Seven Common Problems With Spec Fic Technology

The first problem here is that you clearly copied Star Wars.

We write a lot about magic here at Mythcreants, but technology is the other half of the speculative fiction coin, and it has just as many pitfalls. In fact, technology can actually be more difficult to portray than magic, because technology is based on things that actually exist. No one knows how a magic missile works, but people use technology every day, and they don’t have to be experts to notice when something is wrong.

Even though misrepresenting technology can alienate a large portion of the audience, such mistakes always crop up. We’ll look at seven of the most common, any of which can throw someone out of the story. These are big-picture problems, not fine details that only an expert would notice. By learning to recognize them, you’ll have an easier time keeping them out of your own stories.

1. The Tech Is Underused

An F-15 jet flying alongside a P51 Mustang Someone tell this guy that technology has advanced since WWII!

The first mistake is misunderstanding how technology spreads and why. At the most basic level, people adopt new technology because it’s useful to them. Sometimes that usefulness comes in the form of entertainment, and sometimes it’s bent toward more practical purposes. Either way, the demand for new technology is strong.

Which is why it’s always strange to see people not making use of technology when it’s right in front of them. You’ve probably seen this in the form of a single video game character who uses a gun, while everyone else uses swords. Does only that character get a powerful ranged weapon? But this mistake can also manifest as a group of people refusing to use technology that’s readily available and would be a big help to them.

Such is the case of the Green Bones from the novel Jade City. If you’re not familiar with it, Green Bones are magical martial artists, so called because they draw their power from enchanted jade. They fight with fists, knives, swords, and blasts of chi. Notably, they do not fight with guns, even though their island has 1960s-level tech and machine guns are readily available. No explanation for this is ever given. As deadly as Green Bones are, they’d be even deadlier with firearms, since even a magical martial artist is still slower than a bullet.

The book provides some vague implications that Green Bones look down on guns, but that’s not enough. Green Bones are ruthless warriors, constantly at war with each other for territory. They’ll take any advantage, so the idea that none of them would consider the benefits of a powerful ranged weapon is absurd.

Underused technology usually arises when a storyteller wants the aesthetic of certain technology but can’t portray the full implications without damaging the story. In the case of Jade City, the author really liked the 1960s tech level, but the story still needed to be focused on melee martial arts fights.

One solution is to put in an explanation for why the technology isn’t more widely used. The Dresden Files takes this approach by saying that magic degrades advanced tech, which is why wizards don’t have smartphones or fighter jets. Jade City could have done something similar, but beware: adding a complex explanation means a greater burden for the audience as they try to learn the rules of the world.

When possible, a better way to address the problem is to create a setting where the rare technology explains itself. For example, if most of the setting is poor and rural, no one will question why the rich villain has more advanced weaponry than anyone else. You can see this in the Firefly episode Heart of Gold, where the evil landowner has a laser pistol while everyone else uses a normal gun. The episode never pauses to explain this because it doesn’t have to. Viewers understand just by looking at the differences in wealth.

2. The Tech Is Unnecessary

The Death Star preparing to fire in Rogue One This is terrifying, but a Star Destroyer could do the same thing.

Here in the real world, we’re used to the idea of useless technology. We see it advertised on late-night commercials all the time, from proprietary juice pouches to vacuum shoes. But this technology rarely catches on, because people aren’t interested in spending money on something that isn’t useful. On the rare occasion where useless tech does proliferate, there’s always a clear reason, like when naval powers kept building bigger battleships in the 20s and 30s. Aircraft were quickly outmoding the old dreadnoughts, but no one had the data to prove it yet because testing military hardware was expensive.

In fiction, it seems people are far less discerning with their technology, or at least that’s the impression we get from all the unnecessary gadgets floating around. The most obvious example of this mistake has to be planet-destroying superweapons like the Death Star. While Star Wars is most famous for its oversized battle stations, plenty of other franchises have them, from Star Trek to Babylon 5.

On the surface, these weapons seem really impressive. They can destroy planets after all. But upon closer inspection, one must ask the question: why do you need to destroy a planet? Unless you’re constructing a hyperspace bypass, surely there are cheaper alternatives? Most of the time, these superweapons are used against defenseless cities or a single Rebel base. Those could be taken out with a little orbital bombardment. Even in the rare situation where you absolutely have to kill every living thing on the planet’s surface, cracking the crust open or burning off the atmosphere would take a lot less energy than demolishing six sextillion tons of rock and iron.*

Compounding the problem, these superweapons are almost always huge undertakings to build. For the cost of a single Death Star, the Empire could have had a fleet of Star Destroyers to instill fear in and hunt the Rebellion. Over on Star Trek, the Xindi spend most of a season constructing their superweapon to destroy Earth when they could have easily wiped out humanity with the ships they already had.

The storyteller desire for superweapons and other flashy tech is understandable, as they have many advantages. For one thing, they add novelty. Audiences are used to spaceships and laser guns by now, so it takes more to wow them. A new gadget can also demonstrate that something out of the ordinary is happening, which is crucial for building tension. Characters going about their normal day just aren’t that interesting, even when their normal day is in space. Lastly, superweapons provide an easy endpoint for the plot: destroy the superweapon.

But what if I told you that it’s possible to have flashy tech and maintain believability at the same time? The key is figuring out what the tech does that couldn’t be done before. First, decide what the technology is supposed to do. In the case of superweapons, that’s obvious: destroy the enemy. Next, consider what options are already available for accomplishing that task and what their shortcomings are. The new technology should mitigate at least one of those shortcomings. For a real-life example, the American military could destroy cities well before the atomic bomb was invented; it just took a massive commitment of resources. Nuclear weapons made mass destruction easy.

