Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Choose Your Weapon

One of the fun things about science fiction and fantasy is the action and battle scenes.  So I wanted to take some time to talk about weapons.  Not big "weapon systems" like you'd find on starships or vehicles.  Let's get down in the trenches with hand-held weaponry.  What do you like to see/read about?

Lasers have probably been in science fiction about as long as we've had science fiction.  Yes, as a child, I sometimes played with a flashlight like it was a laser, so there. 

For those who don't like the sometimes unlimited "ammunition" of lasers, you have a variety of projectile weapons modeled from handguns, rifles, machine guns.  All requiring convenient and realistic needs to be reloaded (unless the character firing is Rambo).

Then there are the weapons used in various ways both in fantasy and science fiction. 
Let's start with the sword.  This is possibly the most popular weapon - even moreso than the laser.  And to be honest, I'm over swords.  If they've got any killing power, they're big, bulky, and heavy.  Definitely not discrete, so there's little surprise if/when somebody draws one.

Even a perfectly balanced sword isn't balanced at the handle, so the weilder's going to get tired swinging that thing around.  I know because in my Tae Kwon Do class, I practice with a demostration version of a Chinese broad sword.  Going through a sword form/kata a few times always leave my arm/wrist tired and sore.

I will say that the coolest examples/demos I've seen with swords was done on Spike TV's show The Deadliest Warrior.  Watching the carnage on gel torsos, pig carcasses, and the guy using a claymore sword (like William Wallace used) to slice 3 heads off neckbones with one swing was pretty cool.  However, my favorite sword was the twin hooks sword used by Shaolin Monks.  Hook-shaped swords with crescent bladed handles and even a short blade/spike at the opposite end.  They could not only disarm an opponent, but hooked together could create a 12 foot (4 meter) diameter killing zone.  Very cool.

While Star Wars made light sabers/laser swords more popular than ever in movies, I don't think that really helps literature.  It seems that most sci-fi readers like more plausibility in their tech and there isn't even a theoretical way to make light stop at a pre-determined distance, much less clash with another like a solid object.

One of my favorite science fiction swords would have to go to the Klingons for the Bat'leth.  Crescent shaped, two handled sword give better balance and better defensibility than straight handled swords. 

Enough about swords.  Let's move on to other weapons.  We can definitely be thankful to the different forms of martial arts that helped to give us a variety of killing and battling instruments.  One popular weapon, also in science fiction/fantasy, is the bo/staff.  Darth Maul's light saber was really a light staff  (until Obi Wan cut it in two).  Two edges of fighting power that may not be as obviously deadly as a sword in the real world, but should never be underestimated.  In the sci-fi universe though a bo can be just as deadly as a sword as Qui Gong Gin learned in Star Wars Episode I.

Whips.  Anybody see Iron Man 2?  Read the comic?  Enough said I guess.  If Whiplash wins the prize for coolest science fiction whip, I'd give an honorable mention to the Ferengi when they were introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Weapon of choice?  Energy-firing whips, but I'll bet they would also pack a mean slap close-in also.  Unfortunately, the Ferengi whips were seldom shown, preferring instead to go to the typical hand phasers.  Oh well, innovations don't always last.

It seems like size does matter in weapons.  I'd say the most common shorter weapon is a dagger.  They're used ceremonially and as easily concealed sidearms.  But what about other weapons?  Kamas are short-handled weapons with a half-crescent shaped blade at one end.  Like other martial arts weapons, the kamas weren't originally made as weapons (as I understand at least).  They were farm instruments.  But, there portability and killing potential made them excellent weapons.  Since in science fiction, most farming would probably be done mechanically (except in some post-apocalyptic stories), kamas may not have much use/visibility, but I'm surprised I don't read more about them in fantasy.

Since this post is getting longer than I really intended, let me skip to my personal favorite for weapons.  The tonfa.  Police nightsticks were based on the tonfa.  The best explanation I've gotten for the origination of the tonfa was that it was a removeable handle for millstones.  I was introduced to the tonfa in an early martial arts class.  What I like about tonfas is their felxibility in combat.  The long part of the shaft should extend just longer than the wielder's elbow, protecting the entire forearm.  The other end extends several inches past the hand.  This makes the tonfa excellent for blocking and striking.  The short end extends the weilder's punch and the perpendicular handle allows the long shaft to be swung around for more striking.  Even the handle can be a weapon.  It's wider than the hand and can injure or kill with a ridge hand to an opponent's temple.

The style was Shorin-Ryu and the first weapon we used was the tonfa.  In some ways, once you learn basic blocks and punches/strikes, you're ready to try basic tonfa tactics.  It strengthens basic blocks and adds range/power to a variety of strikes.  A couple of cool tonfa weapons I've seen in sci-fi/fantasy?  One of the coolest was the zombie guy from the first Hellboy movie.  He actually used a tonfa-sword, but I give points for getting away from the conventional sword shaped.  Honorable mention goes to one Star Wars book.  Sorry I didn't read it and don't know the title, but on the cover were two Jedi.  One had a tonfa-style light sabre.  How the Jedi used that without burning her own arm off with the blade is beyond me, but kudos for the innovation.

In my draft novel, LEGACY SOLDIER:  HYBRIDS RELEASED, I created a sidearm for the heros based on the tonfa.  I call it the Tonfa Blaster, or TB for short.  The long end is charged for close-in combat.  The shaft is also pressure sensitive.  The harder the wielder hits, the more energy is discharged.  While the handle "grounds" the user, an adversary had better avoid contact.  Soft contact will stun, but a hard blow will remove body parts.  I'd say this weapon has plausibility and it gives me an answer for readers who'd like something that could approximate a light-sabre type duel. 

Swing around and the short end is the firing side.  With a trigger on the handle, the weapon could fire energy or plasma blasts at an enemy.  There may be some plausibility issues here, but there are some "givens" in science fiction that are still pretty well acceptable.

Got a favorite weapon in literature?  Share it.

Until then.  Write On.


  1. I like your idea for the tonfa! Every nice. As you said, the gun part has its issues, but I love the idea of the stunning shock.

    Personally, I like flails and axes, but those are more fantasy weapons. However, thinking about it, most of my characters don't carry weapons. In the NaNo novel I'm writing, only two of the characters have weapons on them, and they don't get to use them for most of the book. Two of the non-armored characters are the real core of the book. They get into scrapes, but it's a new thing for them, and neither of them is trained in any sort of fighting.

  2. I wrote a post on the Tao of Weapons (melee) sometime ago, it might be helpful:


  3. Marion. I remember a show on ancient weapons where one of the experts demonstrated how a Berzerker would use a war ax. Once he got his momentum going, his opponent was completely defensive. It was an impressive demonstration.

    Ralfast. Thanks. It's always cool to check other weapons. Other interesting weapons, but I'm just not sure about their use in sci-fi or fantasy are the nun-chuks and psi. Now that I think about it, I wonder if it would be interesting to have a wizard/warrior whose magic wand was actually a psi.

  4. I guess I'm old-fashioned. I still like swords. I know that they have been done to death, but they're simple and can be altered in many ways. There are also many styles of swords that are easily recognizable to most readers, so they don't require as much description and explanation as fancier, more trendy weapons.

    I'm also a fan of blow guns. They are easily concealed on a person, fairly low-tech, and can cause anything from paralysis to death depending on what you coat the darts with. I use them frequently in my fantasy works.