Thursday, January 26, 2017

Firearms Part I - Handguns

Oh, this gal...
There are more types of firearms throughout history than you can shake a stick at. Each culture has altered them to fit their lifestyle, climate, desired effect and materials on hand. I will cover the three basic categories: handguns, shotguns, and rifles, excluding military grade and all those in the Star Wars catalog. This week is devoted specifically to handguns and their ammo.

Bullets, caliber and recoil, OH MY!
The caliber of a bullet is the measure of it’s diameter. It must match the caliber of a gun’s barrel(s).
Recoil is how much backward velocity a gun produces after a shot is fired. Recoilless "rifles" do exist but are not sold commercially. The quotes are because although technically a rifle, they are not what you picture with the word rifle. Definitely not for deer hunting unless the deer is 50 feet tall! They are for military/government use. However, if you absolutely MUST have one you can build it yourself! The first video is a "redneck recoilless." The second is the real deal.

Handguns - a gun designed to be held in one or both hands such as a pistol or revolver. They generally fire bullets not shells although in the last decade there have been a few developed that do hold shells.

Bullet - single projectile firing from a firearm

Shell/Cartridge - a casing that holds bullets or tiny projectiles often called “shot” 

Pistols - small firearms designed to be held in one hand. They can have one or more barrels.

Single Shot - Exactly that, one shot. Used during the musket era, early 1800s. It was loaded with a lead ball and fired with a striker.
Single Shot Pistol

Revolver - Any gun using a chamber that revolves to line bullets with the gun’s barrel. You do not have to pull back the hammer in all of them. But, when we think of revolvers, we often think of Westerns. In those movies you see the shooter pull back the hammer of the pistol with his thumb or whole hand (think wild West showdowns) before pulling the trigger.  

Revolvers can be single or double barreled. They can hold as many as 9 bullets but generally 5 or 6. The revolver we most often think of is a 6 shooter often seen in cowboy movies which is capable of shooting 6 bullets. Although it was best to load only five. (The gentleman in all my videos today is hickok45. Before you write a gun scene, watch his videos that relate to the firearm your character is using.)

Six Shooter

Before you pick up any gun and commence to shooting, you need to know how to hold it! Here's how NOT to hold a revolver. 

Semi-Automatic Pistols - Rather than needing a revolving chamber, a semi-automatic uses the energy of one bullet to reload the next. After a round (bullet) is fired, the gun will eject it. A single pull of the trigger fires one bullet. And, like a pistol, you need to know how to hold it! Otherwise you might lose a thumb or destroy a perfectly good hotdog!

Gun Clip - holds the ammo in the correct sequence in order to
efficiently load the gun’s magazine. Clips are inside magazines.

Gun Magazine - holds the ammo under spring pressure to feed the gun’s chamber. In other words, as puts it: clips essentially feed magazines, magazines feed firearms.

Automatic Pistols - A pistol with automatic capabilities. More than one bullet released with a single trigger pull.

Automatic vs Semi-Automatic - An automatic works in the same way a semi does in that the gun reloads itself. The only difference is the amount of ammo released on a single trigger pull. Semi-auto releases one round per trigger pull. Automatic can release multiple with a single trigger pull.

Do not assume that an automatic rifle will hit the target. Quantity doesn't override aim!

REMEMBER, you must first and foremost serve your story. Do not use terminology that will exclude a portion of your audience. At the same time, be accurate.

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages!

BONUS VIDEO! Rambo annihilates aggressive assailants. They'll not be breathing down his neck again! (I feel the same about computers.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Feeling Dead

Not many know what it's like to die. It's one of those experiences that in order to gain it, you have to lose. But, as writers, we need to know. We are the dying characters. We allow living readers to experience those final moments of life with us as well as what quickly follows in death.
It's fascinating how well the Lord made our body able to dispose of itself. It's not pretty, but it's incredibly efficient. Truly, His divine creativity did not stop with our construct but continued on through our deconstruction as well.

