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MIND MELD: Our Favorite Weapons in Science Fiction and Fantasy

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

We asked our respondents about their favorite weapons in genre fiction.

Favorite Weapons: Be it Excalibur or the Point of View Gun, Stormbringer or the BFG, weapons in Fantasy and Science Fiction often have a personality and charm all their own, and sometimes are even characters in their own right.

Q: What are your favorite weapon, or weapons, in fantasy and science fiction.

This is what they said…

Karina Sumner-Smith
Karina Sumner-Smith is the author of fantasy novels Radiant, Defiant, and Towers Fall. In addition to novel-length work, Karina has published a range of science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories that have been nominated for the Nebula Award, reprinted in several Year’s Best anthologies, and translated into Spanish and Czech. Visit her online at karinasumnersmith.com.

It’s telling that right now my instinctive response to a question about “favourite weapons” is to describe my preferred weapon load-out in Destiny. Video games have become second only to books in terms of effective escape from the stress of day-to-day life. (For the record, the load-out is: vendor Hawksaw, Binary Dawn with rangefinder, and Thunderlord.)

But my next thought was of Gonturan, the titular weapon of Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword, and which also appeared in The Hero and the Crown. Gonturan (like so many other fantasy weapons) isn’t a normal sword but a magical one, and as referenced in the original question, she has something of a will of her own. I’ve re-read these two books of Robin McKinley’s many times over, often when winter was at its darkest, and I still don’t know that I quite understand Gonturan or the extent of what she can do. Neither, perhaps, do her wielders. Yet that mystery is part of the fun – that and the classic image of a woman holding aloft a flaming blue sword, riding to battle.

Alex von der Linden
Alex von der Linden is a lifelong reader, who has sailed the seas in a metal tube, traveled the desert wastes in an up-armored vehicle, and was introduced to Fandom by his parents who have been taking him to cons since shortly after he was born. He is on Twitter as @alexvdl0 and has a review/reading blog site at https://blackfishreviews.wordpress.com/

I don’t think that any discussion on the best weapons in genre can be had without discussing one of the best known, Excalibur. Tales of King Arthur and the Round Table were a very large part of the play space of my youth, and Excalibur was the number two thing on my wishlist, (after a dragon. Of course). My least favorite part of Excalibur is that people constantly get it confused with the Sword in the Stone. I blame Disney. It did however, appeal to me the sword wasn’t even the most powerful part, Arthur was told the scabbard was more powerful, and he STILL let himself get tricked out of it by Morgan le Fay. I’m also a large fan of the idea that the Arthurian cycle led to another of my favorite genre weapons, The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (which I really should have made the third weapon I discussed.)

The other genre weapon that had a huge impact on my childhood came from the first genre novel that I ever bought for myself, at a garage sale when I was 9, the Elfstones of Shannara. To be fair, I didn’t even really have a good idea what the Elfstones did. Mostly they did whatever the plot needed them to do when Wil concentrated really hard, and acted as the MacGuffin. To be fair, I think Brooks fleshed them out a lot in later books. But all you need is three smooth rocks, and bam, you can pretend you’re running around with some Elfstones protecting a beautiful Elf Princess. Other great weapons in the Shannara verse, are the Staff of the Elcrys, the Wishsong of Shannara, and the Sword of Leah.

And finally, I’d like to talk about my favorite genre of genre weapon, the wrist mounted weapon. From the webshooters of Spider-man, the wrist guns of Deadshot, the Predator alien’s wrist blade/nuclear weapon, Quasar’s Quantum Bands, etc. there’s something that appeals to me about taking a normal weapon, and making it into a much more convenient wrist mounted version. I’m a sucker for a good wrist- mounted weapon, my absolute FAVORITE instance of this trope has to be the Lightning Claws of the Warhammer 40K Universe. Not content to be satisfied with base level weaponry like chainsaw sword or giant robo fists, they said let’s created wrist mounted talons, and you know… let’s have them shoot electricity. That’s the kinda of crazy I wanna see in my genre weapons building.

Sally ‘Qwill’ Janin
I founded The Qwillery, on October 1, 2008 as a place to chat about things in general. By the middle of 2010 I realized what I like to talk about most is books – speculative fiction books! I am a recovering attorney having practiced IP and telecommunications law for too long. I’ve been reading genre fiction since my brother hooked me on The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and H.P. Lovecraft when I was a pre-teen. With addition of reviewers, I’ve become the Editor in Chief of The Qwillery as well as a writer and reviewer.. I live in New England, with my two kids (one of whom is a Whovian like me), nine geckos, and more (print) books than I actually have room for.

