All posts by Michael Schwarz

Q&A: Unarmed Parry

How realistic is stopping a knife from killing you by grabbing the blade with your hands?

Kind of. It’s realistic in the sense that it can and does happen. At the same time, it probably won’t save your life. Knife wounds to the palms, (called, “defensive wounds,”) are fairly common when someone has been attacked by a knife wielding opponent. Usually, what happens is they’ll attempt to block the knife by putting up their hands, palms out, and their palms and fingers will take the initial assault. That I’m most familiar with the term from autopsies should say a lot about how well this usually works out for the victim.

If you’re dealing with a situation, where someone’s trying to stab you and your only option is to catch the blade with your hand, it is better than dying. However, it is also a very temporary solution, and one you can’t repeat after using. It’s also, probably, not your best option.

When you bleed, your body is trying to do two things; first clean the wound and expel any foreign objects in it, then seal the wound over to allow the tissue to heal. Fresh blood is aggravatingly slick. Once exposed to oxygen, blood becomes tacky and coagulates over the course of a few minutes. (Specific clotting times vary based on a number of factors. For example: if your character is an alcoholic, their blood’s ability to clot will be severely impaired.) It only remains tacky for a few minutes, and will then harden into a solid mass, so the window here is fairly narrow.

When you take a knife to the hand, you’re going to bleed all over your hand. That means your hands will get slick, and have a harder time gripping the blade. This is before you consider the part where your hand is actually getting cut to pieces. Eventually the blood will clot (whether you survive long enough to see this or not), at which point gripping the blade would become easier, but that’s not a realistic consideration because the fight won’t last long enough to get there.

As I’ve said before, your body functions on a kind of pulley system. Your muscles pull on tendons which in turn tense against your skeleton, causing your limbs to move. When you start cutting tendons, the pulley system starts to break down. Some of the most delicate pieces of this system are in your hands and feet. Start carving those apart, and your hand will not work. This isn’t an, “oh, I can force my way through on sheer willpower,” situation. The mechanical components critical to making your hands work will be damaged or destroyed. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh has been turned into butterflyed steak. Catching a knife with your hand will stop that strike, but it means your hand will not work again. Yes, if you survive, it can be repaired surgically, but that’s not going to keep you alive.

The better option, if you have sufficient manual dexterity to catch the blade is to catch your opponent’s wrist instead. Again, this isn’t a great position to be in, and wrist grabs are some of the weakest and riskiest holds, but it is far better than trying to grab their knife. Your arm or hand might get nicked by the blade, but that is vastly preferable to taking a direct blade to the hand. Going for the wrist is a legitimate strategy and a part of some knife fighting doctrine. Granted, your best option would be to maintain distance, and never let a knife wielder get close enough to attack, but that’s not always a practical option.

-Starke

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Death Threats

Well, Christmas has come early this year. We have an actual, fake, death threat.

I’m going to throw a TL;DR in the front of this. Usually, I’ll just type something snarky in these, like, “go back and actually read it,” but in this case: TL;DR: don’t make death threats on Tumblr. Or any social media, for that matter. Don’t make them in general, because it is illegal. But, the anonymity on social media is illusory. Just because I can’t see who wrote it, does not mean you’re magically invisible to the world. I say this as someone who has administered forums before; staff can see a lot of data you, as a user, don’t have access to. Using these venues for this kind of content is phenomenally stupid.

If you’re wondering why I’m not taking this seriously, there’s a few reasons. One: I know who wrote it, and yes, all five of those posts are from the same person. Two: No one cares about superheroes. Three: It’s less intimidating than the very bouncy dog that lives above us, because unlike the author, that dog both knows where we live, and could (theoretically) cause us harm. Finally: If someone were to decide to do horrific and unspeakable things to us, the original messages would give the police an immediate place to start searching.

So, let’s unpack how to actually make a death threat, if you ever need to create one for your writing. Because, if you’re going to do something, let’s do it properly.

Hilariously, the first cue that this is all from the same person is that their writing is terrible. I mean their actual writing, but also this. The thing about writing is, it’s actually substantially harder to identify the author when it’s in the median. Proper punctuation, grammar, and capitalization go a long way towards masking who you are. Word choice will betray you, and even within the US there are substantial dialect changes, depending on where you are in the country, which can give away who (and where) you are.

