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"Fry, cover us buddy! You got the only wounded-up positron shooter!"
So, you're writing science fiction. Need a weapon name? All you have to do is put the name of a subatomic particle in front of a regular modern weapon. Simple! Sometimes "ion" and "plasma" are used to the same effect despite not being subatomic particles, although they may be relevant to the weapon's working in some cases. Sometimes, just "particle" is used, and sometimes, "quantum" is used despite the word by itself being utterly irrelevant to the weapon's operation (its meaning being "small(est) individual quantity").
This sometimes results in hilariously unrealistic
weapon names for people with a knowledge of the properties of said particles. A "Meson Cannon
", for example, would be a terribly pointless weapon and a "Gluon Gun
" wouldn't be much use either. This however can be averted by creating your own fictional particles with fictional properties
, or by simply doing a bit of research - 'Photon Beam Cannon
' for example could realistically denote a laser or any electromagnetic radiation based Energy Weapon
, a regular Photon Cannon could just be a flashlight, and 'Positron Warhead' could refer to an explosive that uses antimatter
annihilation as its energy source.
Often, if the writers bother with background material
they will list such weapons as having yields in the kilo-gigaton range, making this a case of Nuclear Weapons Taboo
This is a Sub-Trope
of Sci-Fi Name Buzzwords
. Less realistic examples often fall into Technobabble
open/close all folders
- Some Bronze Age Marvel titles occasionally featured a "meson disintegrator". (Considering their nanosecond half-lives, mesons actually do a pretty good job of disintegrating all on their own.)
- The proton torpedoes of Star Wars count as these.
- So does the Ion Cannon in The Empire Strikes Back.
- It arguably also makes the most sense, since it's supposed to disable electronics (like Solar storms do to our satellites)
- Ghostbusters: Proton packs, which are "positron colliders" (or sometimes "unlicensed nuclear accelerators") that shoot particles from "neutrona wands".
- From the checklist Alex ran down in The Last Starfighter, Gunstars are apparently armed with a particle beam and proton bolts.
- In the novelization, Grig states the real names involve science too advanced to translate, so he uses the game terms for the sake of convenience.
- The fairies of Artemis Fowl use neutrino charges to blow stuff up at one point.
- One of the main LEP weapons is the Neutrino handgun series, which has variable power settings that let it gently heat substances, stun perps, or provide lethal blasts of powerful energy.
- This is subverted in a later book, which specifies that "Neutrino" is actually a brand name (note the capital letter) and the gun is actually a laser.
- One character in Fantastic Voyage II by Isaac Asimov jokingly suggests that the military should start researching neutrino bombs. As he sees it, they'd have all the positive effects of weapons development — scientific advancement, job creation, and so on — and none of the negative effects — such as the ability to actually kill people.
- Some Real Life models of supernovae claim that it's outrushing neutrinos from the collapsing core that ignite the star's outer layers. So maybe it is possible to use neutrinos to kill people....
- It is — all but one-in-a-quadrillion-or-so neutrinos pass through the body without effect, but the ones that do get stopped have the same sort of effect as any other form of ionizing radiation. If you were on a planet around a supernova and were shielded from everything else, the neutrinos would give a lethal radiation dose.
- Indeed, if you can generate enough neutrinos to kill someone, you could probably kill them even if they were on the other side of a planet...
- The "proton cannons" of The Pentagon War actually fire an electrically neutral hydrogen plasma, but "electrically neutral hydrogen plasma cannon" would take too long to say.
- But "plasma cannon" is apparently fine for other authors...
- "Plasma Torpedoes" get a mention from time to time in the Honor Harrington novels. In usage, they are more akin to cannons than torpedoes.note They are very short ranged and ineffective against sidewalls or gravity wedges (to the point of usually being irrelevant) but immensely destructive on the very rare occasions where they can be brought into play.
Live Action TV
- Star Trek likes to name torpedo types like this despite sometimes having an actual explanation for their payloads, but mostly the names just denote the color of the torpedoes. There's:
- The standard Photon Torpedo (antimatter, white in the original series, blue in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, red in the subsequent movies, orange in the Next Generation onwards).
- The better Quantum Torpedoes (zero-point energy, blue-white).
- Polaron Torpedoes (purplish red).
- Plasma Torpedoes (red in the original series, green in Star Trek: The Next Generation).
- And probably a whole bunch of torpedoes used only once by lesser species and never seen again.