My favorite weapon is not just a weapon but a robot too. He’s an intergalactic policeman and a world killer if necessary. Now I’m not talking about the remake, but the original film starring Michael Rennie as Klaatu and Lock Martin as my all-time favorite weapon/robot Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still (20th Century Fox, 1951). The original movie is based on the short story “Farewell to the Master” (Astounding, October 1940) by Harry Bates (read the story here:). Gort is different in the story and was named Gnut (the story is different too). He’s still frightening, but much more so in The Day the Earth Stood Still. This is the first SF movie I clearly remember watching. It scared the hell out of me.

Gort would destroy the Earth (“burned-out cinder”) if we didn’t join in peace with other planets and control our use of weapons that could have impact beyond our own planet. Gort was imposing, other, and frightening. And while I had nightmares or didn’t sleep much for days after seeing Gort the first time (much to the amusement of my sister and cousin who insisted I watch it with them on TV) Gort started my lifelong and deep love for Atomic Age movies. Perhaps even more for me than the original Godzilla film (Toho, 1954), this movie shows the fears over atomic weaponry, the uncertainty of the Atomic Age, and of science unleashed and in the hands of man. There is no vast destruction but a clear warning that our destruction is possible and Gort is the delivery device. Klaatu’s final speech at the end of the movie is brilliant (watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASsNtti1XZs; continues here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9phuyRknPw) and all the while Gort stands still and ready, a reminder that we face extinction if we don’t control our atomic weapons and rockets. He’s out there watching and won’t hesitate to act if we don’t act peacefully. His power to act cannot be revoked. Gort is still scary and will always be my favorite SF weapon.

Summer Brooks
Summer Brooks is the Host and Producer of “Slice of SciFi“, and has previously lent her encyclopedic knowledge of science fiction & fantasy to “The Babylon Podcast” and “Kick-Ass Mystic Ninjas”. She also does voiceover work reading short stories for District of Wonders, including “Starship Sofa” and “Tales to Terrify”, and has rediscovered her love of good horror stories. Follow her on twitter as @sliceofscifi.

First, I’m going to limit myself a little bit and not include the various fighter ships, otherwise I’d be here all day arguing with myself between Babylon 5‘s Starfury and Battlestar Galactica‘s Viper.

As someone who practically breathes science fiction and fantasy in books, television and film, it would be very hard not to include Star Wars‘ light sabers as a favorite weapon. There’s a mystery, an elegance and a mythical aura to that weapon, not to mention a level of training that needs to be achieved in order to wield it, unlike some random blaster (whatever fictional universe said blaster might be from).

But on my list, the light saber would only come in at #4.

Here’s my list of favorite weapons that I would want to have handy:

  1. The spetsdöd, from Steve Perry’s Matadors trilogy. A small, light weapon that attaches to the back of one’s hand & wrist, fires a variety of darts ranging from disabling stingers to incapacitating neurotoxin loads, reading about it being used in practice and confrontations in that series has fired my imagination for nearly 30 years.
  2. Jaegers. Because, giant battle robots. If there were an articulated Gipsy Danger model with sound effects, I honestly think it would be weeks before I got any work done…
  3. The dragon hilt samurai sword from either the first Highlander movie, or from the TV series. The myth behind how and when that sword was created is almost as captivating as the original mythology behind the Immortals (remember, with the movies, just like with the immortals, there can be only one). I think most people who’ve ever attended a convention during the past 30 years and saw a dealer with one for sale couldn’t help themselves in at least touching the handle (or was that just me?)
  4. Light Saber. The 12-year-old in me still wants one, sound effects and all. The style from the original trilogy; I have no need for quarterstaff or broadsword or nunchaku style light sabers.
  5. The EXO-7 Falcon, the mechanical wings used by Sam Wilson (The Falcon) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Just one alternate way you can believe a man can fly.

And I have two Honorable Mentions:

First mention goes to a weapon that never actually existed in the published & produced fiction realms. Deep in the story bible for Babylon 5: Crusade is mention of a sword that may or may not have powers, and when the thief Dureena gained possession of it, it was hinted at to have given her some enhanced abilities.

Second mention, honestly, how can one NOT have a soft spot for Wolverine’s claws?