For example: if the sentence, “The Hamburger’s all,” makes sense to you without further context, you’re probably in Pennsylvania, or somewhere thereabouts. Or, if you refer to an ATM as a Cash Station, there’s a pretty good chance you’re somewhere in the Chicago sprawl. Though, if they weren’t trying to write like someone who was just paroled from 4chan, it might be more apparent. Seriously, there’s thousands of these little tells in regional dialects, and they’re worth learning about, if only for your writing.

As it stands, it does tell me the second post (reading from the bottom up, because Tumblr’s like that), was typed in on their mobile phone. Autocorrect will “fickle sick” you every time. So they were bouncing around between multiple devices, while typing. At that point, I do have to give her a little credit, because that’s a lot of effort to go through while still hiding behind an anonymous label.

If I was an asshole, I’d probably say something about how the anon icon is a weak attempt to look cooler than they actually are, with those dated Ray Bans, so I will. I mean, this is a death threat, so a little fun is in order.

At this point, I should probably also rabbit track and remind her that “your” is the possessive. “You’re,” is the contraction of, “you are.” As a writer, it’s one of those little annoyances you need to keep in mind at all times, especially if you want to be a professional some day. To be fair, this could be autocorrect striking again. Though, I can’t remember “talking about kill yourself,” so maybe more punctuation was in order. Also, turns out, due to the amount of coffee I consume, I’m immortal. So, there’s that.

The second thing is, no one cares about superheroes, especially not the author of the death threat. Now, before you try to correct me, I don’t mean individual characters. We all have our affectionate loyalty to various characters. But, no one cares about them as an aggregate. It’s easy to find someone who will get pissed off because you badmouthed Batman, or Spiderman. It’s a lot harder to find someone who’s really pissed because you made a crack at Nightman, or Raver.

Everyone’s got a few superheroes they despise. Sometimes it’s going to be big controversial picks, like Wolverine, or Superman. Sometimes it’ll be safer picks like third tier X-Men. Sometimes it will be the truly bizarre, like Dogwelder. Sometimes it’ll be characters you’re really not supposed to like, such as Elite, The Holy, and Mr. Payback. Everyone’s got a few superheroes where you step back and go, “nope, not that one.”

So when I say, “no one cares about superheroes,” what I mean is, the death threat lacks specificity. This is actually a problem for a lot of writers. Always be specific when you’re writing. If you’re talking about a dog, talk about the dog, not the idea of a dog, out there somewhere, but this one. If you’re talking about a death threat, make it an actual goddamn threat. It helps ground the reader into the world you’re creating. Even when that world is just an idle threat to, “do stuff,” to someone you’ve never met.

A real death threat is going to be specific. It’s not, “how dare you impugn the concept of the superhero,” it’s, “you said untoward things about this character I am emotionally invested in to a profoundly unsound degree, prepare to die.” If it was the former, then you’d need to line Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Frank Herbert (necromancy may be necessary for this), and (possibly) Grant Morrison up against the wall ahead of us.

We occasionally get questions about how to threaten and intimidate characters, so let’s bring that topic up again. For a threat to work, it needs to be credible. You need to articulate actions your intended victim believes you’re capable of. I’d say, “actions you can actually do,” but there’s a little bit of wiggle room here. The threat also needs to create an image in the victim’s mind. This is, really, like any writing; if you’re not conveying an idea coherently, you need to start over and redraft it. To be fair, this is a problem the author struggles with, so I’m inclined to cut her some slack.

She wishes she could find us, because… you know our real names aren’t hidden, right? I mean, we post under pseudonyms here, but our actual names have been published on the site, and on our Patreon page. And, our mailing address is available online, as a result. Again, the purpose is to instigate fear, but, because the author didn’t do any research, it really misses the mark.

Doesn’t matter if it’s a novel or a death threat, you need to do your research. Learn what you can on the subject. You need to keep your audience engaged with the material. When it becomes blindingly apparent that you haven’t done the research, and the facts don’t mesh with reality, the suspension of disbelief breaks. Your audience has disconnected from the piece, and the best you can hope for is that they sit back and riff the hell out of what follows.

The second part, actually fails research. I’ve talked about taking people’s eyes out with your thumbs, and been in a situation where I seriously considered doing that for about half a second. We talk about horrific, disfiguring, injuries on a weekly basis. You only need to dig up the Starke Is Not a Real Doctor and The Only Unfair Fight tags, if you want to see discussions on this kind of material. So backing out and saying, “the most painful way possible,” is making threats you can’t deliver on, and failing to do the research.

