Friday, November 24, 2006

Handgun Technology in a Sci-Fi Future

The other day I read that Han Solo's distinctive pistol was based on Winston Churchill's favorite. That seemed very funny for some reason.

Then I saw that another Wikipedia article about Star Wars pistols mentioned that each shot's energy source is an ignited gas. Some of the guns in Firefly are similar.

This prompted me to wonder how handgun technology should be different in my futuristic science-fiction setting.

First, it makes sense to use ignited gas. In modern handguns each cartridge has both a bullet and powder (as well as primer and case). If technology allowed a propellant to be efficiently provided separately from the bullet, then many more bullets could be carried with or in the handgun. Currently there is a paintball gun that uses propane and a spark plug. It is easy to believe that in a futuristic science-fiction setting even better gas canisters (or pairs of gas canisters) are used.

Second, there would be technological advances to help deal with recoil. Rheological fluids are a current first step in futuristic recoil technology. Another alternative easy to imagine is a semi-automatic handgun with two slides, for which each shot not only moves one slide back but the other forward. (Currently pistols do not do this because it would sacrifice reliability too much. Here futuristic technology, combined with cartridgeless bullet, combine to make a good excuse.)

(Note that changing the source of bullet propulsion will not in itself allow any increase in the power of the bullet,
unless a separate technological advance helps deal with recoil. A bullet's kinetic energy is only based on its mass and velocity. There is a limit to how much kinetic energy you can give a bullet without recoil being prohibitive. Modern large-caliber hunting pistols with their most powerful cartidges are already at this maximum: even a strong, experienced shooter using two hands cannot fire two aimed shots in quick succession. )

Third, the design of a bullet (shape and materials) can change. Bullet design works with kinetic energy to determine a bullet's stopping power. Unless the setting also has laws limiting some designs as "too military for normal use", the most dangerous bullets would be frangible with a thin shell around dense metal slivers and deadly chemicals.

Thus I get a vauge picture of what handguns will be like in my futuristic science-fiction setting: gas-ignition, bullets without cartidges, high magazine capacity, perhaps dual-slide, and at least the well-funded criminals using bullets of especially dangerous design.