Your superweapon could do something similar. Perhaps planets in your setting are protected by powerful shields, so one faction creates a weapon that can punch through the shields like paper. Or maybe your superweapon can launch attacks from far away, never putting itself in danger. Starkiller Base from The Force Awakens does this well, launching its attacks through hyperspace* to make retaliation difficult. Of course it’s not clear how the First Order gathered the resources to construct a planet-sized base, but that’s a different problem.

3. The Tech Is Awkward

A Chitauri flyer from The Avengers. This doesn’t look safe!

Engineers might not want to admit it, but usability is just as important as functionality when it comes to technology. Sure, a rocket that can carry 20 tons of people and cargo into orbit is impressive, but it’s not very useful if the only way to ride it is taping yourself and your luggage to the outside. That’s why tech companies have huge departments just for testing how easy their tech is to use. They don’t always succeed,* but the importance is clear.

Anyone with a smartphone understands the importance of usability, even if they can’t put it into words. That’s why it’s so jarring when speculative fiction tech is seemingly designed without people in mind. The Chitauri flyers from The Avengers are easily my favorite example of this. Their capabilities are really impressive. They’re fast, durable, highly maneuverable, and they can transition from space to atmospheric flight without difficulty. They’re also open topped, which proves they’ve never been user tested.

Open-topped military vehicles do exist, but they’re almost always used for scouting or other specialized roles.* The Chitauri flyers seem to be front-line fighting vehicles, or at least that’s how they’re being used. In that context, lacking a roof is absurd. It means the pilot is exposed not only to enemy fire but also to shrapnel and other debris, all of which is really common in the close confines of city fighting. Plus, the pilot could just fall off, an especially high risk with all the violent maneuvers these flyers perform. Let’s not forget that these vehicles are also designed for space combat, so the pilot had better hope there’s nothing wrong with their suit! This is bad enough in the single-seat hoverbike versions, but some of these flyers are modified with a platform for carrying passengers, who are even more vulnerable than the pilot. It doesn’t look like they even have seatbelts!

It’s not surprising to see such usability issues crop up in stories since even Disney’s budget isn’t likely to pay for experts needed to test the usability of fictional devices. Individual authors have far fewer resources at their disposal, so what should they do? Are we doomed to stories full of awkward technology?

Fortunately, we are not. The first thing storytellers can do is compare their technology to its equivalent in real life and make changes accordingly. For example, it’s reasonable for the speeder bikes of Star Wars to be open topped, because they’re based off scouting motorcycles used by real militaries.* Similarly, the Empire’s AT-AT walkers could do to learn a few lessons from actual armored fighting vehicles, like how you shouldn’t make a military craft so high off the ground if you don’t have to: it makes you a target for miles around.

If you’re working with technology that has no real-world parallel, this task is more difficult. The best option there is to imagine using the technology yourself. Think about how you would control the technology and what risks it would expose you to. If you need to be in two places at once to work the controls, that’s a reason to rethink the design. Unless, of course, your story is about a single person flying a ship that was designed for two pilots. Beta readers can be really helpful here since they’ll look at your technology more like a user and less like a designer.

4. The Tech Is Inferior

Cogley from the Star Trek episode Court Martial. How do I even read text on this thing?

Do you like texting on a smartphone? Well then have I got a deal for you! How about we trade in that boring old technological marvel for a new invention I call a “telegraph.” You’ll still be able to text, except now you have to type out the letters in Morse code. Oh, and you can’t carry the telegraph with you. In fact, only a single building in town has one. But at least you won’t have to charge it!

If that scenario sounds ridiculous to you, then you can see the problem in spec fic stories where new technology is clearly inferior to whatever it’s meant to replace. This trope is common across storytelling, but one of the most startling examples is from the original Star Trek episode Court Martial. In this episode, we meet a lawyer who insists on printed books over a computer because it turns out that computers can only offer synthesis and summaries of the law, not the actual written material. With such a glaring weakness, it makes perfect sense why someone would reject computers.

What doesn’t make sense is why anyone would use computers in the first place, especially for legal matters. The only reason given is that computers take up less space, but that’s absurd. You don’t need to be a lawyer to know how important the actual text of a statute or opinion can be, to the point that many cases turn on seemingly minor issues of grammar. No legal professional would ever give up that kind of knowledge, no matter how much shelf space it would save.

At first glance, this looks like an issue of people in the 60s not accounting for advances in computer technology. After all, nowadays it’s childsplay to read entire books on your laptop or tablet. But this isn’t actually an issue of failing to predict the future, because Star Trek’s writers had all the information they needed. They should have known that no one would exchange their books for a summary of those books, because that technology already existed at the time. You don’t need a computer to synthesize a bunch of legal text: you just need a human writing overviews of the material. Those books exist, and by the logic of this episode, they should be a substitute for entire legal libraries.

So why is this episode based on such an absurd premise? Because the point is to make the old-fashioned lawyer look good, and to do that the writers had to make some rather silly choices about technology. The first step in avoiding this problem is to leave such technophobic attitudes behind. Technology is not inherently bad, and if you want to do a story about the dangers of too much tech, it needs to be based on facts. For a more immediate example, right now there’s a moral panic that smartphones are killing social skills, but it’s not based on anything. A story with that premise will seem silly to a lot of readers today, and it will only get sillier as the panic fades. On the other hand, fossil-fuel tech is a very real threat, and many authors have written excellent stories on the subject.

Alternatively, you could look at real-world factors that elevate inferior technology over its superior competitors. In a market economy, this factor is usually cost, though sometimes superior marketing can save an inferior product. Even then, the differences in capabilities will be limited. VHS won over LaserDisc and Betamax because it was cheaper, but the outcome would have been very different if VHS didn’t have color.

If you’re not actively trying to make a piece of tech inferior to its counterparts, the best way to avoid the problem is to do the same testing process from the previous heading. Imagine yourself actually using the technology. What does it let you do that you couldn’t do before? Is it worth the cost? Ask your beta readers the same question, and see what they say.