Tom Lloyd
Tom Lloyd is the author of the forthcoming Stranger of Tempest in which the guns are magic not the swords, and the completed epic series, the Twilight Reign, where there are dragons and magic swords aplenty.

Easy – lightsabers! First and foremost, because they’re lightsabers and using the standards of childish-glee-awesomeness they’re brilliant! There are all sorts of weird, wonderful and powerful swords in fantasy, but it’s hard to top the lightsaber – both in terms of effectiveness and iconic looks. I’m strongly of the opinion that it’s a crucial aspect of the success of the Star Wars franchise. That glowing blur in the darkness and crackle of energy still puts a smile on the face of this old and jaded nerd. It cuts through anything, it deflects laser blasts, but there’s also one other reason why I love it. And it may seem a perverse one, coming from a dyed-in-the-wool fantasist like myself who put plenty of powerful swords into the Twilight Reign – it’s not (described as) magic.

When the weapon is ‘technology’ rather than ‘magic’ in origin, it can be reproduced. Lightsabers are unusual, rare and hard to make as you’d expect from something so powerful, but anyone can wield one and they’re all as powerful as each other. Canon-nerds might correct me here of course, but I don’t think there is one uber-powerful weapon called Lightsaber that the rest are mere copies of, it’s a classification not the name. Stormbringer, Dragnipur or my own Isak’s Eolis, to pick a couple of examples, are one-off creations – they elevate their wielder to a point above most mortals. Lightsabers don’t quite do that for all their power, and before too long you’ll come across someone with exactly the same weapon as you. Often an unfair advantage isn’t that fun to watch, but lightsabers are ALWAYS fun.

Martha Wells
Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including the Books of the Raksura series (beginning with The Cloud Roads), the Ile-Rien series (including the nebula-nominated The Death of the Necromancer) as well as YA fantasies, short stories, media tie-ins, and non-fiction. Her latest book is The Edge of Worlds, and her web site is www.marthawells.com

I’m not very magical weapon conscious; the magical weapons in my books tend to be more the product of magical research and development. So I had trouble thinking of magical weapons with a lot of personality, besides The One Ring.

(And some of that is from seeing the traveling Lord of the Rings exhibit, where the One Ring is treated as like an unexploded bomb, separated from the rest of the collection, whispering quietly and encased in a giant glass pillar as if to protect the viewer from it.)

There are a lot of cool magical objects in fantasy, of all different kinds, like the Head of Bran Cof, from Cold Magic by Kate Elliott, or Spot, Dairine Callahan’s computer in the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane, or Demane’s bag from The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson.

But one of my first favorites is the toy castle from Knight’s Castle by Edward Eager. It isn’t a magical object itself, but becomes one when magic allows a group of kids to shrink down to toy soldier size and interact with the castle’s inhabitants. Playing out the siege of Torquilstone from Ivanhoe is fun, but things get complicated when dolls, tiny cars, and other toys are introduced, changing the castle’s reality and the story.

Michael J. Martinez
Michael J. Martinez is the author of MJ-12: Inception, the first of the MAJESTIC-12 series of Cold War spy-fi thrillers debuting in September from Night Shade Books. He’s also the author of the Daedalus trilogy of Napoleonic era space opera novels, now out in mass-market paperback, and his short fiction has been featured in Cthulhu Fhtagn, Unidentified Funny Objects 4 and the Geeky Giving charity bundles. He lives on the Jersey side of New York City with his wonderful wife, amazing daughter, two cats and three chickens. Find him online at michaeljmartinez.net and on Twitter at @mikemartinez72.

When Paul first approached me for this one, my first thought immediately went to lightsabers. Or, rather, it was more like, “Lightsabers!! I call lightsabers! Jedi! The Force! Wheeee!”

And lightsabers are indeed a whole other level of awesome.They cut through anything, they deflect blaster bolts, and they can even serve as flashlights in a pinch. They are indeed “an elegant weapon for a more civilized age,” as Obi-Wan said. Plus, if you have one, it’s highly likely you’re also a space wizard…er…Force user. And that lets you do all kinds of other cool things.

But let me put aside my 12-year-old self for a moment here, because after the initial reaction to Paul’s query, I got to thinking. There are a lot of weapons in SF/F literature, going all the way back to the bone club that the Monolith encouraged a proto-human to use in 2001. There’s Excalibur. There’s a veritable slew of BFGs in science fiction, an armory of blades in fantasy.

Ultimately, though, one stands out.

Stormbringer.

