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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