energy weaons will display recoil), then he would have been carrying something a lot closer to a Glock than a blaster.

Star Wars is the ultimate example of Rule of Cool. None of the technology in Star Wars makes a lick of sense, but we love it anyway, because it is awesome. Hell, the ultimate force in the universe is a space monk with a lightning sword who fights dudes wearing bulky armor that doesn’t actually do anything, shooting guns from the hip that fire beams of energy at sixty miles an hour. That’s a neat trick, blocking blaster shots.  But if you were trying to write something realistic, let me introduce you to the FN M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon, Mr. Jedi. BRRRRAAAAAPPPPP.

Ultimately, though, it’s your story. It can be interesting to start with what you want your character to have (a Smith & Glock 2.5mm coil gun firing lexan slugs with dial a yield anti-matter cores) and then say “why is this guy carrying that weapon and what kind of society and tech will support it”? By the way, here is an excellent site that goes into some of the issues surrounding sci fi weapons. http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/rocket3l.html

Dillis gives some excellent advice there. Remember when I talked about regular guns, the characters are still more important.  Though everyone knows the S&G 2.5mm is inferior to the 3mm CorreiaTech Combat Wombat.

Right now we’re using projectile weapons because they work and we haven’t found anything better. At different points in time, something new and exciting has come along,  like flechettes in the ‘70s, or caseless ammo in the ‘80s, but those inventions had drawbacks so they didn’t replace our regular projectiles.  Once something new comes along that works better, and is affordable, then we’ll switch. If you can figure out what that is and you’ve got the engineering degree to make it happen, you’ll make a lot more money selling the design to ATK than you will writing novels.

One thing that I’ve talked with length about with Nightcrawler (because he’s really way more of a sci-fi guy than I am) is the effects of armor. Armor tech for individual soldiers is advancing at a much faster pace than small arms. Really, if you were armed with WW2 small arms, you’re not lagging that far behind. (I’d even go so far to say that our modern primary advantage over a group of 1945 GIs would be Aimpoints). Heck, today we’re battling enemies using a gun from 1947 with our design from 1963, and they’re hanging in there okay. But look at the difference armor has made. Materials science has come a long way in recent years, and we’re now routinely surviving hits that would have killed our ancestors.

I expect this to continue. I think armor will get better, faster, than the small arms for the near future. There is some stuff out there right now that people are working on that will blow your minds.  So when we get to the point that it gets too difficult to drop somebody wearing head to toe, mechanically augmented, squishy, light weight, nearly magical armor, then we’re going to see some changes to small arms.  Nightcrawler’s personal feeling is that means bigger, deeper penetrating bullets, which would be an ironic reversal of firearm’s evolution over the last century.

So I suppose if I were writing sci-fi, and I wanted to invent a weapon to go along with my world, I’d just make sure it fit.  It needs to be manageable. Now if your characters are genetic mutants or wearing power armor, make it huge and stick a chainsaw on it. But if they’re still human, it needs to be manageable by a human. It isn’t going to be big, unwieldy, and stupid looking.

Shit, never mind.

I do know one thing. If you set a book a couple hundred years in the future, even if it takes place on another planet, and you gave somebody a Kalashnikov, I wouldn’t bat an eye.

59 Responses

  1. Jerry Pournelle has addressed this in some of his SF. IIRC, in his CoDominium universe, soldiers are still armed with rifles, but intermediate power assault rifles have been discarded in favor of full power battle rifles due to the development of “Nemourlon” body armor which can defeat rounds like 7.62×39 or 5.56×45.

    Interestingly, he wrote this a couple of decades before the introduction of stuff like our current body armor with SAPI plates, etc.

    • I agree that the most likely near term solution to the effectiveness of modern armor will be the return of full size battle rifles.

  2. I do know one thing. If you set a book a couple hundred years in the future, even if it takes place on another planet, and you gave somebody a Kalashnikov, I wouldn’t bat an eye.

    That could be an interesting setting for a novel, actually.

    Get a universe that has (or had) something like Pournelle’s Co-Dominium BuReloc dumping people on hostile planets without much care for their survival. Most everyone has the tech to make AKs, and they work pretty good on unarmored people. The universe has space ships and the sort of “nearly magical armor” you speak of, but that’s an infantry thing, and it requires governments to afford, and so it’s rare.

    You get one dude with a set of that, and he might well be nearly indestructable. So, classic warlord story.

    • The guy’s gotta get out of his supersuit sometime… Or else that’s gonna be one smelly supersuit. heh.

      • Or someone will drop a rock, a wall or a whole buildng on him. Or run him over with a truck or waste him with an IED. Or snipe his weak spots and let him bleed out.

        That’s gonna be a pretty short, short story.

  3. Simon R. Green addresses this in his Deathstalker books. He’s got energy weapons that are only good for a few shots before they need to recharge, and the government has actually EFFECTIVELY outlawed projectile weapons–and so the aristocracy has become proficient in swordsmanship. It’s like he said “I want swordplay in this, because that would be AWESOME AND TOTALLY COOL, dude, but, shit, it’s in the future, so how do I handicap my weapons so my characters need to use swords too?”

