Over in Serial, the chapter Raven’s Run 42 came out yesterday. This post was supposed to stand across from it, but Leonard Cohen’s death caused me to push Handgun Accuracy back a day to make room for an appreciation of what he meant to me.
Everything in the night drive through Martigues and the Barre Lagoon in yesterday’s post is from research. I was never there. But I was in Marseille and everything there is from experience. You have to have some first hand knowledge, mixed with research, if you want to look like you know everything.
The bit with the .45 automatic is also accurate, and from experience. I only fired an M1911A1 once in the Navy, in boot camp, but years later I acquainted myself with it and a large variety of other handguns at a firing range near my home. I spent an hour a week there, every Tuesday for a year, and became proficient with the two dozen styles and calibers they had for rent. That was partly for writing research, and partly because we live in a dangerous world.
You have to be able to describe handgun usage accurately for the kind of fiction I write. And yes, this post title has that double meaning, like the NRA bumper sticker that says Gun Control Means Using Both Hands. I could never resist a bad joke.
Accuracy is important in science fiction weaponry as well. In Jandrax, Jan’s “express pistol” was a technologically advanced weapon that was fairly fully explained, while the other weapons were nineteenth century technology because they were meant to be repairable on a frontier world.
In Cyan, due out soon, the explorers are operating in the near future. I decided to give them handguns only slightly advanced over the present day for their initial exploration, as in:
“Gus carried a comped 12mm magnum semi-automatic in a cross draw holster.“
This led the proofreader at EDGE to highlight comped and write “?”. (See 134. The Long Road to Cyan (2) for details on proofreading in the modern era.)
Comped actually refers to mid-twentieth century technology. I replied:
Comped, pronounced compt, not comp-ed, is a standard term. It comes from compensated, and refers to a series of slits on either side of the front sight of a heavy handgun, which redirects some of the expanding gasses upward, counteracting muzzle flip. Gun nerds will know the term; others will just be puzzled.
The cross draw holster is reasonable, but it is mentioned early because it sets up a plot point I would need about forty pages later. And 12mm magnum will certainly ruffle the hackles of purists, but again, it is so named for a reason. The largest caliber presently designated in millimeters is 10mm and magnum is applied to a new, more powerful version of an old caliber. This means the 12mm magnum is two generations away – which is what I was looking for, a near-future version of present day technology.
I made these automatics obsolete during the colonization phase by introducing a handgun called a fletcher which was, in essence, a hand held rocket launcher. If you need a powerful, hand held weapon with little recoil, replacing bullets with mini-rockets is the simplest way forward.
You can only use phasers in Star Trek novels and no self respecting science fiction author will ever say “ray gun” again, but fletchers – certainly under a different name – will probably be available within a decade or so. High caliber handguns have just about reached the limits of human hand strength, even though all of them are comped today.
Keep your eye on future issues of Field and Stream for new developments.