The fact that I’m sitting here, trying to remember if I’ve done a post on pouring molten metal into wounds, should speak volumes about where someone would need to go to actually deliver on the, “most painful,” phrase.

Now, if you’re coming to something like this, and setting concrete goals, like, “I’m going to take your eyes out with a rusty grapefruit spoon, hope you’ve had your tetanus shots,” that’s a much more realistic goal, and a more credible threat. (Also, tetanus shots are their own flavor of torture, so that’s a perk.) It’s something you can actually do. Threats can be vague, like, “no, Mr. Bond, I have other plans for you.” But, a threat needs to be coherent, articulatable, and plausible.

I mean, sticking someone in an industrial microwave is a pretty painful way to die, but it requires that, you know, you have access to an industrial microwave.

Finally, if you read the TL;DR at the beginning, this should be familiar information, but don’t make death threats, especially not on social media. It’s profoundly stupid. Criminals, it should be noted, aren’t usually known for their intellectual prowess, but this is dumb. Florida Man dumb.

Social media isn’t like the US Postal system, or calling from a payphone. It is, absolutely traceable. There’s a very simple reason for this, if you could get true anonymity from the platform, it would rapidly find itself under scrutiny by law enforcement agencies like the DEA. You may wonder why, but the answer should be self evident. There are many people out there who make their living breaking the law. Just like you or me, the internet is a major boon for them. A truly secure and untraceable communications network buried on an easily accessible, and overtly legitimate site? Yeah, that would be way too good to pass up.

Now, the anon tag will conceal who sent the message from the recipient. At least it would, if the author’s writing style wasn’t instantly recognizable. That’s the point. It will not, however, shield your identity from law enforcement agencies.

At this point, it’s probably worth it to bring up a very brief discussion on The First Amendment. If you’re in the US, you’re probably vaguely aware of this. This is usually abbreviated as “Freedom of Speech,” and that’s accurate so far as it goes. But, what it really means is freedom from government retaliation over speech. It does not protect you from private response. To borrow a phrase, invoking the First Amendment is simply stating that whatever you said was not so incredibly stupid as to actually be illegal. It’s not a shield from criticism.

So, why am I bringing this up? Because it is also not absolute. There are exempted types of speech which do not enjoy First Amendment protections. You can dig the full list up online, if you really want, but one of the excluded groups is credible threats. If, the author had said, “I will find you, torture, and kill you,” well… actually, first I’d complement them finally finding their comma, but that could be construed as an actual threat. As a result, they could actually face criminal charges over it.

Historically, law enforcement has been pretty lax on these kinds of threats. However, it’s entirely possible that could change at any moment. Especially with increased attention on cyberstalking, online harassment, and internet bullying making the evening news. So, when I say, “don’t do this, it is illegal,” part of the reason is, you don’t want to be the poster child for a crackdown on internet threats.

If you’ve been the subject to this kind of behavior in the past, here’s the good news. You’re actually safer from your anonymous harassers than if they simply acted without warning. The reasoning is above. They said what they would do, before following through, and (figuratively) signed their name to it ahead of time. Any investigation of a physical attack against you will lead back to your harassers.

You can also avail yourself of the cyberbullying help organizations that have been getting press in recent years. You should also probably read this list. (And, yes, I am breaking the first couple rules at the bottom.) Granted, that list assumes the bullying is happening in a school environment, but things like site terms of service do still apply, after you’ve escaped into the real world. If you’re someone who sees a post like those pop up in your inbox, report them. Click the ellipsis next to the pencil icon and select “Report.”

Yes, people can and do use sockpuppet accounts, so blocking won’t always work. But, always remember, anonymous strangers on the internet only have the power you give them. Someone posts hateful, hurtful shit, directed at you personally; don’t try to understand, don’t make sense of it, just feed it to a grue, and find people that are supportive. They’re out there. Alternately: “If you’re getting death threats, you must be doing something right.”

Finally, if you ever want to be a professional writer, don’t stoop to this shit, seriously. This is the kind of thing that can come back, without warning, when someone with an axe to grind and access to old information wanders in and turns it into a huge mess.

-Starke

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Q&A: Shot by pets

This might be a strange question, but how likely is it that an animal could accidentally discharge a modern pistol, (such as a Glock) disregarding the horrible gun safety violations it implies, such as the safety being off and the gun being loaded? I’ve heard of animals accidentally discharging firearms by knocking them onto the floor, but would the amount of force required to pull the trigger be too much for, say, a dog or cat? thanks for indulging my odd request.

