Thursday, July 09, 2009

More Gun/Knife Notes for Writers

Got a query from a writer friend about a Glock handgun, (HQ in Austria, but with other plants around the world) and while I'm hardly the world's expert on guns in general, and this kind in particular, I knew the answer, passed it along, and was happy to do so.

Lot of writers put these pistols in the hands of their heroes and villains, and they are what most police in the USA carry these days, so in the continuing series of Gun Notes for Writers, some basic information about Glocks.

I won't go into great detail -- you can look at the pictures above and get a lot of what you might need, but there are two things you should know, and that writers seem to commonly miss, even those who should know better.

1) Much of the Glock handgun is made from black plastic. High-tech, strong, wears well, but plastic. Not the barrel or the internal parts, but what you see when you look at it is mostly plastic. It will not pass a metal detector because there is enough steel in it to set the scanner off.

2) Glocks do not have external safeties, as in "He flipped the safety on." or "He thumbed the safety off." Not there. No button, lever, or other controls. Yes, there are internal thingees that make the thing safer, but Your Hero won't be fiddling with them. Pretty much, if you don't physically pull the trigger, it won't go bang.

More information here.

A general admonition: If you are going to arm your Heroine or Hero and you aren't absolutely sure of the hardware you give 'em, do not go into detail. Just say "gun," because even using "pistol" or "revolver" will get you in trouble if you don't know the difference. Better -- ask somebody who knows, or go look at one of them down at the local gun store. If you don't know it, don't say it, 'cause if you do, you are just going to have the gun nuts shaking their heads and calling you "stupid ..."

Which you will be for not doing basic research.

Ditto knives.

Lot of good and bad guys in novels will carry sharps, tactical folders, neck-knives, sheath knives, automatics or assisted-openers, even friction folders, aka grandpa's pocketknife.

You don't need to know a lot about them -- you can say "knife," and maybe how long it is, but if you wander off into brand names or point types and edge-grinds, you had better know that "tanto" is not the Lone Ranger's sidekick ...


Some guy said...

I'm going to try to weasel in a question here under the umbrella subject of "science fiction authors knowing what they're writing about". Yesterday I was rereading a book by a (different) martial arts science fiction author I like and tripping over the chess mistakes - (analogous to gun/pistol/rifle mistakes)- and wondered something for the umpteenth time; is there some kind of running science fiction author gag in which they deliberately make boners when they write about chess? Almost everyone from Heinlein on down seems to botch the chess - (well, not George R. R. Martin, but he played tournament) - when they write about it. (If it's happened in your books, at least I don't remember it so I figured you were a safe author to ask). I know there are all kinds of weird science fiction gags and I'm wondering if you can tell me if this is one of them....?

Steve Perry said...

SG --

Not that I know about, viz the running gag. George RR was a ranked player (and if you read mysteries, so was Phil Margolin.)

Only chess game I put into a book, insofar as listing the moves, was a classic grandmaster game I used move-for-move in my first published novel, old nomenclature, so if it's wrong, it was because I misread it ...

Some guy said...

Well, if you've made any chess mistakes I haven't noticed. That's why I asked you. If I tried asking an author who had, I'd probably end up saying something subtle and diplomatic like "So, did you screw up or were you were just trying to be funny?"

But - constructive suggestion, honest! - if you do a reprint of Musashi Flex you might want to tinker with the math a little. Some very streetwise character - Raven? - did math in her head, miscalculated, and cost herself and her client money. I kind of ground to a halt while I tried to figure out if there was some character-based reason why she was deliberately shorting herself. (She was trying to help out the main character without hurting his pride?) If there was, I couldn't figure it out, so I thought it was probably unintended.

Of course, when I run into helpful types like myself I like to lynch them...

Steve Perry said...

I confess I can't remember the scene -- nor the character "Raven," so I dunno. I usually double-check anything with numbers in it to make sure the math is right, so either I completely blew it, or I did it on purpose to make a point. Since I can't recall it, I can't say which ...

Anonymous said...

Steve, may I ask your thoughts on creating weapons for stories? In something I'm working on, I made up a bladed weapon that I thought was moderately bad-ass -- not talking lightsaber, but more an amalgam of different knives.

I doubt it would do much in the real world, but I think it serves to scare the crap out of the peasant population.

Steve Perry said...