- Star Trek: Voyager. The Doctor threatens off some powerful aliens with Voyager's 'photonic cannon' in "Tinker, Tailor, Doctor, Spy". The weapon is entirely imaginary, as is his role as Voyager's "Emergency Command Hologram"note .
- Battlestar Galactica gave us "pulsar cannons." While pulsars aren't a subatomic particle, they're a type of neutron star, which does have "neutron" in its name. (The prospect of somebody shooting neutron stars at you is also pretty frightening.) The reimagined version stuck with good old atom bombs.
- Tom Servo of Mystery Science Theater 3000 once had a "neutron machine pistol" during a sketch. He called it Lucille.
- Gamma guns from Quark
- The typical handgun in Babylon 5 was the PPG, or Phased Plasma Gun.
- Traveller largely keeps it "realistic" (with most ships only having lasers or nuclear missiles), save for the fusion gun and the spinal mount meson cannon.
- Warhammer 40K:
- The Vespid (wasp-like aliens) use neutron blasters, a device that fires neutrons when the Vespid crystal resonates at the appropriate frequency.
- Most Tau weaponry is plasma-based, but several weapons use gatling ion cannons.
- Imperial forces have limited access to plasma weapons, which they barely know how to maintain in the first place. They also have "Melta" weapons, which fluff describes as working the way a "real" plasma-shooting weapon would without the quasi-magical technology.
- The Star Munchkin roleplaying-game book parodies the concept, explaining that the smaller the thing the torpedo is named after is, the bigger the explosion the torpedo makes.
- BattleTech has a example in the form of the Particle Projection Cannon (which, incidentally, is described as firing a stream of ions or protons). It's more commonly referred to by the initialism PPC.
- Numerous weapons in Escape Velocity. Neutron turrets are superior to proton turrets, which are superior to laser turrets.
- Mostly ditched in Nova, which just calls most of its guns "blasters" (except for the railguns and chainguns). It does have an "ion cannon", but explains that it really does shoot ions — charged helium atoms, to be precise. However, the Auroran "Fusion Pulse Cannon" stands out as a Dubious Science Alert.
- The MagiMechTech MechaMechs in Kingdom of Loathing use photoprotoneutron torpedoes.
- In Supreme Commander, the Aeon Illuminate has strategic bombers which drop 'quark bombs'.
- Transformers: War for Cybertron has 'Neutron Assault Rifles', 'Ion Disruptors' and 'Nucleon Shock Cannons'.
- Given their nature as Mechanical Lifeforms, ion weaponry is a viable threat to Cybertronians. A 'nucleon' is a particle that makes up the nucleus of an atom, or in other words, proton and neutrons. Somehow, in the Transformers setting, this also denotes a powerful but unstable fuel source in the Transformers universe, and apparently it is used to power the explosive 'shock cannons' (which are really just large missile launchers). It's possible it may have something to do with nuclear power, but none of the fiction so far has gone into specifics aside from labeling it both powerful and unpredictable. Perhaps the strangest thing about Nucleon is that it is rather consistently depicted as a liquid, like Energon.
- From the Wing Commander series:
- Neutron guns, Ion cannons, Particle guns, and Tachyon guns. The torpedoes in this setting are simply called "torpedoes", but they are designed to be used against targets protected by "Phase Shielding".
- Parodied in Zigfrak in the form high level fusion engine cells going from hydrogen cells to protium cells to deuterium cells and finally to the legendary tier fuel of "Liquid Swarzenegger".
- Privateer gives us Proton Torpedoes, which are really just very powerful dumbfire missiles that are otherwise unrelated to the regular torpedoes of the rest of the series.
- The Back Story for "Hawk" includes his family being wiped out in the "proton bombing" of his homeworld.
- Half-Life has the Tau Cannon (aka the Gauss Gun) and the Gluon Gun (aka the Egon).
- The gigantic Wave Motion Guns of FreeSpace are typically called "beams", both in-game and out, but their technical name is "Photon Beam Cannon". There's also the Meson Bomb, a superpowerful explosive that completely vaporizes anything within three kilometers. One fan-made campaign threw it all into a blender and hodge-podged together a beam cannon using a meson bomb's energy reaction as a power source.
- The Marvel vs. Capcom series brings us Iron Man's PROTON CANNON.
- Galactic Civilizations 2 is rife with these.