Sensations noted by those who have died

and been resuscitated:

* A sense of peace and safety, no cause for alarm
*  Feeling of weightlessness or falling
*  The closer to death, the less pain
*  Gradual darkness
*  Seeing colors
*  Seeing light
*  Seeing people, who aren't actually present
*  Seeing deceased loved ones
*  Seeing God
*  Bursts of consciousness/hyper acuity 
*  Loss of individual senses one by one
*  Feeling that you are not alone

Science of it:

*  Brain function surges as one dies

*  Death, even a quick one, doesn't occur all at once but in stages as a chain of events.
*  Brain activity may continue after death. (Those who have returned to life often recount sounds around them while they were clinically dead.)
*  Clinical death - cessation of heart beat  Biological - degeneration of tissues in brain 
*  After death, muscles relax including those retaining bodily waste. These are the first foul smells of death.
*  Because of this same relaxation, all wrinkles smooth out.
*  If pressure is applied to the chest of the deceased, trapped air may come out with a moan sound.
*  Skin quickly pales.
*  Blood settles in lowest parts of body and coagulates discoloring skin.
*  A body may stay warm up to eight hours.
*  The body temperature drops 1-2 degrees F every hour until it reaches the surrounding temperature. This cooling is called Algor Mortis.
*  The body will feel cold to the touch after eight hours.
*  In a hot, humid climate, bodies will begin to stink quickly after death.
*  In a cold climate, it may take days.
*  Gas builds up inside the body, causes it to expand, forces the eyes out of the sockets and tongue out of the mouth. It will continue to swell until it bursts and falls away from the skeleton.
*  Rigor mortis is caused by a coagulating of blood in the veins. It begins two to six hours after death in the eye lids, jaws and neck.
*  After being rigid for one or two days, the body again relaxes.
*  After seven days of death, most of the body is discolored first green, then purple and finally black.
Bloody blisters form on skin and it falls away from the muscles.
*  Maggots can digest over half of a human body in about a week.
*  Hair and nails do not actually grow after death. The skin of the body simply pulls away from them.
* When buried six feet down, without a coffin, an un-embalmed adult normally takes eight to twelve years to decompose to a skeleton. However, if placed in a coffin the body can take many years longer, depending on the type of wood used. For example, a solid oak coffin will hugely slow down the process.   -

When you take your reader through a battle field, show them just enough death to make it real. Don't disgust them or you will take them out of the scene. Make them experience it, but don't make them wretch. Remember, serve the story first and foremost.

Until the next round at, get blood on your pages.

I'm sorry this post was so sad. But,
look! A kitten on a dog's head! How
cute is that!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Fighting At Night - Travis Perry

One of the best things about writing is the great people I have met as a result of it. This guest blogger is just such an example. He's a wealth of information and I'm glad I've got access to his brain. My guest blogger is Mr. Travis Perry. (insert applause)  

Fighting at night greatly limits what a person can do in a combat situation. It's awfully challenging to fight hand to hand if you are in any kind of group if you can't see who are your friends and who are your enemies. And with missile weapons, other than by blind luck, it's impossible to hit a target you cannot see.

Ancient and Medieval armies for these reasons usually avoided combat at night, but there are exceptions. For example, Judges 7:16-25 records Gideon taking advantage of the possible confusion night can cause. He and his 300 infiltrated the camp of the Midianites, blew trumpets, broke pitchers, and shouted at the top of their lungs, which caused their enemies to attack one another in the confusion that ensued, which delivered the victory to Gideon. For different reasons, the Roman army surrounded by Germans at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest fought for something like 72 hours straight, including night action twice (they lost this battle to the Germanic tribes). History affords other examples of night fighting, but not many.

In Ancient and Medieval times fighting at night meant either using torches (or what other limited artificial light people of those eras had) or it meant letting the eyes adjust to the light of the moon.

The chief disadvantage of torches or lamps is they light up only a very small area. They are bright enough to ruin a person's night vision and illuminate the person holding the lamp or torch, so someone hiding in the darkness can easily identify the person holding that limited form of light. But they do little to provide useful light that will identify an enemy. Not to mention the act of holding a torch or lamp limits your ability to use weapons.

The Romans at Teutoburg are reported to have used torches to help them build fortifications at night to help resist the German tribes by day. Building something at night with torches makes sense. They provide enough light to perform work with your hands. But otherwise, fighting with a torch or lamp is something ancient and medieval warriors went to great lengths to avoid. For most of them, war was fought from the pre-dawn twilight until the darkness of night. Using torches in combat would only be done in some sort of dire emergency...such as against enemies with superhuman night vision.

Though on occasion, some warriors in ancient times fought in the dead of night by the light of the moon. The human eye can adjust to darkness to the degree that it is actually possible to fight by the light of a full moon--though identifying friend or foe farther away than perhaps 30 yards (or meters) is impossible. You can see shapes moving further out than that, but can't identify who they are very well.

One thing modern people don't usually realize is how much difference the phases of the moon make. A cloudy night without a visible moon, or a new moon, limits a human being to the point where you can barely see well enough to walk at all, no matter how much time you give your eyes to adjust (star light alone is not enough for a human being to walk around--though it could be in a world with more stars). The more moon there is in the sky, the more likely it is people not using artificial light would be willing to fight. (Medieval Arab armies were well-known for attacking by the light of a full moon, though even they only did  this on occasion.)