5. The Tech Is Incongruous

The USS Constitution escorted by modern naval ships. One of these things is not like the others.

Most people aren’t experts in historical tech levels, but they still have a general idea of what a given era looked like. We all know how silly it would be for a WWII soldier to have an iPhone or a feudal samurai to fly a Sopwith Camel. These expectations carry over into fantasy settings that are only based on historical settings, so you would expect storytellers to pay attention. Often they don’t, though, and the results are highly amusing.

At first glance, the setting in Six of Crows seems to be based off the early to mid-1800s. Ships are sail powered, ground transportation is all animal based, and light is provided by gas or oil. Firearms are a little advanced for that time period, but not unbelievably so. So imagine my surprise when two-thirds of the way into the book, the main characters reach the enemy’s stronghold and find it guarded by tanks. These tanks are at least as advanced as those of WWII, and the characters don’t think of them as unusual in the slightest. At first, I assumed the enemy nation was more advanced than the characters’ home country, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The number of advancements needed to make a tank is staggering. Most notably, you need an engine to power it, and Six of Crows seems completely devoid of engines. There aren’t even any trains in this setting as far as I can tell. Once you have engines, they need to be powerful enough to move an armored hull, and they need to be light enough not to weigh the tank down. That requires a lot of refinement, which is why the first gasoline-powered cars appeared in the late 1800s but the first tank wasn’t seen until 1916. Tanks like those in Six of Crows weren’t built until the late 1920s. This isn’t even getting into the requisite advances in treads, drive trains, and the nearly infinite number of other components that make up a tank.

With no other context, Six of Crows leaves us with only one conclusion: someone invented the internal combustion engine, developed it in secret until it was powerful enough to drive a tank, and never used it for anything else. This research would have taken decades and required a prophetic knowledge of other future technologies. That’s not how technological development works, and it damages believability in the setting.

Six of Crows is hardly the only story to commit this offense, and like so many others, the author probably thought it would be cool for the bad guys to have tanks, not considering the implications. To avoid this problem in your own work, the easiest method is to stay within the technological limitations of whatever time period your setting is based on. You don’t have to be perfect, but technology more than a decade or so away will raise eyebrows. Anything outside those limitations should have a clear explanation in the story and be related to the plot. If you want your 17th-century Spanish farmers to have handheld communication devices, then your story needs to be about the strange vessel that crashed near Madrid in 1621, carrying wonderous devices within it.

Alternatively, you can use a subgenre where incongruous technology is the norm. Steampunk is the most prominent, and readers will happily accept Victorian characters flying steam-powered biplanes as a conceit of the setting. If you’re really dedicated to worldbuilding, you can design a setting from scratch where the technology is wildly out of step from any real-life period. Just be sure you know what you’re signing up for because the audience will expect an explanation.

6. The Tech Is Missing

A WWII bomber missing its back half. We seem to have lost something here.

Picture a story set in the present day, or a world very similar to it. Characters drive cars, use smartphones, and take transatlantic flights on jetliners. The only thing that’s different is that paper doesn’t exist. This is never commented on; there just isn’t any paper. When people want to write something down, they either use a computer or carve their words into a clay tablet. That would be really weird, right? That’s what it feels like when a story is missing important technology.

While I’ve never seen paper missing specifically, plenty of stories leave out technology that’s just as important. One such story is the triple-Hugo-winning Broken Earth series. The setting is less technologically advanced than our own, but a far cry from most fantasy. Characters have access to electricity, antibiotics, and even brain surgery. The one thing they’re missing is metallic cutting implements. That’s right: there are no metal knives, swords, or spears in this setting. Instead, every blade we see is made of knapped stone.

This is bizarre, to say the least. While stone tools can be perfectly serviceable, there’s no question that metal is superior in almost every respect. Metal lasts longer, is easier to shape, stands up to punishment better, and is just a stronger material. The only advantage stone tools have is that they’re easier to replace in certain circumstances. You don’t have to mine or heat anything in order to make them; you just need to pick up a few rocks off the ground. The Broken Earth’s setting is plagued by natural disasters, so I think that’s the justification the author intended, but it just isn’t enough.

For one thing, we know the setting has metalworking because we see metal used for other things, just not weapons. That’s the opposite of how things should be. This is a setting where people are constantly locked in a vicious struggle for survival, where violent raids and even cannibalism are common. Weapons technology would be prioritized in such a world because it would make taking and protecting food easier. Even if metal is hard to get in the aftermath of a disaster, weapons made from recycled scrap would still be superior to their stone counterparts.

The Broken Earth is another story that puts short-term novelty above setting integrity. At first, it’s cool and different that characters in this world use stone weapons, especially with the author’s skill at describing different types of rock. But after a while, the novelty wears off, and you’re left with characters using obviously subpar technology. Worse, this works directly against one of the story’s major themes: that people will do whatever they have to for survival. Apparently, they’ll do anything except use more effective weapons than their opponent. That would be rude.

To avoid this problem, novelty needs to flow naturally from the setting. One option is to simply use a lower tech level. So many fantasy stories are based on Medieval Europe that a Neolithic or Bronze Age setting is a breath of fresh air all on its own. If you want the contrast of a higher tech level where a specific technology is missing, then the setting needs to provide a justification, preferably in a way that doesn’t take pages of explanation. For something like Broken Earth, maybe metal ores are incredibly rare in this world, saved for only the most wealthy communities. That would make it harder to explain the presence of electricity and brain surgery, but it’s doable. Alternatively, there could be a type of stone with special properties that makes it preferable to metal.

7. The Tech Is Mismatched

Jaffa with their staff weapons from SG1 These are no match for chemical firearms, apparently.

History is full of conflicts in which one side triumphed despite being at a technological disadvantage. But this underdog spirit has limits. We all know that a machine gun is a better weapon than a crossbow, and it would take some extreme circumstances to justify an army of machine gunners losing to an army of crossbowmen.