    • One of the other things Green did in the Deathstalker books was state that the advent of personal shields had rendered projectile weapons ineffective. It actually seemed like a fairly reasonable progression to me, even looking at the modern day armor evolution that Larry talked about above.

      Shields > bullets, so we create disrupters, which are > shields. Of course, disrupters have that pesky recharge time, so we go back to swordplay because it’s frikkin’ cool, but after three hundred years, nobody carries a personal shield because they’re pointless against disrupters and swords, so projectile weapons > unarmored targets, and the cycle begins anew.

      • Aha! I’d forgotten the tidbit about the shields. (Let’s face it, these books are absolute monsters. And I’ve only read the first one.) And that makes way more sense than “effective outlawing of projectile weapons,” because we all know how well THAT works in real life.

      • totally ripped off from Dune.

  4. I’ve been quoted on Larry’s blog. He even said I was smart. I can die happy. ;)

    A few quick additional thoughts.

    1) If your setting calls for space travel, remember that shipping tangible objects is expensive, while shipping information is free. You could easily end up with a planet light years away, using AKs or 1911s because the people brought the plans with them for those items, along with Brownings, M16s, etc. Perhaps they have the plans for a Correia Combat Wombat, but they haven’t built the industrial base to support it.

    2) Give your weapon some limitations or drawbacks. They make the story interesting. Yes, that rifle that fires 5mm hypervelocity caseless rounds is fantastic. Too bad you are on a planet which doesn’t have the tech to make caseless ammunition and you’re down to your last mag. What’s the character going to do now? ;)

    3) Remember always that the weapon is just a tool, in this case a tool for the story. David Drake wanted to work from his experiences in Vietnam but in a scifi setting. So, M14s and 16s became handwavium plasma guns (but with limitations, see point 2) adn tracked vehicles became air cushion vehicles. The Slammers were the best equipped, most powerful fighting force the known universe had ever seen. And they were still prone to getting their butt kicked individually and as a unit if they didn’t do things right tactically and strategically. All the fancy firepower in the world won’t help you if a bad guy or a bug sneaks up behind you and hits you with a rock.

    • The limitation on tech is touch upon in Prince Rogers series (Webber & Ringo). The Bronze Barbarians are using futuristic gee-wiz ceramic bead gun that’s electromagnetic induced explosive shot. Too bad you’re dropped into a stone-age society with no way of getting resupply. meanwhile, Prince Rogers, an avid big game hunter with his really expensive cartridge rifle (with easily reloadable cartridge, also very expensive) just keep on shooting at whatever hostile the planet throws his way. By this time in the technology, Prince Roger’s rifle is only sensible for those idling rich that want to do it the old fashion way. But in the setting of the series, it really makes sense.

  5. As someone who works with someone who works on modern armor, I would say that modern personal armor technology is beginning to plateau a bit, simply due to the weight. The poor grunts now have to tote around 25+ pounds of Kevlar and ceramic, never mind all of the NVGs and radios and GPS and batteries…oh yeah, and their gun and ammo too. Whatever comes next is going to have to either give much better protection for the same weight, or give the same protection but be much lighter. ‘Smart’ materials like shear-thickening fluids might be part of the solution. Whatever it is will probably be some sort of layered technology, incorporating lots of different materials.

    Oh, and my personal favorite for fictional future weapons is Deckard’s gun from Blade Runner. A cool retro-futuristic look, a reasonable size for easy concealed carry, and it can shoot through schools. What’s not to like?

  6. You want Kalashnikovs in the future? You should check out the War World novels that were set in the CoDominium universe.

  7. Best infantry weapon ever? John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. However, the real genius wasn’t the weapon- it was the “Brain Pal”

    Man, I loved that series.

  8. Uh, on modern guns in a future setting… wasn’t that pretty much the entire Arms Locker aboard Serenity in “Firefly/Serenity”? Like River playing with a Desert Eagle. (Was it even gold-plated, too? I don’t remember, but it seems like it was.) And then there’s the proto-Abomination in the form of “Vera”…

  9. Nice post.

    I am so glad that the OICW (The weapon in the picture) was aborted, it’s an affront to all that is holy. John Moses Browning, George Patton, and John Garand all agree.

    I gave the aliens in my contemporary sci-fi book “Alone: King of One” coil guns, and gyrojets just to be different.

    In another sci-fi story that takes place in 2042, “A Girl and Her Bot” I gave the lead male character what amounts to an improved .45 auto.

    “Blade dropped his cigarette and crushed it with the heel of his boot. He absently checked his weapon, a Delta-Omega Arms, P-12 pistol inside his waistband. He probably wouldn’t need it, but 900 grams of steel and polymer holding 12 rounds of hollow-point 11.4 AAP* was comforting, just in case.”

    I added this next piece for the gun nuts, but it’s not in the body of the story. Because the story is about people interacting not about the firearms themselves. One must be careful to not overdo it on the details.