Dear God, reading Moorcock’s Elric tales for the first time was a revelation for a much-younger me. Here was Elric, an emperor, sickly and wan, propping himself up with sorcery and herbs while his decadent empire whirled around him. And then he gets this blade, black as night and terrifying to behold, and he no longer needs those crutches. With one swing, that sword can not only prop him up, it can make him strong.

The cost: Souls. Death. Destruction. Chaos.

What an amazing set-up. Here’s Elric, one of the few emperors of Melniboné who actually has a conscience, and here is this blade that eats at that conscience each time he uses it, even as it makes him hale and he fights to do what he believes is right. Elric is the Eternal Champion, destined to bring Balance to Law and Chaos, and must use a cursed blade to do so. Indeed, Stormbringer balances Elric’s desire for good with its own evil.

And in the very end, Stormbringer itself is a character. The sword is a demon. It takes the lives of everyone Elric loves, and finally turns on its master as the Balance is restored. “I was a thousand times more evil than thou,” it says to the dying Elric, laughing at him.

The Elric stories brought such an incredible darkness to fantasy literature, with Moorcock moving the genre well beyond Tolkien into a fantasy world that was beautiful and terrible and morally gray. Stormbringer is a weapon that reflects ourworld as well — the terrible choices we must sometimes face, the errors in judgment we invariably make, the widening disparity between decadence and despair that we sometimes try to remedy, and our frequent failures in those attempts.

If science fiction and fantasy is a mirror to our world and our sensibilities, then Stormbringer is the weapon that will define us perfectly if we’re not careful. Right now, I fear Stormbringer continues to laugh at us.

Chadwick Ginther
Chadwick Ginther is the author of the Prix Aurora nominated Thunder Road Trilogy (Thunder Road, Tombstone Blues, and Too Far Gone). He lives and writes in Winnipeg.

When I’m pressed to name my all-time favourite fantasy series, I’ll say Roger Zelazny’s Amber without hesitation. I’ve read the books numerous times and Zelazny’s protagonist Corwin is among my favourite literary creations, and so it’s unsurprising that Corwin’s sword, Grayswandir, is among the weapons I find most memorable.

In a universe of shadows, Grayswandir is a sharp edge of reality. Forged on the steps on Tir-na Nog’th and inscribed with a part of the Pattern, the inherent order of the “Night Blade” can set the blood of the shapeshifting denizens of The Courts of Chaos aflame. No matter where Corwin is in a huge universe, he can always find Grayswandir by creating a shadow world where he wills his sword to exist. Pretty damn cool. But not the first time I was swayed by an awesome weapon.

Dungeons and Dragons was a big influence on my writing and my love of magical weapons. Vorpal Swords, Dragonsbane, Hammers of Thunderbolts, regardless of their names, having the right equipment helped make me ready for any scenario my ingeniously cruel DM threw at us. But the most memorable weapons from those games always became the ones with great stories behind them—what’s another +5 sword compared to the one that earned you the name “Dragonslayer”. The more I read, the more I found some of the origins of those D&D magic items.

Norse mythology is packed with weapons and gadgets with history, with a story for why they’re so cool. Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir is probably the best known, due to its use in comics and movies. But when I only had D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths to go on, I still thought it was awesome. That hammer was so badass, Thor needed other magic items just to wield it properly. Maybe being the smallest boy in my class for most of my young life gave me an appreciation for something made to take down giants.

Also in the Norse sandbox, J.A. Pitts’s Black Blade Blues reimagined the sword Gram from the Volsung Saga. I liked Gram when Sigurd wielded it originally—even its name has an angry weight. The reforged sword is a powerful trope, but Pitts added something wonderful and new to its story by putting it in the hands of his protagonist, Sarah Beauhall. Now when I think of Sigurd’s sword, it’s Sarah’s sword, and I see Don Dos Santos’ brilliant cover, and a black blade glowing with angry red runes.

And, speaking of blades, I have to mention the lightsaber.
In the lightsaber, Star Wars gave me the best of both worlds and combined two of my loves: fantasy and science fiction. The lightsaber was a laser and a magic sword. What can beat that?

When I saw Star Wars for the first time, even as a boy I felt the story in Obi-Wan’s delivery of “It’s your father’s lightsaber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight.” I didn’t know what that meant, or who the Jedi were, and until that story was resolved I did a lot of speculating via action figures about what it might have been.

How I wanted one (and judging by my constant watching of Force Awakens, I still do)!