Storytellers often get confused on this last point, which is how we get shows like Stargate SG1. If you haven’t seen it, this show focuses on modern-ish* American military personnel journeying to strange new worlds through an alien wormhole machine called a stargate. The main bad guys are a group of interstellar warlords called the Goa’uld. When the Goa’uld first clash with human soldiers, it goes just the way you’d expect. Human firearms are almost useless against Goa’uld armor, and the Goa’uld’s powerful weapons make for a short battle. Everyone is suitably impressed by the aliens’ technology.

But after just a few episodes, this advantage completely disappears, and the humans win over and over again despite their supposedly inferior weaponry. No explanation for this shift is ever offered. The Goa’uld are constantly at war, so it’s not like their soldiers are inexperienced, and most of the fights happen on the Goa’uld’s home turf. Eventually, the show just embraces this disparity, claiming that human weaponry is actually superior because the Goa’uld focus on intimidation rather than efficiency.

That’s pretty weak, even by lampshade standards. A weapon’s intimidation value is only useful once. After that, the enemy knows not to fear it. Unless it’s really good at killing things, of course. That’s actually intimidating. What’s more, Goa’uld technology is centuries ahead of Earth’s. Their weapons should be intimidating and effective. The obvious solution would have been for the human characters to acquire alien tech, but this never happens.* Maybe the showrunners really wanted to show off all the cool gear they got from the Air Force – I don’t know.

What I do know is that such a blatant technology mismatch not only fails to make sense but also destroys the Goa’uld’s credibility as villains. Either they can’t defeat the humans even with vastly superior technology, or they’re incredibly bad at making weapons and armor.

The key to avoiding this mistake in your own work is twofold. First, understand the limits of your technology, and design the story accordingly. Historically, technologically disadvantaged forces have exploited a number of factors to defeat their enemy, the most common being terrain and surprise. If your low-tech heroes set up an ambush, they can win before the enemy’s big guns come into play. Alternatively, the heroes might lure the enemy onto terrain where their technology is useless, the way Inca soldiers forced the Spanish to fight on mountainous ground where cavalry couldn’t operate. Just be aware this method will only take you so far. Surprise and terrain won’t matter if one side has a battleship and the other side has a big rock.

Second, remember that technology proliferates. If one side sees that their enemy has better tech, they will try to get their hands on that tech. This has happened in just about every conflict throughout history because real combatants aren’t worried about their props budget. If your story starts with the villains at a crushing advantage from their awesome guns, that’s great! Now you have an opportunity for the heroes to turn things around by acquiring that firepower for themselves.

It’s easy to get complacent about technology because we live with it every day. Shows like Star Trek and Doctor Who give the impression that storytellers can do anything they like with their tech and the audience won’t notice. But people do notice, and with every tech mistake, a story loses credibility. Your portrayal of technology probably won’t ever be 100% correct, but by thinking about these common mistakes, you’ll have a better chance of presenting technology your audience can believe in.

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  1. Michael Campbell

    I think you missed the biggest issue while at the same time alluding to it in multiple sections.
    Not recognising the full extent of a technology’s usefulness.

    If our space battleship has a wormhole projector that allows it to move at superluminal speeds.
    And our ship-to-ship missiles keep getting shot down in flight.
    Why has no one considered the possibility of setting up a wormhole between our ship and the target and thus the missiles will take almost no time to reach their target and thus will be much harder to shoot down?

    These kinds of natural extensions of a technology get missed in the hurry to write a story, particularly one with a production schedule. And they undermine the effort the writer put into the story by destroying verisimilitude.

    • Akarthuss

      Ummm, maybe the wormhole projector is too expansive to be used on missiles?

  2. El Suscriptor Justiciero

    I thought the mass of Earth was six trilliard tons (6 * 10^24kg), not six sixtillion tons (6*10^39kg, the mass of three thousand million Suns).

  3. Cay Reet

    I’d say the Death Star (and similar huge star bases) are mostly meant to intimidate and scare. Sure, a couple of Star Destroyers (especially the biggest ones like the Executor, Vader’s flagship) could do most of the jobs the Death Stars are used for, but having this big (moon-sized) station hovering above a planet which doesn’t have the firepower to take it down and (post-Alderaan) knowing it can obliterate the planet is a good way to scare people. Since the Empire rules through fear, it seems logical (from their point, not from that of a businessman or accountant) that they’d invest in something like that.

    • Michael Campbell

      Indeed, invest in two or more.

      Can a super-star-destroyer kill a death-star…probably not.
      What about the entire imperial fleet?
      Can a death-star destroy another death-star…probably yes…it depends on how shields operate, but most likely yes.

      So how does the Empire deal with a death-star under the command of a rogue commander?
      Answer…we’re gunna need another death-star, maybe three more of `em.

      The first rule of military spending. “Why buy one when you can buy two for twice the price!?!”

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      It’s hard to estimate the effects of fear, but in general, intimidation weapons tend to be most useful because of what they do, not what they look like. What makes the Deathstar scary is mostly that it can wipe out all life on a planet, and conventional ships can do that just as well while also serving more practical purposes.

      • Cay Reet

        I’m not sure if a regular star destroyer can actually pulverize a planet. The Death Star can. It doesn’t just destroy all life (massive bombardments would serve the same purpose), it destroys the whole planet, blows it into smithereens.

      • Lizard with Hat

        As far as I’m aware of most planets in the Star Wars galaxy have shield to strong to be punched through even by Star-Destroyer-Weapons. I mean the rebels build such a shield-thing on Hoth.

        And the i also read somewhere that the Starkiller-Base was shooting through hyperspace – which is why we see the ensuing effect of the blast on the sky (at least it’s a neat hand wave, imho)

        As i understand it Tarkin pushed for the Deathstar for the heck of it. It makes sense that an empire with a megalomaniac Sith at the helm would not make the most rational of decisions.