    AAP stands for Advanced Auto Pistol. With new advances in weapon design, materials, and propellants the maximum pressure, and average FPS of the projectile were increased, while improved pistol designs helped to keep recoil similar to the parent round. The casing was lengthened one millimeter to prevent the new round from being chambered in older .45 ACP weapons to avoid catastrophic failures in weapons designed over 140 years ago.

    Officially designated 11.43x24mm AAP the round became known as 11.4 AAP, or sometimes just Eleven Four.

    • Ditto moose, thank God that thing and the XM8 died on the birthing table. Of course, it was after we dumped a couple of dumptrucks full of money into a burn pit to try and make them live….

      I like how you thought out your designs and stuff for your book and layed out the how’s and why’s. Cool stuff.

  10. My favorite future/sci-fi guns include the:
    1. The Lawgiver pistol from the Judge Dredd (multiple firing modes!) comics/movies.
    2. The snarky, trash-talking sentient pistol from the Death’s Head book series by David Gunn.
    3. The Mortia Rifles from the Starship Trooper movies.

    -Scott

    • I’ll add a couple of my favorites:
      1) The X-Ray laser rifle from “The Mote in God’s Eye”. There’s no cover from a xaser.

      2) The Standard FORCE Assult rifle in “Fall of Hyperion”. Lasers, particle beams, projectiles, and gernades in one handy package.

      3) Also from the Hyperion books- the Deathwand. No beams or bullets. Just point, click, and the target falls over dead with a scrambled brain.

    • Try the willygun from the Sten series by Alan Cole and Chris Bunch. It uses a laser to propel a very tiny anti-matter pellet. Zero recoil, high capacity, and with a punch like a grenade.

      The Sten series is excellent, by the way. It should be in every scifi/military scifi fan’s library. There is discussion about why they don’t use powered armor. Something along the lines of “when you run out of power, the armor will stick protect you. Right up until the moment someone puts sharpstick A up waste disposal hole B. Hilarity ensues.” ;)

    • My favorite is a ridiculous gun from a ridiculous space opera. Allow me to quote:

      Menelaus was confident. He had a Krupp 5 MegAmp railgun with a 250 IQ that fired two pounds of smart shot and a nine-meter globe of effective counterfire. The main slug could dance and jink like a drop of mercury on a skillet.

      The pistol, a six pound behemoth, was only good for one shot. Most of the mass of the gun was in the packed chaff, which consisted of hundreds of spinning, irregular bits of self-propelled interceptors. The computing technology needed to hit a bullet out of the air with a bullet had long been known: but the chaff did not need to hit a bullet straight-on to deflect it, merely to put a vortex of sufficient overpressure in the path. The Bernoulli effect, the same thing that gave curved wings lift or tennis balls backspin, would do the rest.

      To counter this, gunsmiths developed bullets as large as miniature rockets. The heavier the slug, the less partial vacuums created by counterfire could deflect it, and also a large slug could carry retrorockets and a simple calculator to correct deflection errors. Escort bullets, which were smaller and lighter, could run interference, feinting the chaff into premature discharge and clearing a path, or setting up vortices of their own to pull the main shot back onto its flightpath.
      An the inner globe of chaff which followed the outer globe corrected for feints, bringing more chaff-mass suddenly to one vector to deflect the bullet.

      And, of course, the bullet could be programmed to feint and correct, as could the escorts, to trick the chaff into mistaking one for the other; and chaff could be counter programmed to correct for this feint or ignore it, or …

      The chaff flight pattern and distribution was based on the microscopic differences in shape of their various lifting surfaces. Which shape of chaff went in which of the eight launchers that distributed the load was, of course, a question of pure game-theory, whose solution would maximize defensive flightpaths in minimum time, while leaving maximum correction options. It all depended on what you loaded where, how you packed your weapon.

      And then there was a simple psychological question: was the opponent someone who programmed a dogleg feint and a straightline correction, or a straightline feint and a dogleg correction? If the first, you packed you gun to spread your chaff in a toroid like a smoke-ring, if the second, in a cone centered on his line of fire.

      Once the shot encountered the chaff cloud, it was all a chessgame on autopilot, with the bullet calculating the possible vortices of the chaff based on their presumed shapes, and the chaff attempting to deflect the bullet based on its presumed flightpath. The duel depended on the skill with which the chaff had been packed, the programming of the decision trees, and the intelligence of the pistol.

      Menelaus smiled. He had been packing chaff since boyhood. And his Krupp 5M could do the New New York Times soduko puzzle.

      • My favorite ridiculous gun in any fiction is the main character’s ludicrous gun from the manga series Blame!. It’s call Graviton Beam Emitter. It’s a square phaser looking weapon that has 4 settings. Lowest setting hits an armor piercing round that’s about the size of a very small needle. Highest setting is planet busting energy blast. It’s not meant to be use by human.