This barely dents my list of favourites, but if I had to choose just one, I couldn’t.
Oh, who am I kidding?

Give me a lightsaber.

Anne Lyle
Anne Lyle was born in what is popularly known as “Robin Hood Country”, and grew up fascinated by English history, folklore, and swashbuckling heroes. Unfortunately there was little demand in 1970s Nottinghamshire for diminutive swordswomen, so she studied sensible subjects like science and languages instead. It appears, however, that although you can take the girl out of Sherwood Forest, you can’t take Sherwood Forest out of the girl. She now spends practically every spare hour writing – or at least planning – fantasy fiction about dashing swordsmen and scheming spies, set in alternate pasts or imaginary worlds. Her Elizabethan trilogy The Alchemist of Souls, The Merchant of Dreams and The Prince of Lies is available from all reputable purveyors of fantastical fiction.

Awesome weapons have been a staple of SF&F since Excalibur, so when I was asked to join in this Mind Meld I was faced with an awfully long list to consider. Fantasy has its sentient swords and spells that let you fire projectiles from your fingertips, SF has sentient bombs and high-tech devices we can only dream of (or have nightmares about)… how was I to choose?

I racked my brains for cool and erudite answers, but in the end I was obliged to consult my inner ten-year-old – because who else has the strongest opinions about these things?

The answer was simple: Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber. It has it all: the nostalgia of swordplay, the awesomeness of a glow-in-the-dark blade, the mystery of how the heck you confine a beam of laser light to a one-metre length, and of course that whommmm noise it makes, which has to be the second coolest sound effect in history (after the TARDIS’s landing/takeoff noise, of course). “An elegant weapon, for a more civilised age” – and unlike a traditional metal sword, highly concealable. I’m sure Mal Catlyn, the protagonist of my Elizabethan novels, would have envied that.

I don’t doubt my fellow Mind-Melders will come up with more interesting answers, but I don’t care. I’ll be over here playing with my iPhone lightsaber app…

…bzzz-tssshh! Woommmmm…

Helen Lowe
Helen Lowe’s first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012, while the sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Helen’s fourth novel, Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night Book Three) was new out on 26 January (2016). Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and is currently contributing the post series, Fantasy Heroines That Rock My World here on SF Signal. She is also active on Twitter: @helenl0we.

I’ve written about some of SFF’s more recognisable weapons on other occasions, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to look at several less conventional contenders. For the purposes of this post a ‘weapon’ may be either a protective or offensive artefact or power, so long as it has the ability to cause an opponent harm or actively thwart an attack, rather than just shielding the intended victim. Here are some of my favorite – but unconventional – weapons.

First and foremost is Morgon’s harp in Patricia McKillip’s The Riddlemaster of Hed series. Although the harp is the musical instrument it appears to be, it has one other important characteristic – the lowest string shatters weapons. So when Morgon is attacked by an assassin:

“[he]…plucked the lowest string of the harp. The sword shattered in midair…”

To my mind, the ability to shatter an opponent’s weapon definitely makes the harp a weapon, too – and one of my favorites in the Fantasy ’verse.

A favorite of similar kind is the Phial of Galadriel, the elven queen’s gift to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. At the end of The Two Towers, both he and Sam use its light to defend themselves against the monstrous Shelob. The phial’s potency is not only illumination, however; activated by the hobbits’ will to resist, its brilliance daunts Shelob’s malevolence:

“[the eyes of Shelob]…wavered…and slowly drew back. No brightness so deadly had ever afflicted them before…”

Another less-obvious weapon that has always appealed is the gauntlet that the smith, Elof, creates in Michael Scott Rohan’s The Anvil of Ice, although in this case it was intended as a weapon from the outset. Crafted from steel and magic, the gauntlet can grasp any force sent against its wearer, gather it – and send it back. Offensive enough, except that Elof has deliberately limited its power to a response against force already directed against the wearer:

“This cannot strike of itself. It can only gather or return what is sent against it, and with only such force as is used.”

Yet if that force is deadly, then so, too, is the glove.

Recently, I encountered another such weapon – one of several, in fact, but I particularly liked Kirit (formerly Kiriya’s) mirror in Kate Elliott’s Crossroads trilogy. Kirit is a character who has suffered the loss of family, enslavement, abuse and finally murder, before being restored as a Guardian of the realm known as The Hundred. The mirror, which is the mark of an adult woman in her tribe, becomes her Guardian’s “staff” of judgement. In many ways, it is a mirror of truth, which shows wrongdoers themselves, a truth most can’t survive. Unquestionably, it is a weapon, one Kirit must learn to use not only justly but mercifully, despite her abused past.