        • Michael Campbell

          If not a planet itself, then at least a city.
          IIRC that’s shown in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

      • Michael Campbell

        It technically might be harder to organise a huge number of star destroyed in one place.

        If the crew of the standard star-destroy is 46,785 paid personnel.
        And the crew of the Death Star is 1,206,293 paid personnel.
        Then any bombardment with a star destroyer’s turbo lasers would cost more in wages the moment you had 26 star destroyers doing the bombardment.

        Plus there’s the issue of “insto-kill”. If it takes 26 star-destroyers 100 hours to wipe out all life. Then that’s enough time to stage an escape for the scum you’re really after.

        On top of that, you have the issue of bunkers.
        How do people fight if even the trees died.
        Answer:- bunkers.

        Blowing a planet to actual smithereens, does have value.

        • Jasin Moridin

          It kind of says something about how GIANT-DEATH-BOOM-obsessed Palpatine was that even the Imperium of Man from Warhammer 40k (the setting famous for cranking everything up to 11) doesn’t get as obscenely over the top as the Galactic Empire when it comes to wiping out planets.

          • notethecode

            Regarding the Imperium of Man from Warhammer 40k, they have a few planet-destroying weapons to blow up planets, called exterminatus weapons. You can see one in action in a cinematic of Dawn of War 2. Such weapons are rare, but still more numerous than Death Stars. The IoM also have virus bombs, if they want to kill all life on a planet. Then there’s Abbaddon’s black fortresses (kill a star, planets included) and his flagship, the planet killer.

    • N

      I agree on the intimidation part, but by this time the death star (including later versions and ripoffs) has been destroyed so many times (3, if I’ve been keeping track correctly), and I feel as though that extremely poor track record should have diminished the intimidation factor.

  4. Dave L

    >a little orbital bombardment

    In Babylon 5, the Centauri bomb the Narn “back to the Stone Age” with large meteors fired from mass drivers

    You want to know how vulnerable a planet can be?

  5. Shawn H Corey

    Here’s an interesting thought: bullets travel faster than magic. You can’t use magic to enhance guns because bullets outfly it. Whether this effects defensive spells or aiming is left as an exercise to the reader. ?

    • Cay Reet

      You could, however, use spells on a gun to, for instance, make the reserve of bullets within unlimited.

      • Michael Campbell

        Not just unlimited ammo. Accelerated time within the firing chamber and receiver group for a rate of fire that’s off the scale.

        • C

          But what about the weapon overheating?

          • Michael Campbell

            Okay yeah. Magically altered metal with an infinitely high heat transfer rate…too.

    • Leon

      Forget about infinite magazines and extra deadly rounds, what you want is a demon, in the scope to fire the gun at exactly the right moment to hit the target (a laser version of this actually exists right now).
      The other thing that you would want is stabilization for automatic fire, though, with the trigger-demon this would be redundant (unless you need to put a lot of bullets in something really big).

      • Disbelieved

        Why not just borrow the demon’s eyes?

        At least that way you maintain some autonomy in terms of who you choose to kill.

  6. Quin

    Re: The Broken Earth – as I recall the reason that metal tools were devalued was their inability to withstand the frequent acid rains in a season.
    Now I don’t buy that entirely but it *might* just be enough to make them less valued culturally. After all, the extant culture was based on things that last through seasons. Shouldn’t have stopped some iconoclasts from using them though.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I remember that as an explanation for why most coms have buildings and gates made out of stone, but I’m not seeing how it would effect metal tools since you probably aren’t leaving your stuff out in the rain. Oddly, we actually do see metal used for exterior building material.

      • April

        I thought the distrust of metal was kind of a cultural thing. Lore says: “Trust wood, trust stone, but metal rusts.”

        The people constantly use rust as a curse word.

        I can’t remember which buildings were metal…. If they were the ancient ones then it might be a case of the old tech being forgotten.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          There’s at least one Com that Syenite goes to that has steel gates. I think it’s the sea-side one that she blows up later but I’m not positive. At the time she thinks how illogical it is to make gates out of steel because it’ll rust or corrode in a season, which makes sense, but also establishes that people are willing to buck cultural tradition, even when it doesn’t make sense, and so you’d expect them to also buck tradition when it does make sense, like with metal weapons.

  7. Luke Slater

    Apparently Starkiller Base fired via ‘sub-hyperspace’, which despite the logical implications of its nomenclature was distinct from just ‘space’.

    Staff weapons and Earth firearms were good for different things. Staff blasts would cook you in your finest kevlar vest, cut through armour and send stuntpeople flying through the air like it was the A-Team all up in here, but were obviously slow-firing and inaccurate; except when they weren’t, I mean. On the other hand, I kind of assumed the whole ‘weapon of intimidation/war’ spiel was basically a sales pitch anyway.

  8. VoidCaller

    Better yet. Echance gunpowder’s strenght and recoil reduction to get faster and deadlier bullets!

  9. Gwen

    For the first one, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood has a good example of why no one uses the incredibly powerful fire alchemy. It was invented by someone who never wanted it to fall into the wrong hands, and the only reason Mustang has it is because the creator’s daughter, Riza Hawkeye, trusted Mustang with it.

    • C

      And look what he did to Envy with it. That scene is the best depiction of pure rage I have ever seen in an anime. Roy’s face and screams as he snaps his fingers over and over to burn Envy makes that scene so terrifying all these years later.

      • Gwen

        Totally! And that’s what hits home about Mustang’s abilities, why they’re kept so secret. And why Hawkeye wanted to scar up her back so no one could use that kind of power for evil.
        For all the jokes about him being useless in rain, he’s not someone I’d want to see angry.

