Author Topic: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?  (Read 1401 times)  

Offline Kal241

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Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
« on: August 27, 2017, 07:07:47 pm »
One of my beta readers recently brought up the fact that my sci-fi work uses projectile firearms. They felt bullet-firing weapons were out of place in such a setting, and suggested energy weapons would make it feel more "logical."

In my universe, humanity went from projectile weapons to laser-based firearms. But around seventy years prior to the book, they switched back due to 3D printing, asteroid mining making materials dirt cheap, and armor tech making use of ceramic tech to defeat most energy firearms, as well as tech issues with direct-energy weapons. Ships still use them, but troops have almost entirely gone back to projectile weapons.

Is it really so weird that that people of the future are using projectile weapons in such an advanced era? Should I change this around?

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    Offline Seshenet

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #1 on: August 27, 2017, 07:25:32 pm »
    I don't think it's weird. Wouldn't bother me if I read a sci-fi book where they used firearms.

    I haven't published yet, still writing, but in my sci-fi mysteries, the police have firearms. I leave it at that. There aren't any shootouts (so far, you never know what characters will get up to) so I don't spend any time on weapons technology. I think movies have conditioned people to expect blasters and phasers. Then again, I focus more on cultures, social issues and archaeology of ancient alien artifacts -- so far my beta readers have not expected any detail on weapons technology.

    Offline RightHoJeeves

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #2 on: August 27, 2017, 07:30:54 pm »
    Not at all weird.

    Your explanation is quite neat & universe-specific explanation, so it feels realistic. That's more important than the guys using lasers just because that's a SF thing.

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    Offline RightHoJeeves

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #3 on: August 27, 2017, 07:33:09 pm »
    You could even lampshade it, if its a concern. Have one of the characters say something like "You'd think after mastering space travel we could use lasers and not still be throwing rocks at each other."

    I'd appreciate that, given my frustration with what technology should be these days, if the will was there *glares at coal lobby*

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    Offline NeilMosspark

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #4 on: August 27, 2017, 07:38:17 pm »
    One of my beta readers recently brought up the fact that my sci-fi work uses projectile firearms. They felt bullet-firing weapons were out of place in such a setting, and suggested energy weapons would make it feel more "logical."

    In my universe, humanity went from projectile weapons to laser-based firearms. But around seventy years prior to the book, they switched back due to 3D printing, asteroid mining making materials dirt cheap, and armor tech making use of ceramic tech to defeat most energy firearms, as well as tech issues with direct-energy weapons. Ships still use them, but troops have almost entirely gone back to projectile weapons.

    Is it really so weird that that people of the future are using projectile weapons in such an advanced era? Should I change this around?
    Don't change it.
    Chemically launched projectiles are infinitely easier to store vs batteries which drain, or may not have standardized charging stations.

    I like the ceramic/energy dissipating/reflective reasoning, which oddly enough makes a laser or a energy weapon a weapon of a murderer who would kill an un armoured person. There might be a stigma there too.

    The only thought I would inject is that a chemically launched projectile (or rail gun launched) would be really... really bad inside a pressurized space ship. They don't work well with holes in them.

    Don't switch. You have valid clear reasoning for your choice.


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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #5 on: August 27, 2017, 07:43:50 pm »
    My opinion is that you can use anything you like as long as it fits the story. Since the details of the future are essentially unknown, there are really no anachronisms about gadgets as long as they are possible. What is "possible"? What you make possible in the story.

    Offline Kal241

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #6 on: August 27, 2017, 07:54:26 pm »
    I haven't published yet, still writing, but in my sci-fi mysteries, the police have firearms. I leave it at that. There aren't any shootouts (so far, you never know what characters will get up to) so I don't spend any time on weapons technology. I think movies have conditioned people to expect blasters and phasers. Then again, I focus more on cultures, social issues and archaeology of ancient alien artifacts -- so far my beta readers have not expected any detail on weapons technology.

    Ironically, one of my later books deals with police tech and how it varies between worlds. Police are more militarized in my universe, but closer to Earth, departments tend to favor non-lethal electrolaser weapons and stun batons. Police on space stations are big into that as well, since bullets can cause deadly decompressions if a hull section breaches. But on more distant worlds, police are commonly seen carrying lethal projectile weapons, based on the modern-day Cornershot weapon.

    I do agree, movies have conditioned us all to some extent. I'm glad you've escaped the "how does that weapon work" debate so far!

    You could even lampshade it, if its a concern. Have one of the characters say something like "You'd think after mastering space travel we could use lasers and not still be throwing rocks at each other."