It’s possible. I remember reading a news story a couple years ago about a hunter who was shot by his dog. He left his rifle propped against something, the dog stepped on the trigger, and the bullet struck him. Though I don’t remember the details.

I can’t find the specific story now, because a websearch shows a number of similar stories. (Though Google does helpfully suggest I may want to limit my search to Floridians being shot by their pets. Statistically, if you’re shot by your dog, it seems there’s a roughly 40% chance you’re in Florida.)

Incidentally, there’s also a few stories of people being shot by their cats, though most of these are cases where the cat knocked a loaded pistol onto the floor.

In case the point was somehow missed. These are all gun safety failures, on the part of their owner. I have absolutely zero sympathy for someone who mishandles their gun and takes a bullet (or shotgun blast) as a result, and as funny as the image is, the animals are not at fault.

As for the specific example, I’ll just have to keep saying this, Glock pistols do not have manual safeties. It’s a specific design feature.

Depending on the firearm, having the safety on won’t necessarily prevent an accidental discharge from something like dropping it. Most modern pistols have some safety mechanisms to prevent this from happening, but there’s no universal rules.

In spite of having similar external characteristics, each firearm model is unique, and it can be impossible to fully determine how one works from an external examination. Idiosyncrasies, like how the safety functions, or what safety features a gun has vary wildly, sometimes even within a single manufacturer’s various product lines.

-Starke

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Q&A: Non-Violent Revolution

I’m writing a story about how four characters react to a clash between the revolutionary movement and military in their society. How could one of the characters prevent all out war while also overthrowing the government?

Not easily. My department chair in college focused on non-violent revolutions when he was getting his doctorate. His comment at the time was that there’s virtually no (scholarly) literature on the subject.

Avoiding violence in a revolution requires two things: You need to convince those in power not to use violence to enforce their authority and you need to convince everyone in the opposition from resorting to violence and deliberately escalating the situation.

The former is very difficult, the latter is nearly impossible.

When you’re looking at the factors that create a revolution, you’re primarily interested in oppression, exclusivity and capacity.

Oppression is fairly self explanatory, but the fact remains, if a government is not mistreating its citizens, or the vast majority of the population considers the system just, then you won’t have people rising up in revolt. People are stirred to action when they feel wronged. Normal bureaucratic malaise doesn’t cut it.

More disturbingly, it can be incredibly difficult to detect oppression, depending on how it is presented. If the population doesn’t feel oppressed, then they’re not going to rise up, even as members of society are being put down brutally and executed in the streets.

Exclusivity is the ability for private citizens to affect the government. An exclusive government is one that does not allow the civilian population to influence policy. It may also be highly nepotistic, with many key positions filled by family members of the head of state, or by close friends.

As with oppression, exclusivity is highly dependent on public perception. A dictator that frequently takes public input under advisement and acts on it wouldn’t be an exclusive system, even if their entire cabinet is made up of family members and close personal friends. Likewise, a state with rigged elections, and no public input wouldn’t be perceived as exclusive, unless the voter fraud is exposed.

It’s also worth pointing out, a state can be oppressive and exclusive, but still be perceived as the protector of its population. In these cases, you won’t see a revolution because people believe the state has their interests in mind. Of course, if the illusion shatters, everything else follows.

Capacity is the ability for a government to enforce its will. In the context of revolutions, we’re normally interested in its ability to inflict violence on the population.

Again, if a government has the capacity to kill everyone involved in ther evolution they’ll hunt them down as a warning to any future rebels. Remember, when we’re talking about what the government can actually do, not what it should hypothetically be capable of if everything goes according to plan.

Capacity rises and declines based on a number of factors. Their available manpower, their financial and material resources, the quality of their intelligence. Prolonged warfare, military dissent, economic unrest, technical obsolescence, counterintelligence, deteriorating public support and espionage (among other possible factors) can all whittle away at a state’s capacity.

What you’re looking for in a revolution is an oppressed population who cannot influence government policy and a weak state. If any of these three elements fail, then your revolution can’t happen, at least not normally.

A non-oppressive totalitarian regime sounds weird. It’s a kind of political philosophy unicorns that keeps coming up in hypothetical discussions on governance. From Plato to Machiavelli, the idea refuses to die.