(By the way, I learned the lesson about the huge difference the moon makes while attending a desert survival course conducted by the French military in Djibouti, Africa, which included night training without night vision--here's a link with information on that course, though it shows a bit of night action only at the very end. Yes, most of the video is in French but eventually they show some Americans. :) )

Another thing most people don't realize is it generally takes a full hour in darkness for the human eye to adjust to night as much as it will adjust. And any exposure to any light other than light in a deep red color will mess up that night vision, effectively resetting the time required for full night vision to set in.

Starting about World War I, artificial light dominated the battlefield.

Artificial light in an urban environment via gas or arc lights existed prior to WWI, of course. Note that fighting by artificial light, still a factor in cities in the modern age, gives the advantage to people who know exactly where the street lights cover and where they do not. Robbers infamously lurked around dark zones nearby light in the Victorian Era, which passersby would unawares step into--leaving them blinded, with the lurker in the darkness able to see. And attack.

But a combat zone obviously would not be electrified as a whole or be set up for gas lamps. WWI saw the invention of the artillery flare, a chemical light shot by a big gun high in the air, which would float down on a parachute (some rocket light existed at night before this, but it was not reliable). These are enormously bright and for the minute or so they are in the air, they make the ground underneath them as bright as daylight. (Here's a YouTube video of them in action.)

Combat under such light came and went in surges. Troops were taught to keep one eye closed as the flares went up so as to preserve at least some night vision when they went dark. With the flares up, troops would surge forward and attack. In the darkness, after the flares burn out, troops would consolidate ground and wait for the next burst of light. Tracer rounds, bullets that light up and glow as they fly across the sky, were another invention of this era and allow you to at least know where your bullets are going at night (even if you can't tell where the enemy is very well).

Artillery flares and other artificial lights like searchlights dominated the world of night fighting from WWI through the Vietnam Era. They made 24 hour combat actions possible, but not all that desirable. Most combat still occurred during daylight.  

(Night flares still remain a tactic used to spot enemies at night, as this video from Afghanistan reveals.)

OPERATION DESERT STORM saw the first massive use of night vision, though it had been in development for some time before thatNight vision devices are something all modern militaries use. Some of these are based on increasing the amount of background light, while others allow infrared rays to be seen, while some combine both features. Infrared, by the way, is how heat from a warm mammal radiates away from its body. So a person can be visible in the dark based on body heat alone. 

Night vision devices in the future may manage to be in full color via advanced computer simulation and preserve three dimensional vision. But current night vision devices present the world in shades of just one color, usually green. They also tend to flatten out what a person is looking at, which causes almost all sense of three dimensions to be lost. It takes a lot of practice to effectively use night vision goggles well, especially when performing complex actions like flying a helicopter.

Night vision allows the use of an infrared laser mounted on a weapon. This laser is totally invisible to the naked eye, but with night vision devices on looks like a beam from the end of the weapon to the target you want to hit. The beams on weapons are visible in this night vision action by special forces troops in Iraq:  
(Note that what appear to be very bright lights in the video are not so bright or are very distant--night vision distorts the ability to judge how light or dark something really is.)

Tracers are seen through night vision from the following video: 

And the following shows an Apache helicopter using infrared: 

The use of night vision transforms the night, making it the preferred time to fight an enemy. For those who have the technology to see at night, of course.

Speculative Fiction writers should feel free to experiment with the limitations night brings. Obviously magical spells in fantasy stories could simulate the effects of technology, either by lighting up the night or by enabling those who cannot otherwise see to have clear vision. Other races, either alien or demi-human, may have eyes better adapted to the dark, so they can see at night with no special adjustments. Aliens who could see in radar-wave radiation, or who use sonar (echolocation), perhaps would not even have the same definition of night that we have.

But keep in mind the basic fact that you can't shoot what you can't see. And can't effectively fight if you can't identify your enemies. :)

Travis Perry is an Army Reserve officer who served as a medical specialist in Operation Desert Storm, a training adviser/Artillery Officer in Iraq, and a Civil Affairs Officer in Afghanistan and Djibouti, Africa. He has trained by the lights of the moon in Africa and the with the high-tech night vision devices employed by the United States Army.
He writes a wide variety of (mostly) short stories in speculative fiction, including science fiction, fantasy, and horror and is the force behind his small publishing company, Bear Publications, which produces original short story anthologies--most recent, Mythic Orbits 2016. Choose the photo for more information.