Lasers vs. lead in science fiction: pew pew or pow pow?

I recall watching Alien the first time. The late 70s were a grand time for science fiction movies. Star Wars took the world by storm, with light sabers and laser guns. Alien was different, though. Instead of zipping through space at warp speed, Ripley and friends stayed in animated suspension until arriving at their destination. Also in the movie and its sequels, traditional bullet-firing guns took out the aliens rather than futuristic laser guns.

Does a science fiction book or movie have to always use laser guns? Certainly Ripley’s guns, especially in Aliens, the 1986 sequel, were more traditional lead and gunpowder based, although they looked futuristic.

Sometimes traditional guns may appear in a futuristic plot as an anachronism, like in the Star Trek episode “Spectre of the Gun.” Other times, they may prove integral to the plot as in Star Trek’s “Shore Leave.”

There’s actually a lot to be said about lower level technology playing a role in a futuristic setting. Robert Heinlein’s classic science fiction novel Time Enough for Love was set in part on a “pioneer planet” where low tech was used for initial human settlement. Most famously, mules were used in place of modern engines. M.U.L.E. became an early educational videogame based on the idea.

So, sometimes a science fiction writer doesn’t have to incorporate high tech futuristic items. I think technology should fit well in the story. If that means less “pew pew” and more “pow pow” to make the plot go forward, all the better.

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Read for free the first five chapters of my book Redwood: Agent of the State, a science fiction adventure thriller, on Goodreads or get the complete Kindle ebook on Amazon for only 99 cents

Three ways for handling interstellar travel in speculative fiction

When preparing to write a science fiction novel, I had to choose between ways for my characters to travel between worlds. This is, I believe, critical to deciding even before writing. So as food for thought, here are some of the ways speculative fiction writers can handle interstellar travel in their works.

1. Warp drive – Perhaps mostfamously thanks to the Star Trek and Star Wars series, space ships able to travel faster than light can flit between the planets in a matter of hours. While convenient for moving the plot, Einstein had some things to say about speeds faster than light. But hey, it’s fiction.

2. Cryogenic sleep – In the Alien movies starring Sigourney Weaver, the characters remain in a deep sleep as their ships travel at realistic speeds. Sometimes hundreds of years pass before the ships’ computer awakens them and the action commences.

3. Star gates – In fiction using star gates, such as the Stargate movies and television series, a wormhole or portal of some kind allows instantaneous travel across vast distances of space. In my own novel, man made gates orbit around planets, allowing relatively easy travel between worlds, although it still takes a couple weeks to get a space ship out to the gates. A recent Tech Times article discussing the movie Interstellar notes this mode of travel may indeed be possible.

There are other methods of moving characters around, teleportation between planets for instance. But, these three seem to me to be the most common methods.

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Read for free the first five chapters of my book Redwood: Agent of the State, a science fiction adventure thriller, on Goodreads or get the complete Kindle ebook on Amazon for only 99 cents