Harp and phial, gauntlet and mirror are just a few of the less conventional weapons that populate SFF. Others that spring to mind include the eye and hand of Prince Corum in Michael Moorcock’s Corum series, or the ability of Kristen Cashore’s Fire to control others’ minds.

I am sure, though, that SF Signalers can think of many more examples. I would love to see readers’ contributions in the comments.

Arianne “Tex” Thompson
Arianne “Tex” Thompson is a ‘rural fantasy’ author, professional speaker, and comma placement specialist. Look for her internationally-published epic fantasy Western series, Children of the Drought, and find her online at www.thetexfiles.com.

Three words: dwarven battle bread.

Or the powered loader from Aliens.

Or Xykon’s happy bouncing fun-ball.

Or literally anything Mabel gets her hands on in Gravity Falls.

Straightforward fight scenes and legendary gun-swords have never been my forté, but I love it when a character can turn everyday objects into enemy doomsday. Maybe that’s because the characters wielding them tend to be unlikely heroes – proper ladies, little kids, scrappy sidekicks, et al – who are almost always more fun to watch than whoever’s balefully gazing out from the middle of the movie poster. Or maybe it just speaks more highly of the storyteller’s creativity. After all, anyone can say “power level 9000” and blow up a planet. But facing down the Big Bad with nothing but half a brick in a tube sock takes guts.

Loren Rhoads
Loren Rhoads is the author of The Dangerous Type, Kill By Numbers, and No More Heroes, the elements of the In the Wake of the Templars trilogy. You can discover more of her work at lorenrhoads.com.

I have to admit that I’m fascinated by the armor-piercing Presger gun in Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy.

Originally there were twenty-five of those guns, one for each district leader on the planet Garsedd. When the Radchai Empire attempted to annex Garsedd, the Garseddai fought back, using a never-before-seen hand weapon that was powerful enough to destroy an Imperial warship.

Twenty-four of these guns were confiscated by Anaander Mianaai, the many-bodied Emperor who has ruled the Radch for thousands of years. One of the weapons eluded her, because one of the Garseddai leaders panicked and fled before the attack. Almost a millennium later, a trader brought the gun to Dras Annia Station, where Dr. Strigan purchased it for her collection of Garseddai artifacts without knowing what it really was. The gun fascinated Strigan because it was completely unlike any of the other Garseddai artifacts. In fact, it looked like a long black box, until someone touched it. Then it changed shape to become a weapon. It also took on the coloration of whatever it touched, whether flesh or clothing. In either state – box or weapon — it was invisible to scanners and the Station’s AI, but not to Strigan’s human eyes.

I’ve foolishly lent out my copy of Ancillary Justice, so I can’t look up the reference, but I don’t think Strigan ever actually fires the gun. Somehow, though, she figures out what it is: a gun that could kill anything, even the Emperor Anaander Mianaai, Lord of the Radch. Strigan is afraid to draw the Emperor’s attention and flees Dras Annia Station immediately, exiling herself to an icy backwater planet where she hides until she’s tracked down by Breq, the protagonist of the trilogy.

Breq is on a mission to kill Anaander Mianaai, but how do you erase someone with many bodies in multiple places, someone who can simply download her consciousness into a new cloned body? Especially if that person wears an energy shield? Breq discovers that the Garseddai gun fires a projectile that can pierce an energy shield, a ship’s hull, a station’s dome – or apparently anything else. The projectile then travels 1.1 meters and stops. That’s catastrophic if it pierces the containment of a ship’s engine, for instance.

Breq’s investigations into the origin of the gun lead back the inhuman Presger, who exist outside Radch space. The aliens never appear in the trilogy themselves, but are represented by translators cloned from human corpses. Which combines pretty much everything I love about space opera right there: all-powerful weapons, mysteriously unpredictable hostile aliens, and reanimated dead humans.

My fascination is shared by a cosplayer on Tumblr who has recreated the Presger gun: here and here. I cannot tell you how much I *want* one of these.

So what is it about the Presger gun that fascinates me so much? Some of that is its changeable, unpredictable nature. Also, both Breq and Strigan assume that once Anaander Mianaai knows they have it, they are dead. Then there’s the suicide gun aspect of it: you have to be certain enough of your target that the limitations on where the bullet stops work in your favor. Killing the Emperor’s bodies one or a handful at a time is not going to do the job. In order to take down a ship or a station or one of Mianaai’s palaces, you have to stand close enough that you’re going to be caught in the devastation.