JL --

Having created a few -- I modesty point to my spetsdöd as one, as well as a few of blades -- I'm all for coming up with new weapons -- as long as they are equal to, or better than the ones we already have.

A vibro-blade needs power. A steel one doesn't run out of juice or bullets ...

A particle-beam pistol that shoots a bolt slow enough you can dodge it? I don't see it. If you are on a pressurized vessel in vacuum, then something that won't punch a hole in the hull but that will take out a soft target is a good idea. Stunners, needlers, zap-guns, all cool stuff.

I once had a guy who presumed to be an editor put barbs on my character's combat spear point. I pointed out that such was a great tool for fishing or a one-stick against an animal or even a human, and terrific for an arrow, but that if you were on the field of battle and your spear got stuck in the first person you skewered, then you were going to be shit-out-of-luck when the next guy stepped up.

But he thought it *looked* cool, and all my form-follows-function explanations were wasted.

Too often -- especially in SF or fantasy movies, the looks-cool test is the one applied first.

That's one of two books I don't claim on my credit sheet. (See the post on the story of the Infamous Rando Bryd ...)

Sometimes you see these fantasy knives for sale and they look fierce but you can see they aren't going to be really useful. First rule for a working knife is that it does the job for which it is designed.

Plain and simple is better than ornate and complicated most of the time.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I appreciate the input. The spetsdöd is indeed sublime. I find it difficult to read of its use without flicking my own finger (and maybe making little coughing sounds).

Though I'm not a Trekkie, a good example of the "look-cool-first" mentality is the Klingon Bat'leth. I'd rather fight with a butter knife or even a toothpick over that monstrosity -- although some guy apparently robbed a 7-11 wielding one.

My created weapon is an interrogation device, and I call it The Answer. Picture a large cleaver with sawteeth along the top, and a nasty spike on the pummel. It's lacking a point to thrust, but I try to play off that weakness when someone defends against it. You wouldn't stab with something like that, anyway; but you can imagine the potential for doing other wicked things.

Feel free to tell me if you think it's lame; I have thick skin and value your opinion. For reference, the setting is (tentatively) pre-firearm.

jks9199 said...

Simple question about "The Answer"... (you don't have to answer publicly!)

Why? How does this knife become an "interrogation tool?"

Like Steve said -- the first rule for a new tool/weapon is that it does the job it's supposed to do. Kind of correlated with that is that there is a job to do... and your knife doesn't seem to have a job, to me.

Let me use the spetsdod as a example. Steve needed a unique & distinctive weapon, that allowed full use of empty hand techniques, could be non-lethal, and wasn't easily gimmicked. What's easier than pointing at something to shoot it? They're a great creation (AND I WANT SOME!!), and they fit the job. They're a reasonable outgrowth of technology that's around today, too.

Maybe you've got a great set of answers to this in your book. I don't know... I'd encourage you to do some research into real, historical torture devices from around the same era. (Sounds kind of like maybe the Inquisition could give you some ideas...) You might find some good starting points there.

Travis said...

Hmm, I don't know if it's the same author Some Guy was talking about but I suspect it might be based on the description.

I was at a reading where an author actually brought up that sort of chess mistake in the discussion; he simply made a mistake that didn't get caught in the various stages of redoing/editing.

He had recieved a letter from someone who was so upset about it that he stopped reading. The author sent him a check for the price of the book and a note that if that was enough to make him stop reading he probably wasn't enjoying the book very much anyway! Just made me like and respect the author that much more.

I don't remember any Chess making it into the books but Fritz Leiber was also a high level chess player (and fencer as well).

jks9199 said...

I think both Arthur C. Clark and Larry Niven made mistakes in calculating orbits, too.

Mistakes are gonna happen. But you can avoid making silly mistakes by limiting the depth you write to what you know. There's an author noted for the realism of his writing who lost me as a reader because his description of a federal agency and the rationale for something was wrong; I can tell you which nickel tour he drew it from. And it wasn't a relevant detail to plot or story...

Some guy said...

Hi, Travis. Actually, I was thinking about a number of SF authors who write about chess. But the one I mentioned specifically didn't just make one mistake, which he knew about. The author has made more than one in different books, and the chess patter is all wrong; that's how you know it's not just a typo or something. It's as if someone doing a math problem says "when the numerical integer five is multiplied by the prime integer seven, the resulting product is equal to thrice ten and five." No one says that; everyone just says "seven times five is thirty-five". It just rings false and you know the author isn't familiar with with the subject. (Closing here at work, gotta run, but that's pretty much it anyway.)