        This is actually a standard issue weapon for the system security within this universe…

      • My favorite ridiculous gun in any fiction is the wave-motion cannon whose bore is the bow of the great starship Yamato, called Argo in the American version, from STARBLAZERS. Now, that is a gun!

      • That was cool, but it was like Voltron’s sword: as soon as they unlimber it, the show was over. Makes you wonder why they ever bothered with anything else!

  11. One thing I would remember that a lot of sci-fi gets wrong is that rifles are rifles and pistols are pistols. I think it was Star Wars that claimed that one of their blaster rifles was less powerful (but more accurate) than their blaster pistol.

    Even for weapons so far removed from modern firearms as to be completely different, the rifles are rifles and pistols are pistols statement should hold true: a larger weapon will generally have more capacity for destruction than a smaller one, even if you’re shooting phased plasma bolts in the 56W range.

    Soldiers won’t go into battle with pistols. They also won’t go into battle with the 23rd Century equivalent of PGO shotguns (Gears of War…).

    Possible advances in small arms technology over the next 100 years include lighter, more efficient ammunition (or ammunition that’s more powerful for a given size and weight), choose-your-own ammunition (where you extrude your projectile inside the weapon itself and then select powder charge, effectively making your weapon a tiny ammunition factory), greater electronic integration (rifles of 2075 will likely have circuit boards), computerized projectiles (semi-guided .50 caliber bullets are in the works as we speak, and airburst projectiles have been flirted with for some time), and much more powerful and computerized optics. Imagine some sort of thermal/infrared/ultraviolet/visible spectrum variable self-guiding sight.

    What sort of combat might this make? Advances in optics have been pushing combat ranges from their former 300 yards back to 500 yards. Further advances in optics may well push the range of engagement even farther. But there’s only so much accuracy a human being can attain, so there might be an upper limit, say 1000 yards. Oh, wait, computerized, semi-guided projectiles might be able to take care of that as well, increasing combat ranges even further. In addition, weapons might be able to be made cruder tolerances, with a lower accuracy tolerance, since their projectiles can compensate for a would-be miss. Armor advances would make the targets harder to kill at that range, as well, so new longer projectiles would be needed.

    All I am saying is that in 100 years, we’ll be using 15lb dial-a-load sniper rifles with highly advanced optics, computerization, and semi-guided bullets.
    ;)

    • Don’t forget possible cyberization of the soldiers themselves. Imagine direct connections between the gunsight and the brain’s visual cortex. Or some means of augmenting the soldier’s strength with implants- which would allow heavier and more powerful weapons. Then, combine the two with an aiming program where the soldier just picks his target and the implants do the rest- really, really quickly.

      For an example, just watch Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex sometime.

    • I thought Vernor Vinge had some nice ideas for near future in “The Peace War”. He has a smart machine pistol or assault rifle (don’t remember which) firing smart bullets: the bullets have fins for some steering ability, the gun can sequence targets and pick a suitable time to fire, the shooter waves the gun back and forth towards the targets–spray and pray brought to a new level. He also has the bullets being less effective than dumb bullets, perhaps due to lower velocities to make the steering effective (IIRC).

      In the scene this shows up, the targets weren’t aware of the smart gun/bullets, but were wearing body armor, while the shooter had no idea they were wearing body armor, and was surprised when the targets got back up and retreated.

  12. This is my biggest complaint with the Halo series. It’s 500 years in the future and they are still using weapons that are outdated today. The M5AB assault rifle is an M4 without the benefit of attachments, the Scorpion is slower than an M1 Abrams, and the alien weapons are pathetic (plasma does not shoot in globs of slow moving, ineffective energy).

    Oh and my 3mm CorreiaTech Combat Wombat keeps jamming, any suggestions? :P

    • Yeah, get rid of that Irridium plated sissy pistol and get a Smith & Glock.
      Correia Tech’s really gone down hill ever since they got bought out by Highpoint & Koch.

    • You must be limp wristing it. :)

      • Of course, there’s always the Callahan Fullbore Autolock, or its distant cousin…

        ABOMINATION–When the MF’er Has to be Sent Back to Hell, Right Frackin’ Now!

        Both coming soon (well, inside a couple years barring delays) from Diamondback Systems, a CorreiaTech development-partner.

    • I had a similar discussion with a close friend about the Halo series. Especially with the zoom feature for the pistol was gone later from the video game series after the first one. My friend said that was a major dislike for him. I agreed, but mentioned a possibility: the humans were fighting an interstellar war against a technologically superior foe. Humans were losing badly. Maybe they had to resort to less sophisticated weapons to replace those lost in the field as resources were getting harder to come by. I could be wrong and the game designers made a boo boo, or took it out for game balance.

  13. Keep in mind that the main reason we have guns so well developed is that we’ve been fighting a lot. Remember also that we tend to fight the next war like the last one. Also remember that materials development doesn’t need to parallel weapons development.