A powerful and oppressive regime with public access is also, surprisingly, hard to unseat. There have been plenty of examples of these without associated revolutions.

Well funded and equipped, totalitarian regimes are, sadly, something we have plenty of examples of. A number of these did eventually fall to revolutionary forces, but it only came after the state’s capacity was undermined or decayed.

Under normal circumstances, you have a state that’s subjugating it’s population, an isolated elite pulling the strings, and a government that can’t actually wipe out a potential rebellion before it gets rolling, and recruiting real numbers, and engaging in actual combat operations.

In a non-violent revolution, you need to convince the state to sit down and listen to your grievances without resorting to violence. The reason I described this as “very difficult,” is because, you need to sit down with someone and get them to agree with you, when their first impulse is going to be to toss you in prison and wash their hands of the problem.

This can happen. When the threat of violence, and a painful death appears imminent, and your revolutionary is offering a way out that doesn’t end with the city in flames and the roads coated in blood. Managing to actually do this is truly impressive stuff, and most of the people who have attempted this in the real world ended up imprisoned and/or tortured.

Your revolutionary can’t step in earlier, because the state won’t listen,
and once the situation has degenerated into outright warfare, it’s too late.

The second problem is that revolutions are not homogenous entities that operate as a single coherent organization. They’re a coalition of groups who are unified by one common belief, that the state needs to be replaced, and not much else. They can agree that the guy in power needs to go, but not what the shape of the new government will be, after it’s over.

In case you’re wondering, you can’t really skip the coalition building phase of getting a revolution off the ground. Having a single, ideologically unified group to overthrow the government would be ideal, but reality is rarely so accommodating. Finding enough people to actually overthrow the government means making unlikely allies, and working with people you normally wouldn’t want to talk to. They have live bodies, and together you’ve got enough to turn the tide. “Stand together or die alone,” and all that.

Keeping everyone non-violent before the revolution is hard enough. You’ve got a lot of people who have a grudge against the existing government. These are people who feel strongly enough about their grievances to die for them. Finding enough people who are willing to do that is hard enough. Finding enough people who are willing, are smart enough to realize that there might be a way out of this without killing, and are also okay with a non-violent solution to the situation is nearly impossible.

A revolutionary leader who can hold their movement together on sheer force of will, and can inspire people into a unified cause can, potentially knit their revolution together to prevent this. Someone who is very careful in how they bring people in, and how their revolution operates can, potentially, keep this from becoming a problem.

After it’s over is the nearly impossible part. When all of these different factions united by one common goal have achieved that, the only thing they have left is a desire to reshape the state to suit their image of how things should be. Far too often, this translates into purges and civil war.

In a non-violent revolution, overthrowing the government is the easy part. Keeping all of the different political factions, which were oppressed under the previous regime playing nice while you try to build a new state is the hard part.

The most dangerous thing after the revolution is someone more ruthless than you. Revolution is not a pleasant business. It destroys the idealists and rewards the pragmatic and ruthless. The process of running one is a crucible. No one who goes in will come out exactly the same person. After the revolution, if you’re not the most ruthless person in the room, you’re not long for this world.

Keeping a coalition together after a revolution isn’t impossible. There are historical examples, including the United States, but it is an exceedingly difficult bar to hit. It’s far more common for the victors to begin by purging remnants loyal to the old regime, and then work their way through various minor factions who aided them, but are no longer necessary, and have become a potential liability. This can be framed any number of ways. It can be carried out covertly, it can be framed as remnant loyalists, it can be treated as normal criminal arrests.

In cases where the prior regime was supported by a foreign power, these purges are often couched in terms of removing foreign agitators or spies.

In fact, it’s very easy to end up exactly where you started, or worse off.

The best case examples are probably Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Mandela kept South Africa together by instituting policies that kept members of the Dutch government as members of the new integrated government, and pushed hard for a policy of no retribution. This, arguably, did a lot to keep South Africa intact. In contrast, while Gandhi managed to remove the British from India without resorting to violence, he did see his nation break apart into separate states.

Even if your revolution manages to hold themselves together, and don’t turn on each other, they’ve created a serious problem. They’ve destroyed their state’s capacity, creating a power vacuum. Other factions that may not have participated in the revolution are now in a far better position to exploit the current situation. This could include groups like organized crime, or even foreign powers, who aren’t above using the chaos to opportunistically grab a few bits for themselves.