Dan Moran said...

Most writers are good enough at faking it to fool people who aren't competent in a given area. Then you hit an area where the reader Knows Something ... even money you trip it up.

No one can know everything. Even your proof readers can't know everything.

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, I think in the original printing of Ringworld, the sun came up in the west ...

The purpose of an interrogation knife would be, I surmise, to scare the answers out of somebody who saw it, so big and nasty works, though that will depend on the guy getting asked. Small and innocuous-looking would terrify somebody with any imagination, too.

Cleavers are used to chop and this sounds kind of like a something you'd use to dismember a critter. But major limb-lopping, especially in a pre-industrial society gets you dead guys pretty quick, so I'm not sure how useful the too. would be, come the actual cutting.

The spetsdod came about because I needed a protagonist who didn't kill people. Two main reasons: Because paralyzing them for six months cost more than just killing, and because Khadaji needed to build a legend he could then use as a part of his war against the Confed. Plus the spetsdod is, I thought, rather elegant, requires more skill, ala the lightsaber, and is most convenient. I owe the basic idea to Harry Harrison, who had handguns in forearm holsters that jumped into shooters's hands, and his novel Deathworld, which if you haven't read, and you like action, you should. The spetsdod saved a step, and since I was using darts, was small enough to be molded to the back of the hand.

Had an engineer buddy who came up with a design, just for fun. If I'd had a couple million bucks, he could have tooled up and built them. I've also had a couple of engineering guys offer to hand-build prototypes, but I haven't seen any of them come to fruition yet. You could do it with the innards of a Daisy CO2 pistol and pellets or .177 steel darts ...

Years after I put the spetsdods on my Matadors, a guy who optioned the book came up with the notion of a retractable barrel, like a spring-knife, and I shook my head that I hadn't thought of that: Point your finger, the barrel pops out, shoot, and it retracts when you close your trigger finger.

jks9199 said...

Retracting barrels sounds like a neat idea on a drawing board -- but it'd take a beat in practice. One of the best things about the spetsdod, in my mind, was that as fast as your hand came up -- the weapon is in play. No draw, no delay; get your hand up and you can shoot. You can even use it in hand-to-hand; think about how being able to shoot if the fingers can point towards someone changes the dynamics of a fight! Would a point blank spetsdod shot in the foot be a hell of a distraction during a bearhug? Especially loaded with something akin to Spasm? Or the groin instead of the foot!

Travis said...

Okay, so not the same author then. That would be annoying. And really, how hard would it be to find a chess guy to proof it?

Steve Perry said...

Dan's comment is on the money -- you can fool some of the people all of the time, and even all of the people some of the time ...

Direct research is best, and expert advice isn't bad. It depends on what you are offering.

If all you want to know what it feels like to get into a fight with four guys, gather up four friends and let them thump you real good. If you want to know what it's like to beat four guys, that changes the problem and solution. If you want to be able to do the latter routinely, that puts you into another league.

If your protagonist is just an ordinary Joe, how he views the fight is different than how the Master of Death looks at things. The old Gordy Dickson line about the Dorsai looking at a potential fight -- he's not worried about winning, he is thinking about how he is going to do it with the least amount of muss and fuss.

Ditto guns. If your Hero has never fired a gun and doesn't know Colts from Captain Kirk, then you say that. But if he's supposed to be a expert, he's got much more room to look stupid if he starts blathering about caliber and actions. Schweitzer's Rule: If you don't know it, don't say it.

"He grabbed the gun." is bland and dull, but way better than "He grabbed the Desert Eagle .357 Magnum revolver ..."

The old example is, you want to know about bridges, you talk to somebody who is an expert in, say, bridge-building. At some point in the conversation, s/he will say something that expert bridge-builders will know, but that nobody else will. If you drop that line into your description in the right place, you are golden.

You convince the bridge-builders, because they know only they know that; you convince the lay audience because even though they don't know what you are talking about, it sounds like you do, and that is better than really knowing.

I want to catch 'em all. If a thousand people read a scene and nine hundred and ninety five of them buy it and five don't because they know I don't really know what I'm talking about, that's not a passing grade. But despite your best efforts, that will happen because you don't know everything.

You have to at least make the effort, though.