    Imagine that an alien race doesn’t fight often. Bows work well enough to hunt, and there’s little need for an easy to use weapon for conscripts. The gun will get little attention as a novelty until it’s reliable enough to replace the bow, which might take centuries. This will also affect tactics, and sword and spear might be preferred, even if you have spaceships. Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but it gets the point across. If you don’t fight often, your tactics will probably lag behind your technology.

    Also, if materials outpace guns, they’ll stay obsolete longer. In the late 18th century, quilted silk was known to be able to stop a bullet, and the U.S. Army actually got some, though it was expensive, and smokeless made it obsolete. If you invent kevlar before smokeless powder, you’ll probably not use the gun as a primary weapon for a while.

    I have an alien race that never had much trouble with fighting after a certain point, and never got into trouble that trench warfare couldn’t solve. While they evolved a bit, they never got past second generation warfare, and are still experimenting with armored and arial combat. On the other hand, they have the numbers and experience to give a modern force trouble–especially since they carry very heavy rifles designed to defeat their own armor, which is capable of stopping anything less than steel core .308. They also use shorter ranged artillery, but that can be an advantage if it stays below the horizon for your anti-artillery laser.

    Another point John Ringo has made in his Posleen books is taht even a small device can create detectable electromagnetic signals. Modern guns will probably stick around because an AR with a plain optical scope won’t show up on much at all, whereas your plasma gun will probably have to give several seconds warning. Also, most chemical detectors rely on outgassing or residue on otherstuff. Properly sealed and cleaned, a gun won’t show up without some sort of invasive search–x-ray or old fashioned pat down type thing. And we know that with a silencer, a subsonic round is ver quiet, so a suppressed pistol with a sealed case will probably be a prime assasin’s weapon for a long time to come.

  14. I remember in the 1980’s when the “future” of the semi-automatic infantry rifle, was the bullpup configuration. I also remember that the Uzi was the favorite weapon of all cocaine kingpins in Miami and Beverly Hills. Later, crack dealers loved the MAC 10.

    No, i didn’t want a lot of television. Whatever gave you that idea? (smirk)

    Considering that I just came off annual rifle qualification at Camp Williams, a few practical things come to mind.

    1) Ammunition is heavy. Especially MG ammunition. Even if your future weapon is a phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range, the battery or fuel cell is probably going to weight a lot. Maybe it even takes a “backpack” to run your laser-zapper? The point is, your future soldiers will wind up lugging heavy crap around no matter what, which will limited mobility and how much they can fire — especially via burst — before they are out.

    2) MGs, SMGs, rifles and pistols are susceptible to fouling. This means dirt, dust, sand, water, mud, and the carbon residue from projectile propellant are all potential problems, as jamming and bolt malfunction can result. Super-fancy weapons are probably going to be extra, extra sensitive to this kind of thing, so your phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range is probably going to be non-operational in any sort of protracted dirty condition, unless it is broken down, cleaned, and lubed with some kind of protectant on a very regular basis.

    3) All weapons get hot. Your phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range will probably require something a little more robust than air cooling. In Vietnam they issued asbestos mitts to M60 gunners because the barrel got so hot. Prolonged firing and/or bad cooling conditions or malfunctioning cooling systems will shut down or destroy a weapon just as surely as dirt and muck will. Thus keeping weapons cool is going to be a major tradeoff in any future weapon, I don’t care how advanced.

    4) Unless they’re MPs, soldiers in today’s military don’t routinely keep weapons on their person in garrison. Your future military — if it’s any kind of regular force, not geurilla ad hock — is going to have a phone book of rules and regulations covering when and where troops are allowed to have weapons and, more importantly, live ammunition. For training purposes, future troops will be carrying their phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range sans battery, fuel cell, or power pack. Unless they’re on some kind of range. guns left inappropriately loaded sometimes go off with inappropriate results. Even in theater, buildings, tents, and other structures have clearing barrels at entrances and exits to be sure nobody carries a loaded weapon indoors. A future troop caught carrying a loaded plasma rifle in the 40 watt range into a building — especially with safety off — is liable to face severe repercussions. Especially if an accidental discharge occurs. “Whoops, General, I didn’t mean to put a 5-cm diameter hole through all ten floors of your headquarters!”

    5) No weapon, however well designed, is fool-proof. A perfect weapon is BORING for story, because there is no drama in a perfect weapon. Give your future guns deliberate limitations and flaws. Future troops will spend a great deal of time mitching and boaning about these limitations, and inventing clever ways to get around them, or compensate for known deficiencies. This will lend realism and authenticity to future war scenarios in fiction.

    That’s all I got right now. Back to the civilian job.

  15. One sci-fi weapon that’s been missed in the discussion is the Babylon 5 PPG. I’m not well-versed in the science of guns, but the reasoning for the weapon was to have something that will hurt a person, but not burn through the outer hull of a ship/station and cause all the air to leak out into space. So instead of bullets it shoots plasmafied helium (sort of like a superheated airzooka). The ammo were little pressurized ‘caps’ of helium, that would run out like a clip or magazine of regular ammunition would. And it looks more or less like a regular pistol or rifle now-a-days in basic shape.

