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Ben P.




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PostPosted: Fri 20 Apr, 2012 1:53 pm    Post subject: Justifying hand-to-hand combat in science fiction         Reply with quote

On another thread we were discussing science fiction and since this is a weapons and armour site and quite a few of us write and like to discuss books involving historical warfare, I thought: why not?

So, what are some good justifications for having large-scale hand-to-hand combat on a regular basis between sci-fi militaries?
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Emil Andersson




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PostPosted: Fri 20 Apr, 2012 2:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Perhaps the arms race between nations/civilisations/worlds have gotten to the point where ranged weapons are purely energy-based (or equivalent) and the armour and shielding technology against it no longer provides coverage against physical impact? Closed-ranged combat might be carried out with hand-to-hand weaponry in tighter quarters where the larger guns can't be brought to bear.

Edit: Another option might be to include a race of creatures that are seemingly impervious to most anything you can throw at them, save for finding a crack in their armour and piercing them with a blade - enter half-swording! Happy
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Paul B.G




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PostPosted: Fri 20 Apr, 2012 3:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Often there is a trend of nobility, ie facing your foe face to face as apposed shooting from a distance is considered the true warrior way.
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Ben P.




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PostPosted: Fri 20 Apr, 2012 3:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Paul B.G wrote:
Often there is a trend of nobility, ie facing your foe face to face as apposed shooting from a distance is considered the true warrior way.


Until that culture meets another that has no problem with ranged weapons Razz
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Patrick Kelly




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PostPosted: Fri 20 Apr, 2012 6:22 pm    Post subject: Re: Justifying hand-to-hand combat in science fiction         Reply with quote

Ben P. wrote:
So, what are some good justifications for having large-scale hand-to-hand combat on a regular basis between sci-fi militaries?


It allows for more active drama and interplay between antagonists and protagononists.

"In valor there is hope.".................. Tacitus
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William P




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PostPosted: Fri 20 Apr, 2012 7:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ben P. wrote:
Paul B.G wrote:
Often there is a trend of nobility, ie facing your foe face to face as apposed shooting from a distance is considered the true warrior way.


Until that culture meets another that has no problem with ranged weapons Razz

in warhammer 40K theres an element of that, the Tau for example rely healy on ranged weapons like railguns and such to keep opponents at bay so most units are bad at close quarters combat and usually have low armour
compare that to their contemporaries like the space marines and orcs which have heavy armour and can charge and close the distance wwhere they can hack/ shoot up the tau from the inside, n the same way roman legionaires use their shields to get insde pke formations and cut them apart.


also melee weapons could be used in tight quarters by races that are very fast and are able to close the dstance very quickly.


note once your amongst a bunch of people with rifles t becomes difficult for those with rfles or pistols to get a shot on yo but not hit their friends.

note also hoow a charge of melee soldiers against ranged troops disrupts the ranged troops considerably if they reach their lines.

also, knives swords axes and daggers have value as assasination weapons in tight spaces.
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Fri 20 Apr, 2012 7:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm going to go with the idea that its darn hard to frame a shot of protagonists engaging each other at a distance of three light years in open space. Once you go to the fantasy that the engagement will occur in frame, why not extend the anachronism and make the filming easier and more exciting by pitting protagonists in close action?
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Fri 20 Apr, 2012 7:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

William P wrote:
note once your amongst a bunch of people with rifles t becomes difficult for those with rfles or pistols to get a shot on yo but not hit their friends.


Because running into the center of a group of people with rifles who don't want you there isn't that hard after all!!! Big Grin Eek!

"Our life is what our thoughts make it"
-Marcus Aurelius

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
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Last edited by Joe Fults on Fri 20 Apr, 2012 8:44 pm; edited 1 time in total
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D. Phillip Caron




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PostPosted: Fri 20 Apr, 2012 8:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Si-Fi being Si-Fi any future is possible. Why not have the one you want? That is, if you are the one writing about it.
Want to try high noon showdowns with photon phase grenades? Go for it. That is, if you are the one doing the writing.

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Jared Lambert




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PostPosted: Fri 20 Apr, 2012 8:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I read warhammer 40k novels quite often and generally speaking beside honor of facing your foe, superior or lesser armour, or tactical advantages it often deals with numbers. Soldiers in thewarhammer universe are often put into situations where it impossible to carry enough bullets to carry out there objective so it is also a means to conserve ammunition.
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Or what menace meet on the road.
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R Ashby





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PostPosted: Sat 21 Apr, 2012 7:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's a bad idea to use rifles and pistols in an airplane- imagine how bad it would be in a spaceship!

I can think of a few justifications:

1) The above- guns cause too much trouble with equipment.

2) the existence of energy-damping armour or shields, ala Dune, requires the use of low-energy weapons

3) Ranged weapons are banned by some all-powerful force, or some all-sensing police dept.