My final thought comes with a spoiler warning, so look out. The assassination thread gets dropped from the trilogy as Breq is swept up into more immediately pressing threats, but that merely leaves plenty of room for the reader’s imagination to spin out Breq’s attack and eventual triumph. I know how I would end the story — and I hope that Leckie gets around to saving the galaxy eventually. I’m waiting eagerly to find out how she would do it.

M.L. Brennan
ML Brennan is the author of the urban fantasy Generation V novels. She also has a forthcoming short story in the Mech: Age of Steel anthology by Ragnarok Publications, which is currently available to back on Kickstarter.

There are a lot of famous weapons in books. Excalibur gets a lot of press. The six-fingered sword from The Princess Bride is pretty badass. And there are so many named blades in the Tolkien universe that a glossary would’ve been a handy addendum to the book.
But when I start trying to think about what my favorite weapon of all is, what I think of is:

The holy hand-grenade of Antioch. (remember? It’s one of the sacred relics that Brother Maynard carries with him)

Firstly, it’s clearly very effective, given that it destroys the rabbit of Caerbannog (who was clearly naughty in the sight of the lord, and thus snuffed it). Secondly, everything surrounding its unveiling and usage is utterly hilarious. Those other weapons are cool, yes, and certainly deadly, but they just aren’t fun to me. They’re a series of mystic swords that everyone handles with great solemnity and duty and oh god I’m bored already. Yes, they generally fit the tone of the works, but they run together. Incidentally, my fondest feelings toward Excalibur involve a certain monologue involving the inadvisability of basing a system of government upon the random sword distribution choices of certain watery bints.
Two other weapons that hold a place near and dear to my heart (via the ever-reliable strings of what made me laugh really hard):

  1. The enchanted elvish crossbow from Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Elven Star (the second book in The Death Gate Cycle). Basically, the elves are able to use their magic to augment mechanical devices, and in this case have been able to give a certain level of intelligence to their weapons. The result of this is when a particular elf is threatened by an enormous, unstoppable titan, he gets into an argument with his crossbow, which is shrilly reminding him of the particular category of foe that it is rated for, which the titan definitely exceeds. It’s a great moment of humor in an otherwise chaotic battle scene.
  2. Ghylspwr is the magical warhammer wielded by the death priestess Desidora in Patrick Weekes’s fantastic debut The Palace Job. It speaks, but only in a mystic language that Weekes doesn’t translate for the reader, but its tone changes depending on context, and it can be threatening, comforting, or sometimes even moderately disapproving, but it is extremely funny and is often used to cap off scenes. There’s a great reveal about Ghylspwr by the end, but at that point it is much more than a basic enchanted weapon (even one with great comic timing) – it’s a character in its own right.
Courtney Schafer
Courtney Schafer is the author of the Shattered Sigil trilogy: The Whitefire Crossing, The Tainted City, and The Labyrinth of Flame. She’s currently working on a set of Shattered Sigil short stories and planning out a new, unrelated tale of fantasy adventure. When not writing, she climbs mountains, figures skates, skis way too fast through trees, works as an engineer in the space industry, and chases after her equally active young son. Visit her at www.courtneyschafer.com or on twitter (@cischafer).

Even though I’m an engineer, I don’t often geek out over the specifications or capabilities of weapons in and of themselves. I’m a lot more interested in how the author uses a weapon to complicate the plot or provide internal conflict for a character. One trope I’m particularly fond of is the weapon that’s a danger to its wielder. I suppose the classic example is Elric of Melnibone’s demon-sword Stormbringer, whose hunger for souls is so great that it can drive Elric mad with bloodlust. But I actually preferred Jennifer Roberson’s take on a similar theme in her Tiger & Del sword and sorcery novels, specifically Sword-Breaker, where Tiger’s sword Samiel is possessed by the spirit of a ruthless wizard who hopes to make Tiger into his weapon of destruction. Tiger’s struggle to resist temptation and defeat the wizard, and the ways in which this alternately strains and deepens his relationship with his friend Del, were excellently handled and kept me glued to the pages.