    I’m not sure how realistic the weapon is, but it’s a good example of having a reason for the gun to be what it is. JMS took some thought about why a weapon would be different in space than on the ground, and came up with a gun to match.

    • The PPG was an interesting concept, and you are correct in that JMS definitely thought about the problems of projectiles for “social” work in space. Unfortunately, any weapon based on plasma is pretty much a nonstarter. Plasma is essentially highly ionized gas. When it hits standard atmosphere, it rapidly cools and disperses.

      A potentially better option is the pulsed energy projectile. Basically, you use a laser to flash the top layer of your target (clothing, skin, possibly even air if done properly) into plasma, which results in a concussive blast. At low levels, you get disorientation (like a flashbang). Mid levels will disable the target. Higher levels . . . well, a few kilowatts of energy disperses against your chest would be suboptimal.

      • You can probably pump enough energy into a plasmoid to go a few meters. How big is your space station, and how far do you really expect to shoot? Ten or fifteen meters is probably plenty for close in work.

        Lasers share a similar problem with the plasma gun–air is bad for the beam. It will take kilowatts to get a weapon with a few hundred meters of effective range.

      • The key difference is that lasers are coherent while plasmas are the embodiment of chaos. A highly energized plasma is going to be incredibly hot, which increases the dispersion factor. That situattion is aggravated by the fact that while lasers are effectively charge neutral, plasmas consist of charged particles, each of which desperately wants to get away. So, the more energy you pump into a plasma, the more it tries to shred itself.

        To create a weapons grade plasmoid, you need either to 1) create some form of extremely powerful, self-contained magnetic/gravitic/[insert buzz world here] field or 2) expel the plasma at relativistic speeds so that it doesn’t have time to disperse (after blowing a hole through the atmosphere with a laser so it doesn’t run into any other particles, which will cause it to disperse. The problem here is that if you have the tech to create either solution, you probably have the tech for an exceedingly powerful or tunable laser that will punch through atmosphere without the extra issues involved with plasma.

  16. Thanks for all of these ideas, warnings and reminders! I’m in the process of working out more details for a reptilian race and along with “what makes it go bang/ how does it kill the enemy” I’m also trying to figure out biomechanics. The reptiles had almost become bi-pedal, then returned to being preferential quadrupeds who can still walk/run on their hind legs if really, really necessary. That requires some interesting hardware modification for slings/holsters/ armor/ sighting mechanisms. I can see I’m going to have to go back and mull some things over a bit more. Muchas gracias, seriously! :)

    • If they are predominately quadruped, you can always run (no pun intended) with heavier weaponry mounted in remote operated turrets on the back. The aliens then become the equivalent of four-legged AFVs. There was a roleplaying game years back that had an uplifted Tiger such as setup with an ocular targetting display. Visually, it was impressive and led to quite a few “what ifs” of my own.

      The reason for going from biped back to quadruped will be interesting and hopefully get the reader to understand that evolution isn’t stagnant (we’ve tried to take ourself out of the evolutionary path but it goes on in and around us), and the bipedal intelligent form of man isn’t necessarily the “be all, end all” of existence.

      • Ah, great idea! I’ve been concentrating on the light infantry aspect thus far, but I will certainly see if “walking tank” style weapons will fit into “my” world. And if not, why and what other options they might use. Thank you for the suggestion.

      • Think that the game was “Battlelords of the 23rd Century and Dillis is totally right it was really neat.

        The game was pretty good but never caught on all that heavy. I believer its still in publication.

        The food for thought in it was dang well done in many ways. And flawed in others.

  17. Ah, physics and recoil. Unfortunately many people who invoke physics haven’t actually worked any of the most basic equations.

    Recoil is based on conservation of momentum; for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Momentum is mass * velocity. Double the velocity means double the recoil.

    Potential damage of a projectile is based on conservation of energy. Energy is mass * velocity * velocity. Double the velocity, quadruple the damage potential. Double the velocity and halve the mass, double potential damage without any recoil increase.

    Energy isn’t everything because actual damage is based on energy plus how efficiently the projectile uses that energy to do something that actually kills the target. Shoot a big, thick-skinned animal with a current technology light, fast lead bullet, and the bullet breaks up leaving an ugly but shallow wound that doesn’t do much to stop the animal. The energy in that case was used to tear up the surface, not penetrate to the required depth.

    But there’s no reason in physics that a light science fiction projectile couldn’t do enormous damage with less recoil, through more velocity. Just like a tiny little .45 bullet hits harder than a softball. For example a sci-fi 10 gr. projectile at 20,000 feet per second has the potential to hit like a .460 Weatherby Magnum with the kick of a .223, for an elephant gun controllable in full-auto fire. Or a 3 gr. at the same velocity could hit like a .308 with the kick of a .22, for a medium machine gun in a in a heavy pistol. Lead won’t stand up, but sci-fi bullets could. And this is assuming future bullets don’t get any better at using energy than current lead bullets, they only get better at using velocity.

