Phasers in the Wild West

I still get hits to an article I wrote a while back, Lasers vs. Lead in Science Fiction: Pew-Pew or Pow-Pow?

In it I explored the use of gunpowder weapons in science fiction, notably in the movie Aliens but also on occasion even in places like the original Star Trek (where admittedly, they were described as antiques).

These thoughts were running through my head while writing the first Redwood book, which takes place on the second-farthest planet from Earth. At that distance, technology has to be super reliable, because fixing things that break becomes problematic. Consequently, a lot of the technology in that book is relatively simple.

I’m reminded of the whole discussion again thanks to my new work in progress, which is an alternative history where technology is about 200 years or so farther along than in our timeline, but most of the key events remain the same. The American Revolution was televised. Drones and AI played a role in the American Civil War, etc.

So yes, in this book, cowboys on the plains get to shoot “pew-pew” weapons at each other.

If you’d like a sneak peek at a rough draft of the first couple of chapters, jump on my mailing list and I’ll send it your way.


photo credit: DAKKAR via photopin (license)

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.


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