For an even more recent take on the trope, I likewise enjoyed Jeff Salyards’s Bloodsounders Arc trilogy. Here the cursed weapon isn’t a sword, but a flail, which poisons its wielder with the memories of the slain. The unique ways Salyards uses this to complicate the lives and explore the motives not only of the flail’s owner, Captain Braylar Killcoin, but his soldiers and archivist companion, made the trilogy a real stand-out for me.

But weapons don’t have to be cursed to make for an intriguing read in the hands of a skilled author. Take the sword Alithiel in Janny Wurts’s epic Wars of Light and Shadow series. Alithiel’s full powers only manifest when the bearer draws it in the cause of true justice, and Wurts uses this idea to great effect in certain scenes, heightening tension and deepening the emotional resonance of the action. I’m halfway through reading the series at the moment, and looking forward to seeing how else Alithiel is put to use as the epic saga continues.

Aliette De Bodard
Aliette de Bodard writes speculative fiction: her short stories have garnered her two Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and a British Science Fiction Association Award. She is the author of The House of Shattered Wings, a novel set in a turn-of-the-century Paris devastated by a magical war, which won the 2015 British Science Fiction Association Award. She lives in Paris.

I’m going to cheat and say the marks on Kaylin Neya’s skin in Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra. They’re a weapon in the sense that they allow Kaylin to sense magic and perform advanced magical spells that saye her life (and others’ lives) more than once. But what I like is that Kaylin uses the marks for healing, and it’s this unintended use of them that protects her from turning into an altogether more dangerous kind of weapon. To my mind it’s a perfect reminder that weapons, like any tools, aren’t good or evil, but just what you make of them!

About Paul Weimer (366 Articles)
<p>Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to SF Signal, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, Skiffy and Fanty, SFF Audio, Twitter, and many other places on the Internet!</p>

10 Comments on MIND MELD: Our Favorite Weapons in Science Fiction and Fantasy

  1. NickPheas // May 4, 2016 at 4:23 am //

    Do Knife Missiles count? Or are they people who’re just shaped like weapons?

  2. About classic science fiction, I wonder if the “Mind Power” of the Second Foundation” could be considered as weapon.

  3. Joe H. // May 4, 2016 at 9:04 am //

    The Speaking Gun from Simon Green’s Nightside books — made of flesh & blood and capable of retroactively removing its target from existence in all of time & space.

    Well, and, of course, lightsabers, Stormbringer, Changeling, Sting and the Illearth Stone.

  4. @Joe H.

    Simon Green’s novels have LOADS of bad ass weapons to choose from. His work is my favorite ” Screw it, let’s just make things even more ridiculously over the top badass. “

    • Simon R. Green is, let us say, not a model of restraint or decorum. (n.b. I regard this as a feature, not a bug) Well, his books, at least — he’s probably a perfectly lovely man in person.

  5. Cadbury Moose // May 4, 2016 at 7:13 pm //

    1) The .75″ recoilless from the Stainless Steel Rat novels – hugely impractical but a nice idea.
    2) Av DeMeissen (and the slap-drone) from Surface Detail. Comeuppance? You’ve got it.
    3) The variable-sword from Ringworld

    …and if you want a couple of real-world examples:

    4) “Switch No.8” from M.D.1 (designed by Stuart McRae)
    5) The Molins 57mm (6pdr) antitank gun fitted to the De Havilland Mosquito.

  6. Jeffery Massey // May 5, 2016 at 12:05 am //

    The Gemini Device from ST Wrath of Khan, The Sentient Bombs from Dan O’Bannion’s Dark Star & The Infinity Gauntlet from Marvel…

  7. Emre Sururi // May 5, 2016 at 12:15 am //

    Arighan’s Flower

    Yoon Ha Lee’s “Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain” story contains the most powerful weapon (“Arighan’s Flower” aka “ancestral weapon”) I’ve ever encountered in fiction. In order not to spoil the excellent short story (which is available from the Lightspeed Magazine – just follow the link), I’ll refrain from saying more, but just this one bit from the story on the gun:

    Of the ancestral pistol, the empire’s archives said two things: Do not use this weapon, for it is nothing but peril and This weapon does not function.

  8. The Bolos of the Dinochrome Brigade. Sentient tank “as big as a beached freighter” with a Hellbore cannon measured in “megatons per second.”

    Somebody above said the Variable Sword from Ringworld. Excellent choice. Also from that series, the Tasp, which triggers the target’s pleasure centers.

    The energy pistols of the Weapon Shops of Isher. Irresistible force -plus- a personal force field.

    Finally, the Nova gun. Temperamental, but the very thing for seeing off Nuri globes.

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