    At that kind of speed, range will be limited because lots of the energy will get transferred to the air and the projectile as heat as it travels (leaving a glowing trail like a meterorite). Unfortunately I don’t know the aerodynamic physics for that.

    When you move into energy weapons, with nearly massless particles moving at close to a billon FPS, recoil becomes largely theoretical. Yes it’s there, but it’s hard to imagine a human shooter noticing.

  18. Here is an interesting link about new bullet designs I thought that you might find interesting.

    http://www.barking-moonbat.com/index.php/weblog/high_tech_hunting_bullet/

    Thanks for taking my writing questions on your site; the responses have been very helpful.

    Scott Deering
    scott_deering@hotmail.com

  19. Hey Correia, I was thinking about how you said a weapon should fit into it’s society context and I realized that referring to a hypervelocity weapon by it’s size like the 2.5 smith and glock doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    Since the energy of these weapons depends on how much you put into them, a 2.5 mm projectile could be accelerated to the point it’s equal to a matter/antimatter reaction or just enough to give it enough velocity make it outside the barrel.
    As such, wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on power output like 2.5 megajoules?

  20. Necromancer comment! Oh crap, it’s Hood!

    This article from the Star Wars wiki has some hilarious details:

    http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Slugthrower

    The problem with blasters is that they’re very guilty of sucking compared to modern weapons, like AK-47s.

    One excerpt says:
    “Slugthrowers. I hate ‘em. But they’re easy to maintain. Day or two in the jungle and your blaster’ll never fire again. A good slug rifle, keep ‘em wiped and oiled, they last forever.”

    Apparently, the Imperial military never plans on fighting in inhospitable environments.

    • And I’m pretty sure bullets go faster than the blasters. If you can see the projectile coming at that speed, well… pointless. Which reminds me-In Star Wars and Warhammer 40k, despite the latter’s fantastic futuretech lasers and plasma weapons, kinetic weapons are still used as sniper weapons. I like Dan Abnett, but I did not understand why they’d use a laser sniper rifle. I know it has a lot of range, but wouldn’t it be easily detectable?

  21. [...] (author of Monster Hunter International, Monster Hunter Vendetta, Monster Hunter Alpha, and so on) post I happened across from a year or so ago. It was basically some writing advice about SF weapons that I’d somehow [...]

  22. A good example of a future weapon that seems likely is the assault rifle from mass effect it’s ammo is a block of metal that it shears off in gun to the right size to reach the target propelled by a mass changing energy field. To me that seems like a logical weapon based on the technology they have available.

  23. [...] http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2010/05/14/ask-correia-3-sci-fi-weapons/ Share this:DiggRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Uncategorized by fozbaca. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

  24. I, the Fluffy (It’s a nickname from my best friend) have decided to add in a suggestion about actually drawing those guns for art and stuff. Look at real guns, and possibly a few well-designed ones from videogames. Don’t rip off the design, but just look at how a person is supposed to hold it, (Correia’s advice about shooting guns also works, so you can get a feel for it) how they’re supposed to sight it, anything else you can think of that makes it feel believable.

    • That is an approach that several designers have taken. I know someone knocked the Halo weapons above, and someone else mentioned Ghost in the Shell more positively already, but the weapon designers of both of those series apparently did their homework when designing their characteristic guns – not “who needs ergonomics when you’ve got style?”, but “where does the bolt go when cycling?” and “what does a trained soldier executing a magazine swap look like?”

      Of course, both of those have their downsides. Masamune Shirow definitely sides with the acceleration side of energy = mass*acceleration. His guns tend to fire smaller rounds at higher speeds. This isn’t a criticism of his work, exactly; the math supports that approach, and high-velocity rounds make sense if you’re staring down combat cyborgs armored like tanks. What gets me is that it assumes incremental advancements in the guns themselves, but radical advancements in bullet design and energy transfer. I haven’t really seen that happening in military- or police-issue ammunition outside of experiments with caseless or flechette ammunition, and the last of that was a little less than thirty years ago.

      And I’m definitely unimpressed with the Halo armory itself, outside of the thought they put into it. If Halo took place in 2052, then it would be more reasonable in terms of the human weapons. But it doesn’t, which is a bit confusing. No one regularly relies on an incremental advancement of technology from 1512 – going from, say, matchlocks to today’s modern flintlocks – but we’re supposed to believe that it took five hundred years for rifles to go from the M4 to the MA5B, and we managed to lose fire selection switches in the process? The UNSC probably contracts with H&K.

      Thankfully, I’m working with building a more retro-style world, where submachine guns as a class of weapons are the province of semi-crazy first adopters, and small unit tactics are just becoming a thing, so A) design mistakes are bound to be made and can be written off as such, and B) I can draw on historical records for influence rather than trying to break new ground.