    I'd appreciate that, given my frustration with what technology should be these days, if the will was there *glares at coal lobby*

    I actually do have a couple jabs like that at a few points in the story. There's even a gun safety debate, which talks about how guns have gotten safer in the past thousand years, but humans haven't gotten any less willing to use them ("we can devise non-lethal weapons, but we can't stop people from killing each other?")

    I like the ceramic/energy dissipating/reflective reasoning, which oddly enough makes a laser or a energy weapon a weapon of a murderer who would kill an un armoured person. There might be a stigma there too.

    The only thought I would inject is that a chemically launched projectile (or rail gun launched) would be really... really bad inside a pressurized space ship. They don't work well with holes in them.

    You hit the nail on the head there. No spoilers, but energy weapons do make an appearance in the hands of killers more often than anyone else, since perfect accuracy with them leads to nasty precision shots.

    The penetration power of bullets did occur to me as an issue. I introduce "space safe" ammo at one point, low-caliber rounds with subsonic capability, making penetration much less likely, and police and military units tend to use pulsed energy projectile or electrolaser weapons when in sensitive environments like space stations or ships.
    « Last Edit: August 27, 2017, 08:00:46 pm by Kal241 »

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    Offline MattHaggis

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #7 on: August 27, 2017, 08:09:43 pm »
    Bullets are fine. But I do have bullets in an SF novel which led to a 1-star review of someone crying "but no one would fire bullets in a spaceship as they'd breach the hull" -- as if anything that missed a person would automatically punch a hole through an armored exterior wall.

    Offline Kal241

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #8 on: August 27, 2017, 08:18:53 pm »
    Bullets are fine. But I do have bullets in an SF novel which led to a 1-star review of someone crying "but no one would fire bullets in a spaceship as they'd breach the hull" -- as if anything that missed a person would automatically punch a hole through an armored exterior wall.

    I saw that argument coming, thankfully, and added a new type of ammunition to counteract it. Air marshals today carry guns on planes, using "air safe" ammo to avoid deadly decompressions. I reasoned that my "space safe" rounds would be a natural evolution of it. Sorry that you got caught up in that, though.

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #9 on: August 27, 2017, 08:21:38 pm »
    Look at it this way: A thousand years ago in the Middle Ages poison and daggers were the main weapons of homicide. Now 1000 years later the main weapon of homicide is a gun shooting bullets. Does that mean poison and daggers are no longer used? Of course not. What is used depends on the circumstances.

    Offline Abderian

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #10 on: August 27, 2017, 11:49:59 pm »
    As long as you explain it in some non-intrusive way, it's fine. Scifi geeks love the reasoning behind predictions about weaponry, starships etc. I don't think you'll upset anyone as long as your explanation makes reasonable sense.


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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #11 on: August 28, 2017, 03:46:36 am »
    I use both in my SF books, as well as Gauss weapons, depending on the nature of the need.  The Space Fleet uses lasers due to a preference for something that has zero recoil in zero gravity.  The military uses Gauss weapons because of their superior penetration of armor.  Police and those civilians who can and want to carry guns mostly use chemical-propellant, rocket rounds that can be guided by optics slaved to the gun's targeting system or aimed like conventional firearms.

    Offline Not any more

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #12 on: August 28, 2017, 04:06:03 am »
    It's lasers and ray guns that make no sense. The power requirements to make a lethal energy weapon are ridiculously prohibitive, but chemical projectiles are relatively simple. This allows you to explore sub-lethal runes, especially ones that are designed not to penetrate the hulls of spaceships, etc. additionally kinetic bombardment makes for some pretty interesting storytelling.

    ^This^ I'll use energy weapons for a spaceship. For use against armored personnel, the weapon of choice is an EAP - explosive armor piercing projectiles. The gun I've always thought was cool was loaded with water and a paralytic neurotoxin that shot ice needles.
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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #13 on: August 28, 2017, 04:06:32 am »
    As long as you explain it in some non-intrusive way, it's fine. Scifi geeks love the reasoning behind predictions about weaponry, starships etc. I don't think you'll upset anyone as long as your explanation makes reasonable sense.
    This in a nutshell. If it's well thought out, then use it.

    Offline VanessaC

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #14 on: August 28, 2017, 04:30:51 am »
    As long as you explain it in some non-intrusive way, it's fine. Scifi geeks love the reasoning behind predictions about weaponry, starships etc. I don't think you'll upset anyone as long as your explanation makes reasonable sense.

    Yep - this.  Does it make sense in your world?  Then go for it. 