  10. Leon

    Has anybody ever considered the VAST mineral wealth that would be easily accessible after blowing a planet into bite sized chunks (I’m no geologist, but doesn’t all of the best stuff sink toward the middle)? or for that matter, simply using the death for planet mining?
    … If the laser already existed as a mining instrument then putting it on a death star makes perfect sense.

    • Cay Reet

      It would certainly have made more sense.

      Engineer 1: “The Emperor wants a new weapon to threaten people with and it should be ready yesterday for preference.”
      Engineer 2: “Hey, we already have this laser for breaking up big asteroids and uninhabited planets for mining. Why not use that?”
      Engineer 1: “Good idea, let’s slap it on a space station, so it’s mobile, give it a good boost, and call it a day.”
      Engineer 2: “And we’ll call it a Death Star, that’ll please the Emperor.”

      • Leon

        Manager 1; “Emperor, I have completed your weapon.
        Engineer 1; “Dear Rebel Alliance…”

  11. Jasin Moridin

    With the SG-1 example, in the earlier seasons it visibly showed that it took headshots or massive weight of fire to take down Jaffa with MP5s. Just look at all the spark-squibs going off when they’re shooting at them.

    P90s use ammunition that’s purpose-built to pierce armor. The operational requirement for the development of 5.7x28mm ammo was basically “hit with a flat trajectory at 100 yards and punch through both sides of a modern helmet and its contents”. Once SG-1 got those, the fighting got a lot more even. My headcanon is that the PDW requirement that it was designed to meet was, in the SG-verse, covertly put forward by Stargate Command specifically to deal with Jaffa armor.

    Also, the main advantage SG teams have against Jaffa is tactical and strategic. At least one person on each SG team has some form of special operations training. SG-1 may have an astrophysicist and an archaeoanthropologist on it (and they are exceedingly useful to the team), but it’s also led by someone with a vast degree of experience in small-unit asymmetrical warfare.

    The Jaffa are hindered not just by the relative inaccuracy of their weapons, but by the fact that the vast majority of the Goa’uld they serve think they already know everything worth knowing (thanks to their genetic memory, psychotic megalomania, and genetic memory of psychotic megalomania) and do not innovate. They’re still using the same tactics they always have, meant for fighting other Jaffa with the exact same equipment they have, and oppressing human slaves. The ones who actually do innovate, like Anubis, tend to curbstomp the other Goa’uld and give Earth a LOT more problems.

    And the SGC do get their hands on a fair amount of alien tech over the course of SG-1 and Atlantis (a fair chunk of which they do successfully reverse-engineer), along with breakthroughs of their own.

  12. Leon

    Hey Mythcreants team,
    With the general level of knowledge of many of Mythcreants readers, I think we could get some interesting stuff from a think tank style forum focused on world building – call them Fic-Spec – where readers can pair review and help eachother to develope new ideas.
    Could this happen?
    How many readers could be interested?

    • Cay Reet

      I like learning and sharing information.

    • Bunny

      I’d support that. Were you thinking it would be moderated by Mythcreants? Like another part of the website?

      • Leon

        You could probably do it just like a regular article and comment section. Maybe have a button to propose transforming a comment into a discussion, get it seconded, and then go.
        Being focused on world building and technology, I doubt moderators would have much to worry about.

    • Michael Campbell

      Peer review.
      But yeah. There’s a lot of specialized knowledge floating around here.

      • Leon

        Year, I’m dyslexic soe that’s going two happen lots.

      • Leon

        Also, my brain injury sometimes makes me a bit of a dick ?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      We’ve considered starting a forum, and we might in the future, but right now we just don’t think there would be enough users to keep it active. We have a few regular commenters obviously, but we’d need a larger bulk that simply isn’t there right now.

      • Leon

        That’s interesting. The reason I proposed a forum on Mythcreants was because I regularly find it near impossible to get accessable information to evaluate ideas that I have. And when I have explored forums, there is normally hostility toward unusual ideas (my idea about using asian dice in a dice pool system was outright offensive to many reddit users – imagine trying to discuss the attitudes of an egg laying alien species toward human males; hentai goodness or Lovecraftian badness? Or the value of human life in a post scarcity society where we are literally useless).
        I think the people here have the right attitude for some really productive discussions. And a fictional science forum here would be a big draw.

      • Bunny

        I think it would be worth it for the people who are here. A close, respectful, thoughtful, and supportive group like the Mythcreants users could go a long way. Even if it’s tiny. Discussion, sharing, inspiration, idea trading, new perspectives, the list goes on . . . but it’s up to you, of course. I understand if that would be too big a beast to manage, or hard to create, or whatever. Just please do consider it.

        • Leon

          In the meantime, what are your favorite forums for exploring fantastical or left-field ideas.

          • Leon

            Sorry, as far as I know ‘left field’ is a rugby metaphor for an unexpected approach or tactic (because an accurate long range pass to the right (the defenders left) is difficult. It doesn’t mean something else in America does it?

          • Michael Campbell

            I think it is from baseball. But I could be wrong.


          • Bunny

            It means pretty much the same thing here in the US, except the expression is “straight out of left field” or “right out of left field” and yeah it means unexpected. If you just say “left-field” alone people might think you’re talking politics or American football. I never knew that the saying could trace its origin back to rugby, though, how interesting!

            I’ve never felt secure enough on a site to use the comments section all that much, until Mythcreants of course, and even then it took me a good year to decide to comment. I’m glad I did, though! So yeah, I don’t really know many other forums.

            I do like reading other blogs, though. Trout Nation (specifically, the Jealous Haters Book Club), xkcd, Jim Hines’s blog (which I’m forgetting the name of), Reading with a Vengeance . . . I’m sure there’s others that I’m forgetting. Mythcreants is my primary source, though.

            What about you?

          • Leon

            Soo late, been busy with extra shifts, wrangling the baby and that annoying sleep thing.

            @ Bunny,
            I was never really interested in blogs. If I was ever required to sit in one place for more than five minutes I would read a book or draw something. When I started doing night shifts I started reading web comics, but those tend to go sideways.
            I gave twitter a go, but even the most interesting people in the world are bloody tedious most of the time. I’m following a few video blogs at the moment; Because Science and Jeff Cavaliere (athlean-x – fixed all of my back problems & posture issues).
            I keep meaning to sit down and binge xkcd, but I haven’t even had time to read any Gunnerkrigg Court since my daughter was born.
            I’m going to read The Jealous Haters Book Club because of the name alone.

            @ Michael Campbell
            I’ve also heard that it comes from cricket. Which makes me suspect that it’s probably older than team sports. If I had to guess I would say out of left field was originally to a reference to an enemy using “left handed” tactics, a sneaky dirty trick. Cay Reet probably knows.

          • Bunny

            I totally get it – life, it just keeps happening!

            Absolutely go check out Jealous Haters Book Club! Do you remember that Lessons from Bad Writing a while back for Handbook for Mortals? Well, the JHBC did a dissection of the entire book – and it’s hilariously, embarrassingly horrible, trust me (candy-laden blatant author-insert scam, anyone?)! Actually, right now is a great time to visit Trout Nation, because the author is holding an election for which book to pick apart next. I voted for Modelland; some of the other options are Ready Player One, Beautiful Disaster, and City of Bones. You can vote if you want, too.

            Reading with a Vengeance operates on a similar book dissection concept and has done much more popular works, too – like The Selection, Divergent, and The Hunger Games. Both sites have done 50 Shades of Utter Crap.

            I’m also a big fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000. For some reason I love snarky commentary on crappy things.

            Because Science and Jeff Cavaliere sound interesting; what are they about?

          • Michael Campbell

            Left field for the batsman would be leg side. Assuming a right handed batsman, who turns to face the on-comming ball.
            And that would be the right-side of the bowler.

            I really don’t think came out of cricket.

            I’m pretty sure there’s rocky movie about learning to fight “south paw”. So I don’t think it comes out of boxing either.

          • Michael Campbell

            @ Leon:

            If you go back far enough, left handed becomes sinister.
            And right handed becomes Dexter, hence role-playing games love to use Dexterity…even when agility is more correct.

          • Leon

            @ Bunny
            Athlean-x and because science are both on YouTube, Jeff Cavaliere is a physio therapist. He WILL show you why you are in pain or misshapen, and how to fix it. The shows just straight up information, but the dude is also very entertaining. Kyle Hill hosts Because Science, and he examines fantastical ideas from science fiction, fantasy and pop culture and shows how they actually are possible (if not likely) and what would happen if they were applied.
            I always thought Mystery Science Theater 3000 was just a movie from the 90’s. I will definitely waste many hours on that site.

            @ Michael Campbell
            Yea, I was just saying, that is something that I have heard, to illustrate the point that the phrase is probably VERY old. And I thought everybody knew that sinister and dexter were associated with right and left from social studies, and literature classes and martial arts nerds, and numerous cultural references. Anyway, by “left handed” tactics I meant sneaky dirty tricks, as anybody who would use the phrase “left handed tactics” would mean.
            And while dictionaries do show some overlap between agility and dexterity they also include words like “swag”. Dexterity is mainly about skill at manipulating an object (shooting somebody), and agility is about displacing your center of mass (finding cover, or getting on top of the shooter before he can shoot you again). They are both about moving the body, but they are entirely different applications (they’re actually two of the primary combat stats in my home-brew, along with perception (I can’t figure out how to quantify Intestinal Fortitude)).

          • Leon

            Sorry, can you please tell me why my message to Bunny and Michael was deleted? The only possible explanation I can think of is that somebody though my use of the word misshapen (I was talking about my own terrible posture) was some sort of ‘ism.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            Your comment was not deleted, something about it tripped our spam filter and it was sent to moderation. You’re supposed to get a message when that happens but that piece of technology doesn’t always work correctly.

          • Bunny

            I might have to check those out! Most of what I watch on YouTube is movie reviews and MST3k, so maybe it’s time to broaden my repertoire.

            MST3k did have a movie, but I’ve never seen it and I’ve heard it was unremarkable. Its show, however, is definitely worth checking out. It’s got a purposefully silly premise: mad scientists have trapped two robots and a human aboard a satellite and are trying to drive them crazy with bad movies. They watch these B-movies and riff hilariously on them. There are also funny host segments, where the hosts perform skits making fun of the movie. These have included songs, re-enactments, waffles, space dilemmas . . . you name it. So far there’ve also been three hosts: Joel, Mike, and Jonah.

            It did run during the 90s, and most episodes are on YouTube. There’s also a new season with a new host on Netflix if you have that. If you’re interested, my favorites of the old episodes are: The Final Sacrifice, Soul Taker, Space Mutiny, Jack Frost, and Fugitive Alien 1. But you really can’t go wrong.

          • Leon

            If you write anything that has people doing awesome things, I would highly recommend getting on YouTube and watching the People Are Awesome videos (don’t let the click-bait thumbnails put you off) and also Skill Level 9000. Reality is way more awesome than fiction.

          • Michael Campbell

            @ Leon. My mother would refer to them as Gross-motor and Fine-motor but you know…

            As to intestinal fortitude:-
            There’s the psychological and physical aspects to that.
            So it could be; Moxie, Badass, Cool-headedness, Willpower, Self-control, Mettle…
            But it could also be; Constitution, Endurance, Stamina, Toughness, Physicality, Fitness, Body or even Chunder-domination.

            It really depends on what you want to express as being important to the combat situation.

            For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t have combat stats and non-combat stats. If using your perception attribute and your mechanical repair skill to figure out why the jeep won’t start, is being used to get the jeep moving before you’re overrun by the enemy, it’s just as critical in a combat sense as one of your buddies’ “shoot `em up” skill.

          • Leon

            @ Michael
            That’s the beauty of English, there are about a dozen ways to say just about anything. I think physical toughness is mostly a psychological thing. I know some very big strong guys who are not tough at all, and young girls who are hard as nails.
            The other aspect of intestinal fortitude is social.
            Story; I once called out to a guy in a car to “please come back and apologize” * to a friend he had yelled an slur at. He stopped and stepped out of the car with two mates. I walked toward them. They got back in the car and left. I am not physically impressive; that was all intestinal fortitude.
            I wouldn’t call it moxie, moxie is confidence. Not courage either, courage is too vague. Intestinal fortitude is pushing down fear in the interests of self preservation or a goal, valor is disregarding self preservation in the interest of another, and I’ve seen valor in others who aren’t in any way badass or confident.
            I think intestinal fortitude is distinct from valor or recklessness. The Germans must have a cool compound word for it.

            And of course, like all stats, perception can still used pretty much every where else; spotting tells to see if a politician is lying (he is), landing a drop-ship in jungle, fixing a broken engine, telling if the shape-shifting octopus creature is ‘friendly’ or hungry.
            It’s going to be a d6 dice pool system. At character creation you roll your stats and your skills. 1d6 for each, one roll, no arguing (each point is a die). You also have personal traits, beliefs, prejudices and perversions** that help and hinder in all situations where applicable; These are bonus dice or Bogey Dice (different colour). So the player talking to the politician is also rolling against his own alignment with the politicians beliefs. The pan-sexual character rolling against the shape-shiftier is also rolling against their own curiosity.

            The setting is space opera, kind of like Transmetropolitan taken up to culture levels of technology, but without the minds.
            To make balance less of nightmare I’m making the fixed tn 6. This is also why I have the Bogey Dice, and also taking dice away from a dice pool just feels bad. cant see the pools getting too close to 20. Also characters loose levels with damage so the pool sizes will fluctuate but not expand too much.

            * Heavily paraphrased.
            ** perversions as defined by other characters according to their prejudices.

            Wow. I wrote a lot. over tired. good night.

          • Michael Campbell

            @ Leon.
            Heavily paraphrased.
            Better that than heavily redacted.

            BTW, my homebrew’s too cool to talk about.

  13. BLAKE 1001

    I loved James Burke’s “Connections” it went into clever/engaging examples of how science & technology feed on eachother to advance rather than just being a series of brilliant inventors whipping stuff up out of nowhere.

    That said, it’s not entirely crazy for some technologies to advance differently. The whole Tech Level thing I first encountered in Traveler so long ago doesn’t necessarily apply. Its a little too easy to think that everything has to advance the way it did in history.
    A society might start mucking about with electricity long before figuring out how to smelt iron, for instance (there’s a theory that at least one did, just didn’t get very far with it). While the chemistry to make explosives and the metalurgy to make rifled barrels might be very likely to both exist in an industrialized society, there’s really no gaurantee the exact idea of guns would ever be broached – it might all be mines, grenades, and/or rocketry for instance.

    Or the ‘no paper’ thing isn’t entirely nuts, either, it wouldn’t go clay tablet to android tablet, of course, and it’s not like even when people had paper, they just used paper – vellum isn’t paper, for instance (though paper is often rated as if vellum were a grade, actual vellum is calfskin). So, it’s not completely insane to think a society might eventually get to computing, and the impact would be even more dramatic, because never coming up with paper had blunted the impact of the printing press.

  14. BLAKE 1001

    OH, two more thoughts, both about guns…

    On the 1960s-tech-level martial artists not using guns, that reminds me of my initial reaction to the Jedi in the first Star Wars (yes, in 1977, yes, I’m old). They used these ‘elegant civilized’ melee weapons, while everyone else used ‘clumsy, random’ blasters to seemingly much better effect.
    Then we saw a better-trained Luke in the third movie, deflecting blaster bolts around, and in the prequels, shooting at a jedi tended to just get you or your buddies killed by the shot.

    Then there’s Stargate and the goofy staff-weapons – and, really, a lot of other supposedly oh-so-awesome energy weapons from Flash Gordon to Star Trek to whatever’s big these days – their Rate of Fire is pathetic. An old-west gunfighter with a single-action revolver could out-shoot Kirk or Picard or half the raygun-weilding buffons you see on the screen, big or small… of course, a lot of that was special effects, the actor has to strike a pose and they put in the raybeam later, so they tend towards less dynamic action when shooting such scenes. A ‘realistic’ ray-gun might just sweep back and forth like a machinegun with no space between the bullets – but you rarely see that. You see sci-fi weapons being slow. Oh, and back to the staff weapon and it’s blast of whatever, it’s RoF is so low and it’s accuracy so marginal that, yeah, without impenetrable armor to go with it, assault rifles are going to cut ’em to pieces.
    The throwaway detail in stargate was that the early encounters were with those jaffa in the full animal-head-CGI helmets, and they were nigh-invulnerable, but fairly quickly they cooked up some AP ammo to deal with that … and on the show, maybe didn’t have the budget to put everyone in dog-helmets? IDK. Anyway, assault rifle vs staff weapon, the staff weapon’s main advantage really is just intimidation. Not entirely unlike matchlocks vs bows in the earliest encounters of the age of exploration.

    • Cay Reet

      As far as the staff weapons go – the people usually enslaved by the baddies are on a low tech level, which means the staff weapons work as a superior weapon. Not against people from modern-day earth, no, so not against the Stargate team.
      And, yes, the fact that the show naturally had a lower budget than a movie is one reason why those helmets were limited in use.

      When it comes to the martial arts movies etc – that’s just one part of the old rule that when the main character does martial art, so do all the others. That even goes into the scene in the first Indiana Jones movie where we see that guy with the whip (and Indy has one, too) and have the expectation subverted when Indy shoots him.

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