  25. No one has mentioned the fact that most weapons are developed for military members. You can demonstrate the new Correia Combat Wombat for an Army procurement officer and the first thing he will ask you is “A. How much does it cost and B. What does it do that we should use it to replace the M9 or SOCOM?” Governments don’t like to spend millions of dollars to develop new weapons as well as millions to retrain soldiers in their use and change logistics to supply new ammo for them unless there is a VERY significant improvement in performance. Governments also don’t like revolutionary technology as it tends to cost even more. They have a habit of giving their militaries the bare minimum of what they need to win a war. Should North Korea develop a ceramic body armor that will let a 5 lb vest stop a 5.56mm, the US will start a program to develop a round that can beat the new armor and stop there. If a 7.62 mm will do it, they won’t put the money into a railgun or energy rifle.

  26. Ok, this might be a long response but here it goes (lots of thoughts converging):
    1. Let’s try a scenario; humanity has encountered an unfriendly alien race that is significantly harder to kill than a human being with either an armored shell or a body mass and or physiology that requires a lot more damage to put it down. Let’s say the alien is a nasty cousin of a mating of an armadillo and a sabre tooth tiger. What kinds of tech changes would this require based on what we have now and would those changes focus on particular areas (e.g. Ammunition types, certain types of guns, certain types of gun technology, etc)?
    2. For a story like the tv show Revolution, what would a realistic expectation be for changes to guns and gun technology in that situation (no electrical power works anywhere for 15 years)? Would guns likely not change that much or would there be some clever gunsmith working on advances in particular areas or non-electrical based tech to give his/her republic an edge over what exists ‘now’.
    3. I always liked the idea of fletchett guns in a sci-fi story: what are the downsides of this tech and when would it actually make sense to use it?
    Thanks

    -Scott

  27. There were also gyrojets in the sixties. But some of you probably haven’t heard of that, so you know how that went.

  28. One possibility could be that a magical enemy has the ability to neutralize energy weapons but not firearms. Another possibility could be that firearms are found to be superior to energy weapons.

  29. SciFi weapons would logically face the same requirements as current weapons. How much does it cost? How hard is it to make? How smart does the user have to be to perform basic PMCS? How much does it weigh? How much does the ammo, or power pack, weigh? What does it fire? What is it designed to kill?

    Body armor. Body armor tech follows right along with weapon tech. Same logic. How much does it cost? How hard is it to make? How smart does the user have to be? Ect…. Point being armor gets developed to defend (at least partially) the weapons the wearers intend to face.

    I think anything plausible and cool will always win out over logic and science. Science guns just aren’t as fun as Fiction guns.

    That being said (or typed), its always nice to have some realism tossed in there somewhere. It connects people on a very basic level when your weapons are simply a generation or two or five ahead of what they have seen or used.

    You can either go flashy and shallow…
    “Captain Arcturus raised his particle accelerator rifle against the hordes of the alien overlords and began firing as he sprinted forward, unafraid and killing with each pull of the trigger” which sounds better than….
    “Captain Dave cursed as he dropped the heavy backpack style generator for the laser rifle. Carry that thing up the hill had been a bitch and a half. He might have slipped a disc or two. Definitely pulled a muscle. He watched the alien hordes rushing across the valley as he waited for the capacitors to fully charge. He saw a warning label on the laser’s emitter shield, “May cause burns”. Well, duh. Its a frickin’ laser. He carefully took aim on the lead alien and squeezed the trigger. Across the valley the alien dropped with the perfectly aimed shot. Captain Dave screamed. Not in triumph but in pain. The damned laser had burned through his gloves and left both hands red and swelling. He couldn’t even make his fingers grasp his great-great-great-great grandfather’s old Colt 1911. The lead alien used his prehensile testicles to beat Captain Dave senseless before carrying his limp form back to the mother ship where he would serve as the alien’s brood mare for the next generation of alien invaders…”

    You get the idea.

  30. I think the new argument of larger bullets with more energy to defeat body armor that is becoming more easily available, as we are essentially moving into an era similar in theory to when weapons like the falchion and warhammer were increasing in popularity. Technology in both medical techniques and armor have advanced to the point that people are surviving the “wounding weapons” that gained in popularity with larger scale guerilla or low tech irregular forces being the main threats. In the modern battlefield, the average soldier wears enough body armor that the typical 5.56/5.45 simply isn’t doing enough to take them out of the fight, so there has been a return to the larger, typically .30 caliber weapons of previous conflicts (like the Army buying back M14s from the Navy and making DMRs out of them, of soldiers in Afghanistan being more worried about the older .303s that they were encountering than the newer AK variants, because of the increased armor penetration of the heavier/faster round).
    Look at the .50 Beowolf, I personally think this is a great evolutionary step forward in adapting an existing, fairly modular design, to be more effective in urban environments where body armor or barricades are more commonly encountered. A multi caliber capable arm might be a more common firearm for militaries of the future, instead of like in WWII when they had a unique firearm for every situation that came up, making logistics a nightmare to keep up with.

  31. What’s Taking place i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It positively useful and it has
    aided me out loads. I’m hoping to give a contribution & help other customers like its helped me.
    Great job.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,044 other followers

%d bloggers like this: