Welcome to my guide on how to write technobabble! Every post will start with one letter of the alphabet, from A to Z, and cover tips and ideas for all you writers of sci-fi. Whether you’re writing about near-future science fiction, far-flung alien worlds, or historical steampunk adventures filled with advanced technology that never was – these posts are designed to help you write convincing and unique tech for your story!
K is for Killing Machines and Weapons
Fantastical, and often violent, weapons are frequent staples of the sci-fi genres. Even stories that are not specifically about war (like Star Trek: The Next Generation, for example, which focused primarily on discovery and exploration) feature weapons both large and small. Not every story has to have weapons, of course—for example, the science-heavy story The Martian doesn’t feature weapons at all, since the antagonist is not something that can be thwarted with a gun or a bomb (it’s more of a man-versus-nature story, or perhaps man-versus-bureaucratic red tape).
Anway, if your story needs weapons of any sort, whether as a major part of the plot or merely an accessory, then creating and naming them is part of your world-building. Generally speaking, weapons fall into two types: offensive and defensive. Many can do both, though smaller hand-held weapons like knives or hand-guns might be considered more defensive than offensive. And a weapon like the Death Star, for example, is pretty much only an offensive weapon. The Empire had to use other weapons (TIE fighters) to defend the Death Star because it could blow up planets but couldn’t be used to defend itself or the people on board.
Another aspect of weapons—especially sci-fi weapons—is how they are named. For the most part, weapons are either named after how they work, or named after what they do. For example, in the Star Trek universe, where science and explanations of how things work is important to the world and the plot, the weapons are named appropriately. Both starships and their crews are armed with phasers—an acronym that stands for “phased energy rectification.” In Babylon 5, the handguns carried by security officers and assorted criminals are called PPGs—it stands for “phased plasma gun.” Both of these names describe how the weapon works, and are fitting for the worlds of those stories.
In contrast, the weapons in Star Wars are generally a lot less scientific-sounding. Star Wars is science fantasy, and how things work matters very little. A Star Wars weapon is usually more descriptive of what it does. For example, Han Solo carries a blaster. It’s pretty obvious what the weapon does: it blasts things. Yes, it shoots red energy bolts instead of metal bullets, but no one in the story bothers to explain how it works. A light-saber is pretty self-explanatory, too, as far as what it does (or, more specifically, what it looks like). It’s a sword made of light. And then of course there’s the Death Star. A doomed planet would see it as a new star in the sky, right before it dispenses death. No technical explanations needed.
In sci-fi and related genres, weapons can range from the plain and practical to the fancy and cool—and it’s up to you as the author to decide how to create your weapons and use them. It’s your world and you make the rules! But keeping in mind some of these guidelines—offensive versus defensive, and how they work versus what they do—can help you to design and name unique and believable weapons for your story.