Non-violent revolutions aren’t a panacea against this either. Even simple political instability can open the door for an aggressive foreign power to move in, “in order to ensure the peace” and annex anything that’s not nailed down. It also allows organized criminal enterprise to become more brazen; even under the best circumstances, you’ve removed the checks that were holding them in place, and any less oppressive policies will be viewed as a practical invitation.

A military junta isn’t off the table either. This is especially true if the previous regime kept the military under control because of close personal ties, and the transition to the revolutionary government would diminishes the military’s political influence. They may even view this as an act of self defense. Sadly, the term “military junta” is an established phrase because this exact kind of coup has happened many times before, including cases where there was a democratic regime change, and not an actual revolution.

So, how would someone walk into all of this and keep it from degenerating into a bloodbath? Search me. You’re talking about a very singular kind of character, and they could still end up splattered across the pavement because of a fanatic.

-Starke

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Welcome to the New Site

Welcome to HowtoFightwrite.com In the coming months, we’re going to start converting over our old articles from Tumblr to a more convenient and accessible format.

We’ve also set up forums which will allow our followers to get critique on their writing. Something we weren’t set up to handle on Tumblr.

We’ll be working on expanding this moving forward. If you’d like to see something specific here, please drop a comment below.

-Starke

Q&A: Hand Cannons

In this story I’m working on, the protagonist is a security officer working for a shady human augmentation corporation. They routinely come into contact with cybernetically-enhanced criminals and they chose a Desert Eagle .50 in order to actually do damage to any augmented threats. But I was wondering just how practical would that choice be? From what I’ve found, a box of that ammo goes for about $42, but I’m no expert on firearms.

It’s not. As firearms go, the Desert Eagle is sort of ridiculous. It’s a stupidly big and heavy gun. They’re designed more around the idea of looking cool and imposing, rather than actually being a practical combat weapon. Which is part of why Hollywood loves them.

They have a home in the high end sport shooting market. Basically for the same reasons they found a home in films; it’s big, showy, and looks cool. If you view guns as recreational equipment, want to have the biggest toy and are willing to spend, that’s what the Desert Eagle delivers. That’s also pretty much all the Desert Eagle delivers.

The spending part is important, the Desert Eagle itself is not a cheap gun. Aftermarket rates for .50 Desert Eagles range from $1.5k – $3k. It’s not just the gun, as you pointed out, .50 AE run close to $2 a bullet.

Put this in perspective, your character could buy a Remington 870, and keep it loaded it with FRAG-12s for less than a Desert Eagle would cost. (Assuming they could actually buy FRAG-12 rounds to begin with.)

Assuming your character’s gun is actually part of their job, there’s a decent chance the corporation would be the one paying for it, and the ammo. Especially if they actually expect your character to be using it on people. That said, the expenses would still be relevant, if only because accounting wouldn’t want to see the security division snorkeling through cash when cheaper, better, options exist.

Regardless who’s paying, your character would probably be better off with a 10mm pistol. A Glock 20 will run you around $600, and the ammo is around $0.35 a round. That’s still somewhat pricey as handgun ammo goes, but it’s far cheaper than .50 AE.

That said, the entire reason 10mm Auto never caught on in the real world is because it kicks hard. As with the .50 AE, 10mm Auto is an overpowered round. For perspective, it’s muzzle velocity is between the .357 and .41 magnum cartridges.

If your character absolutely needs something with stopping power similar to a Desert Eagle, they’ll be better off getting a rifle or carbine chambered in 5.56mm. For visual aesthetics, you might want to take a look at the H&K G36C or the SIG552.

Realistically, handguns are what you give someone when you don’t expect a problem but they should have something, “just in case.” If your shady cybernetics company is sending their security forces out to deal with criminals, they’re better off with automatic rifles.

FRAG-12s aren’t off the table. These are impact detonation grenades designed to chamber into a 12 gauge shotgun. Basically impossible to obtain on the civilian market, but for a corporation with defense contracts these might an option.

-Starke

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Q&A: Kockouts

How plausible is it to knock someone unconscious without killing them? I have a monster character that, when people annoy him, picks them up and slams to either knock them out or kill them. One of my characters has to have this happen to them and they survive it, but I’ve heard it’s actually really rare to knock someone out and not kill them. Is it true that this isn’t plausible, and if it’s not is there anything else, like smothering, that they *could* survive? I love your blog by the way.

I know we’ve answered this one in the past, but it doesn’t seem to be properly tagged, so I can’t find it. The very short version is, “It’s entirely plausible, but your character will probably end up a vegetable after the fact.”

Being knocked unconscious is actually a concussion. It’s a life threatening injury. Being knocked out for more than a few seconds (of the top of my head, the number is somewhere around 30) will result in permanent brain damage for the victim. Being unconscious for more than a few minutes will result in either a coma or death. (For what it’s worth: I’m phrasing it like the symptom is the cause. The concussion’s severity determines both how long the victim is out, and the extent of other neurological damage.)

So, while it’s entirely possible to be knocked out by being body slammed into a wall, freeway support column or ‘57 Chevy, undertaking complex tasks like walking, talking, or remembering your own name, will probably be out of reach afterwards. Depending on the severity of the concussion these symptoms could last for minutes to permanent.

It’s also worth pointing out that concussions are cumulative. They’re literally bruising on the brain itself, from bouncing against the inside of the skull. These do stack up, meaning future concussions occur more easily, and are more severe. Knocking characters out repeatedly will kill them, quickly.

-Starke

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Q&A: Sci-fi Firepower

For a sci-fi webcomic, I’ve been working on the specs of a class of power-armor clad enforcers (called Jotunns) and their weaponry; they have a specific handgun they use. For ammunition I was thinking of two types they carry: 12.7mm hollowpoint for soft targets and shorter range, and tungsten-tipped sabot rounds as ‘high-power’ rounds, for anti-armor/anti-giant-mutant and long-range use. Is this just me going way off the mark for firepower, or could this be justified for a man-scale tank?

So, 12.7mm is a real round (well, several different rounds), and it makes this entire question a little strange. We talked about the idiosyncrasies of firearms a couple weeks ago, and I had to check, but 12.7mm did come up as an example. 12.7mm is half an inch, so .50. Occasionally, you’ll see .50 BMG listed as 12.7x99mm instead of the imperial caliber.

I’ve seen 12.7 come up as a distinct round in, basically, two places. There’s a 12.7x108mm Chinese AM round, which is their answer to the .50 BMG, and, Fallout: New Vegas.

Ironically, the reason New Vegas calls it a 12.7mm is actually in the above paragraph. The game includes an Anti Materiel rifle patterned off the Barret which fires .50 BMG rounds. Because of how New Vegas formats ammunition names, this creates an immediate problem. There’s two different .50 rounds. The BMG and the AE. The AE is a handgun round (12.7x33mm), the BMG rifle round (again, 12.7x99mm). So, if you include a .50 pistol, and a .50 rifle, people who aren’t very firearms savvy are going to wonder why they don’t share ammunition. “I mean, it’s all .50, right?”

What Obsidian (I think this was specifically J.E. Sawyer’s call, but I’m not completely certain) chose to do was label one as 12.7mm, and the other one .50. Since the Barret has slightly more name recognition it got to keep the imperial name, and the pistol got the metric.

The other thing weighing on giving the pistol the metric name was, it’s a returning design from the first two Fallout games. They had something called a 14mm pistol (externally based on a SIG sporting pistol, if I’m remembering correctly), which was an upgrade from the .44 Desert Eagle, in game terms.

All of that said? .50AE isn’t a great round, and, while I could be wrong, I don’t see it having a real future. It fits with Fallout because it’s chromed steel excess meshes well with 1950s consumer design.

Hell, the Desert Eagle is an excellent example of that era’s design aesthetics. Big, heavy, more steel and chrome than is practical. It’s a four pound pistol. Even though it’s Israeli and didn’t actually enter production until the 1980s, it’s an excellent flash card for that era of Americana.

So, here’s the hard part. For someone who’s not wearing a powered exosuit, a .50 is an annoying round to control. In an exosuit, and against the kind of targets where you’d really need that kind of firepower, I’m inclined to think it would be kind of anemic. Why use a .50 round, when you could simply have a standardized 19mm or 25.4mm high explosive round? With varying payloads depending on what you’re shooting. Sure, no normal human could use it, but if you’re in powered armor, that’s not an issue.

A sabot round is, basically, a dart loaded into a shotgun shell. Now, that’s not completely accurate, but if you’re dead set on using one. I’d recommend just using solid darts, rather than having a distinct tip. For serious AP capability in a high power rifle, I’d actually be more inclined to point at man portable gauss weapons, rather than wasting space on a sabot.