4) some critters are just better to kill with swords (Mutant Chronicles, vampire books)

5) some critters are allergic to some metals- (bronze could be a cool option)

6) back-up weapons- soldiers today carry knives, and I'm sure they use them. Maybe guns have a limited lifespan. Lasers may only shoot 5 times before they have to be recharged.

or if you really don't care about originality copy a pre-existing story; give your Jedis light sabres that deflect shots. Just don't say I told you to.
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Robert Rytel




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PostPosted: Sat 21 Apr, 2012 9:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Still happens IRL.

May 16, 2004 British troops in Iraq performed their first bayonet charge since the Falklands War. 35 insurgents were killed, while only 3 British troops were wounded.

U.S. Marines have reported using bayonets in combat recently as well.
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Phillip Oliver




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PostPosted: Sat 21 Apr, 2012 10:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In Frank Herbert's "Dune" universe, the use of personal energy shields has negated both projectile weapons, as it dampens and stops fast moving objects, and energy or laser weapons as well, because according to canon, striking a shield with a laser causes a nuclear-like explosion, which would tend to be indiscriminately destructive. As a consequence most combat revolves around bladed weapons and slow moving projectiles. Each Family has it's own Master of Arms / Sword-master that oversees the weapons training and deployment of the House Troops.
A side story to this is the "Fremen", a population of desert dwelling Zen-Suni people. They value personal combat/ hand-to-hand skills over gun/ shooting skills, and use trial by combat in everyday life. As a consequence, they are exceptional knife fighters.

That's my two cents. Hope it is some help to the discussion.

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Christopher Lee




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PostPosted: Sat 21 Apr, 2012 2:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think also that it depends upon which genre you’re going for, either hard sc-fi, sci-fi fantasy and everything in between: by way of example there is the now rather old “Planet of no return” by Harry Harrison - basically a special forces type guy is landed on an unexplored planet but soon after his ship is destroyed and he is thrown back onto his own capabilities and has to make primitive hand weapons to survive encounters with the locals; there is of course the original (and best) “A Princess of Mars” which has a sabre fighting civil war soldier conquering hordes of green four armed monsters; the amazing bleak end of the world epic, “Nightland” in which the hero wanders out into the permanent dark of a dying earth armed only with what is effectively a spinning circular saw blade on a handle; there are other ‘retro-sci-fi‘ novels such as “Dune“ and other which uses hand to hand combat as an anachronism; of course don‘t leave out the Steampunk genre, though I don‘t know if that should be classified as sci-fi. By way of contrast, for hard sci-fi, I can’t think of a major hand to hand combat sequence in an Ian Banks novel - can’t remember if there was one in “Consider Phlebas”. So I suppose it depends somewhat upon which part of the sci-fi genre you are considering basing stuff in.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Sat 21 Apr, 2012 3:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There's negligible practical reason to use close-combat weapons in a world of automatic firearms, much less in one of lasers. Contriving a basis for space going medieval hurts more than it helps. For hard science fiction, I recommend sticking to social explanations if you want to include swordplay. Civilians might use blades because they're fashionable or legal, but any pragmatic military force isn't likely to bother because bullets, missiles, and energy beams dominate the battlefield.

As others have mentioned, though, softer SF allows for liberal implementation of the rule of cool. In that case, you don't need a justification. As an example, there's hardly ever any sense in the fistfights and sword duels in the various Star Trek shows and movies; they just happen.

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William P




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PostPosted: Sat 21 Apr, 2012 9:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
There's negligible practical reason to use close-combat weapons in a world of automatic firearms, much less in one of lasers. Contriving a basis for space going medieval hurts more than it helps. For hard science fiction, I recommend sticking to social explanations if you want to include swordplay. Civilians might use blades because they're fashionable or legal, but any pragmatic military force isn't likely to bother because bullets, missiles, and energy beams dominate the battlefield.

As others have mentioned, though, softer SF allows for liberal implementation of the rule of cool. In that case, you don't need a justification. As an example, there's hardly ever any sense in the fistfights and sword duels in the various Star Trek shows and movies; they just happen.

well in the warhammer 40K universe, technology among the varios 'terran ' peoples i.e the space marines ultramarins and various factions, has stagnated, a friend was telling me that for lazrifles they dont really know how or why they work just that they do.

according to him ome worlds have completely reegressed technologically, i.e becoming medival level technology.
among other races like the tau such knowledge wasnt lost whichis why the tau's firing capacity hasnt stagnated and the reason why the tu dont use melee combat much if at all because they have railgns and high powered laser and blaster technologies,
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David Lewis Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 22 Apr, 2012 7:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

because technology and 'power' weapons can always break down, be shielded against etc.

Here is the best reason

Swords are cool, hehehehe

David L Smith
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Michael Ekelmann




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PostPosted: Sun 22 Apr, 2012 9:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In Piers Anthony's Bio of a Space Tyrant series, hand weapons were used for shipboard fighting, as projectile weapons would penetrate the ships' hulls. IIRC, they used thrusting hand weapons in vacuum as well, because of the recoil from projectile weapons.

40K is WHFB in space, so the fluff supports HTH.