    Part of this is, as a reader, surrendering yourself to the writer's world.  As long as there's an internal logic, it's all good as far as I'm concerned.  :)

    Offline NeilMosspark

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #15 on: August 28, 2017, 04:49:34 am »
    Bullets are fine. But I do have bullets in an SF novel which led to a 1-star review of someone crying "but no one would fire bullets in a spaceship as they'd breach the hull" -- as if anything that missed a person would automatically punch a hole through an armored exterior wall.
    Some argument can be made here for automated systems of a ship designed to use a glue type of epoxy to seal small holes. Like a fire extinguisher system maybe. Star Trek gets past this by force fields when there are breaches. Star Wars.... well you jettison like the rest of the floatsam if there's a breach lol


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    Offline Jonathan C. Gillespie

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #16 on: August 28, 2017, 05:10:51 am »
    Heck, I don't know how ship-to-ship combat works in your universe, but if you think about it, there's an argument that flechettes and bullets and stuff are way more dangerous in space than lasers and the like. Yes, lasers move at light speed, but you don't have to be accurate with something like a swarm of flechettes. And they'd keep traveling until they were swayed by some kind of gravity field.

    The only X-factor in all of this is how enlightened your warring parties are. In my Beacon books, there are whole layers of wrecks around Beacon that are basically death zones, because whatever you shoot off in space doesn't just settle to the ground if they're solid objects. So it's possible for a massive space battle to render an area of space prohibitively dangerous to enter. I mean, we've seen massive damage to satellites and such in our own orbit, and it's been caused in some cases by particulate matter smaller than grains of sand.

    So if there is some kind of Geneva convention in the future, it might read "energy weapons only", because even though can't destroy matter, if you're firing energy as opposed to sabots (or something), at least you're not crapping lead all over the spaceways.


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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #17 on: August 28, 2017, 05:37:09 am »
    In my universe, humanity went from projectile weapons to laser-based firearms.

    No problem at all but I would include your potted history somewhere in the first story so readers get it.

    But, as for personal preference, I prefer a good old-fashioned death ray every time.

    Offline Scrapper78

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #18 on: August 28, 2017, 05:45:00 am »
    I write sic-fi and I am a gun nut. So I have a lot of fun with this.

    One of my favorites is to use ceramic beads and flechettes. Simply because ammunition has to be manufactured, and size/complexity matters on the battlefield. Furthermore, mass acceleration is the most reliable way to deliver energy to a target in various atmospheres and conditions.

    A 5mm bead at twenty-times the speed of sound will actually incandesce in normal atmosphere. It becomes a kinetic impactor as well as delivering a thermobaric payload. It's so small and light many can be carried and the energy required to accelerate them is relatively small.

    Electro-magnetic mass drivers in general make a lot of sense, and certainly anything with an electronic trigger is going to be the future of man-portable weaponry. Striker-fired guns and other lockwork assemblies are already seeing their twilight, technologically speaking.

    Due to ease of manufacture, chemical propellants will be around for a while, so whether or not you use those will depend on how far in the future you go. Once the energy requirements for EM acceleration get managed, all kinetic-energy weapons will go this way.

    Particle beams and laser/maser etc. have limited functionality, despite their inherent sexiness. Lasers can be easily thwarted with reflective surfaces and dusty/cloudy environments. Worse, imagine using a a laser on a planet with a highly ionized atmosphere.

    (Wait. Don't. that's actually a really cool situation. Will include in current WIP!)

    Other particle beams are limited by the fact that any beam with sufficient energy to do meaningful damage will also likely harm anything in the area. You can focus the beam as narrow as a single photon, theoretically, but you will still be dumping a ton of heat and other radiation from the front of the weapon. As long as it is just light (laser), no big deal. But light, as noted, is really easy to defeat.

    The more effective particle beams like masers and whatnot, are extremely dangerous for everyone around them at output energies that have a prayer of doing meaningful harm to an enemy. Irrelevant for ship-to-ship combat, but in-atmosphere tactical combat becomes very tricky. Consider this, a high-energy particle beam easily transfer enough heat to cook all the oxygen out of the atmosphere around the user. OR worse, start a thermobaric reaction that kills everyone. You could covert a chunk of your local atmosphere to high-energy plasma very quickly, and if not contained...you're going to have a bad time.

    Plasma, by the way, is a little easier to work with but still has issues. We can create plasma with predictable energy yields already, but 'throwing' it at the bad guy is still practically impossible. Plasma does not have enough mass or structure for kinetic delivery, so some sort of magnetic channel has to be created between the emitter and the target. If there is random gas or particles in that channel, you are still going to have a bad time. Just not fatal. (You'll just deliver less energy or none at all to the target.)