All of this is going to be predicated on the technology your characters have access to. So, it’s possible your setting just doesn’t have portable gauss weapons. Also, feel free to ignore the bolter calibers I listed back up there. That is a Warhammer 40k reference. But, for ways to load out a suit of powered armor, 40k is a fantastic thing to look at.

Some quick primers for powered armor:

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein is probably the patient zero of SciFi space marines in powered armor. I deeply dislike the politics that Heinlein was advocating, but the book is worth reading. I’m much more partial to the film, but that’s a brutal takedown of the military jingoism that Heinlein was celebrating.

Armor by John Steakley is written as a rebuttal to Starship Troopers. I’m inclined to say it’s actually a better book, but that’s my bias seeping in. Either way, Steakley does some good worldbuilding.

If you haven’t, Warhammer 40k’s Space Marines are something you really should be looking at. You can check the Lexicanum to get a quick overview, and some basic statistical data; it will also work as a good quick litmus test to tell if the setting’s zealotry dialed to 11 and played for laughs is something you can actually get into and enjoy. For specific recommendations, first impulse here is to actually point at the THQ games. The generically titled Space Marine is a surprisingly good third person action title. Dawn of War was my first real introduction to the setting, and Dawn of War 2 specifically isn’t a bad starting point.

Generally speaking, when you’re looking at characters in powered armor, it can trace it’s lineage back through one of these sources. So it’s probably worth looking at them, if you’re working with this sub-genre.

-Starke

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Q&A: Vampire Feeding Symptoms

If a vampire drains a victim completely of blood, would they show any bruises? If not, what other trauma would they show?

Given that a bruise is, literally, a sub-dermal hemorrhage… I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say, probably not. Actually, if you want something sufficiently messed up; a vampire that preferentially goes after bruises is a possibility.

That said, corpses don’t generally bruise. So, if they were killed, then exsanguinated, there wouldn’t be any bruising. Depending on how fast the vampire was draining them, I’m not even sure if bruises would form.

Now, what would happen if you hooked a vacuum cleaner up to someone’s vascular system? Yeah, I don’t know, and I really don’t want to research that. (Mostly, because I know it’s been done, and will return valid information.) But, depending on the specifics of how vampires work in your setting, they could actually rip apart the victim’s circulatory system, resulting in massive hemorrhaging, or collapsed veins and arteries.

Of course, if your vampires are messy eaters, and literally rip their victims apart… you’d see that on the victim.

This kind of illustrates the problem with vampire questions in general. There isn’t much consistency. Either in fiction or folklore. Most societies have some kind of vampire myth. It builds out of cultural anxieties, usually in reference to death and handling the dead. Though, it’s probably worth pointing out that Dracula, and the modern vampire mythos spawned from him has a lot more to do with sex, sexuality, and xenophobia, than anything to do with funerary rituals being botched.

The result is that vampires are as varied as the human cultures that created them. So, asking, “how would they work?” Is going to result in a fair bit of guess work. The other side of this is, in using them, you have a lot of freedom to decide how the rules work for your vampires.

In the past I’ve identified Ravenous (1999) as a pretty fantastic vampire movie. I stand by that. But, there aren’t any vampires in it. Not explicitly, anyway. It’s about cannibals who are empowered by feeding on human flesh, rejuvenating them and granting superpowers. The movie calls them Wendigo, but, they’re vampires.

For modern settings, I strongly recommend the parasitic variety. In the modern world, dead bodies drained of blood turning up is a clear sign that something has gone horribly wrong, and in a setting where vampires exist, you’re going to have people who hunt them. Meaning an exsanguinated victim is just one undead fashion reject signing themselves up for a world of hurt.

Although it’s a pain to find, I do still strongly recommend the British Ultraviolet TV series. It was a smart look at vampires hiding in the modern world. It’s also a very intelligent, and rational, handling of the pre-millenial anxieties of the late 90s.

White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade is somewhat similar to Ultraviolet. They’re both working towards building vampires that could exist in the modern day. Though, V:TM is a lot less shy about insinuating vampires into social systems like the Police and government, while Ultraviolet is more interested in the vampire hunters. I did a full article on White Wolf’s World of Darkness setting last year. So, that might be worth skimming before jumping after them. But, for writing horror, it is a very good reference to look at and think about.

-Starke