- Command & Conquer has the GDI's Ion Cannon in the Tiberium games and the USA's very similar Particle Cannon in Generals, and the Allies have the Proton Collider in Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3.
- MechWarrior and its related games featured the weapon known as the PPC, which stands for 'particle projector cannon', derived from the tabletop source material. It is often compared to man-made lightning, but the fiction suggests the weapon fires beams of charged particles. A large percentage of the time, it is rendered as a blue stream of energy with some lead time. The version in the Mechwarrior 2 trilogy fires what the guides term 'plasma balls'.
- The latter may ironically stem from the "energy shells" mentioned in the description of the Manticore tank's "Parti-Kill PPC" in the board game's own fiction...which is explicitly described as working differently from most standard weapons of that type.
- Amusingly enough for the page description, game developers Silicon Knights created a top down turn-based-strategy/action hybrid game called Cyber Empires which featured the Neutrino Cannon as its most powerful energy weapon.
- Starsiege and its predecessors, the Earthsiege series, featured the PBW, for particle beam weapon, which is described as an 'electromagnetic shotgun.' Bearing in mind that the weapon fires a single discrete beam, this raises some questions about how exactly the weapon operates.
- Another example from the series is the electron flux whip, or ELF, which is called the 'lightning bolt on a leash.' It is often rendered as a continuous arc of blue or yellow electricity with a short range, or occasionally as a slow, single arc that twists awkwardly through the air to damage the target's shields or armor.
- Mass Effect has the Reapers' Wave Motion Guns, which are not beams but are actually "magnetohydrodynamic cannons"... subverted, as this is actually a perfectly accurate descriptor of the weapon: it fires a stream of molten metal at relativistic speeds.
- Several weapons in the X-Universe series fit this. Ion Disruptor, Ion Pulse Generator, Ion Cannon, Ion Shard Railgun, and Photon Pulse Cannon. Oh, and the Kha'ak use kyon emitters, which fire a fictitious particle. The names are normally fairly justified by Flavor Text.
- Several of the energy weapons mounted on Protoss vehicles in Starcraft qualify. Corsairs use a Neutron Flare, Scouts mount dual photon blasters and anti-matter missiles, Arbiters and Dragoons carry phase disruptor cannons, and their defense building is a Photon Cannon.
- The tools/weapons used by Probes and SC Vs are Particle Beams and Fusion Cutters respectively.
- A Terran Ion Cannon features in one mission, with the Informed Ability to prevent ships from leaving a planet.
- An obscure Russian 4X game called Remember Tomorrow might as well be the poster boy for this trope. In a slightly misguided effort to create variety in types of available weapons, engines, and power systems, the designers seem to have found a list of particle names and matter states, and stapled entries from it in front of various "cannons", "engines" and "generators". Highlights include "ion generators", "proton missiles", and cannons in "proton", "gluon", "meson", "antimeson", "graviton", "boson" and "baryon" varieties, culminating in the ultimate beam-type weapon, the "neutrino accelerator".
- Sword of the Stars: The Sorting Algorithm of Weapon Effectiveness for particle beam weapons goes Particle, Neutron, Positron, Meson with Graviton and Pulsed Graviton somewhere off the main branch. The unguided torpedoes go Photonic -> Gluonic -> Kelvinic or Mesonic.
- The Homeworld games have the Ion Cannon, which is the heaviest weapon available save for the Progenitor Phased Cannon Array. It is exclusively a starship weapon (and a ludicrously big one at that) - except for the Bentusi, who managed to put two of them on fighters.
- Given Homeworld's hardness the Ion Beam Cannon might be a subversion of the trope, possibly being a weapon that accelerates charged particles to relativistic speeds.
- In Space Empires, torpedoes go from Anti Matter to Quantum. The beam weapons use protons and mesons.
- In EVE Online, hybrid blasters of all sizes come in three variants: electron, ion, and neutron, all of which use the same types of metallic charges (which also double as railgun rounds).
- The two most powerful energy weapons in Wasteland are the ion beamer and meson cannon. The best melee weapon is called a "proton ax", whatever that means.
- Dawn of War: Photon/Plasma grenades for Tau Shas'ui/Eldar Guardians respectively.
- In a parody of this, positron shooters are apparently standard issue for DOOP soldiers in Futurama. They play Pop Goes The Weasel as they're wound up.
- Spoofed in Madballs: Escape from Orb, where our heroes launch a "photon bathtub" to slow down the bad guys.