“Men prefer to fight with swords, so they can see each other's eyes!" Sean Connery as Mulay Hamid El Raisuli in The Wind and the Lion
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Kurt Scholz





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PostPosted: Sun 22 Apr, 2012 9:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Science fiction is a dreamwork about our longings and one of these longings is close combat that demands different qualities from ranged combat. I think modern ranged combat is very difficult to make appetizing for spectators and gun fu is a development of that. Stargate Atlantis has one episode of defence against a Wraith invasion of the station. This one of the best pieces how modern ranged combat worked with intelligence, communication and ambush at close quarters.

A realistic close combat scenario for science fiction is in my opinion provided by A.M.E.E. in the film Red Planet (a bad film overall).


I'd imagine such robots to solve problems like patrols and urban combat, although I'd integrate them with a ranged combat weapon and better AI.
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Josh S





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PostPosted: Sun 22 Apr, 2012 9:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are two plausible reasons that come to my mind, both of which are not only plausible under an advanced level of technology, but in fact dependent on it.

One is that civilization has grown to a level where some particular material has simply run out - all available resources of a particular substance(whether metal, reflective crystals for lasers, gunpowder for firearms, etc.) has already been used. The problem with this scenario is that it precludes the presence of Star Trek-style "replicator" technology. So there is still a palpable limit to the technology level achieved, which makes it still feel a bit artificial, kind of like how almost every episode of Star Trek involves the transporters not working due to some plot-convenient "tachyon interference" or whatnot. I do think it's a lot more credible, though, and has a lot less of the deus ex machina(or perhaps daemonium ex machina would be more accurate here? heh) feeling. It helps prevent the feeling of a convenient plot device because it's neither orchestrated by a higher power, nor does it only appear at certain times; it's a phenomenon that is both natural/unavoidable and ever-present in the story's universe.

The other is that technology has grown to a level where it has become integrated with, and inseparable from, natural processes. Teleportation is possible, over unlimited distances, with no "minimum range" or any other drawbacks. Communication between individuals is instantaneous as well, also regardless of distance, and largely telepathic to boot. Life support systems are permanently integrated into a person's body, and an individual can live and act just as comfortably at home, underwater, inside a volcano, or in the depths of space. People's eyes are enhanced to the point they can visualize all wavelengths of light. Time and distance become malleable to the human will in an immediate manner. So on and so forth. In this scenario, ships become completely unnecessary. Even things as basic as doors become unnecessary. Ranged weapons would, I imagine, be quickly abandoned as well. They would largely be useless because there would be few situations in which they would provide an advantage. You would be able to see lone gunmen hiding behind walls. You would be able to detect the presence of individuals miles, or even light-years, away. And if ranged weaponry did still pose any kind of threat, it would be easy to organize your position so that you're always protected against them - there's no reason to leave yourself out in the open, because it no longer provides any sort of advantage. I can only see ranged weapons being useful in the hands of people who have some sort of specialization in making themselves invisible to others - so, assassins. The problem with this scenario, as opposed to the previous one, is making conflict between individuals possible at all. If ranged weapons become almost useless, to the point where they are abandoned, why wouldn't melee weapons - or even, for that matter, fisticuffs? Combat as we know it might entirely disappear in this scenario, and become purely the realm of politics, deception, manipulation, and psychology. The only way I can see to resolve this is to see close combat as being more mentally immediate than shooting a gun; getting angry and throwing some knuckles at your oppenent's face in a rage would probably be less predictable than aiming a weapon at him from afar, or even engaging in swordplay. In fact, it would be less predictable than using any sort of combat system - including kata or Liechtenauer's! So fighting here, I imagine, would have to become essentially pre-human again. The more discipline is introduced into your aggression, the more predictable it becomes, and the easier it is to defend against. So swords, maces, and whatnot could still be carried; but there would probably be very little finesse in their use. And this itself would still require some sort of limit to technology - otherwise people would always be protected against the weaponry. So, again, "combat" might disappear, and become entirely the realm of willpower... Perhaps the only way for combat to exist in this scenario is for society to reintroduce an over-arching obsession with honor. Combatants face each other in single combat, and prevent themselves from foreseeing each other's movements and intentions. This would allow for both melee weaponry and disciplined fighting systems(although a question remains if using such a fighting system is not, itself, a way to predict your opponent's actions), while precluding the use of ranged weaponry.

Food for thought!

Michael Ekelmann wrote:
In Piers Anthony's Bio of a Space Tyrant series, hand weapons were used for shipboard fighting, as projectile weapons would penetrate the ships' hulls. IIRC, they used thrusting hand weapons in vacuum as well, because of the recoil from projectile weapons.

This is the sort of reasoning I can get into. Not the shipboard fighting, that's a bit silly.... Why couldn't you just make the hulls stronger? Razz But the element of recoil in open space. That's pretty good; using basic physics phenomena to rationalize the use of something. The only issue is that lasers don't have recoil either Big Grin
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