    But it's sci-fi. If you want it, write it in a reasonably believable way and tell your story.
    « Last Edit: August 28, 2017, 05:51:18 am by Scrapper78 »

    Offline Douglas Milewski

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #19 on: August 28, 2017, 05:57:46 am »
    In media (in general, with big hand waves) less realistic SF uses lasers while more realistic SF uses bullets. For example, the old BSG used blasters while the new BSG used bullets. It's an indicator of what the reader should expect.

    Now, onto my opinion.

    Bullets are just fine. They're fantastic technology. They do the job and do it cheap. So take the time to actually examine the military case for self contained cartridges than can easily and safely be stored, transported, and carried, then handed between soldiers in the field. New kinds of force fields can be bypassed simply by used different kids of projectile.

    In other words, turn the bug into a feature.

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    Offline Douglas Milewski

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #20 on: August 28, 2017, 06:00:29 am »
    Bullets are fine. But I do have bullets in an SF novel which led to a 1-star review of someone crying "but no one would fire bullets in a spaceship as they'd breach the hull" -- as if anything that missed a person would automatically punch a hole through an armored exterior wall.

    I watched a video on a .22 caliber machine gun invented in the 1920's and marketed to police. The idea was that the bullets wouldn't go through the walls.

    If a space ship can withstand micro-punctures from high speed collisions, shouldn't they be able to withstand a small arms fire? Wouldn't people used small arms that are good against people but bad against spaceships?

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    Offline Rick Partlow

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #21 on: August 28, 2017, 07:33:55 am »
    Heck, I don't know how ship-to-ship combat works in your universe, but if you think about it, there's an argument that flechettes and bullets and stuff are way more dangerous in space than lasers and the like. Yes, lasers move at light speed, but you don't have to be accurate with something like a swarm of flechettes. And they'd keep traveling until they were swayed by some kind of gravity field.

    The only X-factor in all of this is how enlightened your warring parties are. In my Beacon books, there are whole layers of wrecks around Beacon that are basically death zones, because whatever you shoot off in space doesn't just settle to the ground if they're solid objects. So it's possible for a massive space battle to render an area of space prohibitively dangerous to enter. I mean, we've seen massive damage to satellites and such in our own orbit, and it's been caused in some cases by particulate matter smaller than grains of sand.

    So if there is some kind of Geneva convention in the future, it might read "energy weapons only", because even though can't destroy matter, if you're firing energy as opposed to sabots (or something), at least you're not crapping lead all over the spaceways.

    That's what I do in my books.  Neither side likes to use kinetic-energy weapons in systems they're trying to gain control over because, eventually, they're going to be flying supplies and personnel into those systems and they're likely to run into their own slugs at some point.

    Offline WDR

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #22 on: August 28, 2017, 07:54:54 am »
    Projectiles in mine, though I do have a mix of weapons.

    A lot of people are unaware that regular old bullets will still fire in the vacuum of space. So, classic bullets are still employed by certain individuals in my story. Bullets are still quite deadly in many circumstances. There are other projectile weapons available using electromagnetic acceleration systems to launch projectiles---having the advantage of being able to fire far more projectiles than powder-based weapons, but they must be recharged from time to time to work. Energy weapons require far higher energy levels than can be carried by an individual solder, so those are relegated to ship-to-ship weapons. There are some handheld energy weapons that can effectively paralyze or knock out an individual for a short period of time.
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    Offline tommy gun

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #23 on: August 28, 2017, 09:55:18 am »
    Falkenberg's legion.  They have star drive and colonized lots of worlds.
    They use bolt action rifles.  Low tech is easy to maintain. 
    My question would be how often do you have to recalibrate your energy weapon after the troop cleans it? 

    I like projectile weapons.  I think your rationale is fine.
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    Offline Jonathan C. Gillespie

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    Re: Sci-Fi Weapon Preference: Energy, Bullets, What?
    « Reply #24 on: August 28, 2017, 12:42:40 pm »
    Anyone every play Shadowrun? I used to love what they did with energy weapons. Yeah, they're available, chummer, but they're even more cumbersome than the setup in "Ghostbusters". Hard to sneak around with a mini-fridge on your back. So I guess another aspect to ask here is: what kind of ops are your folks running? If they're running the shadows, they might stick to conventional weapons, but if this is big capital-on-capital engagements out in the "open", perhaps they bring the big tech out to play?


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