Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Four Reasons To Fight With Swords

Many fictional characters fight with swords because their stories are set in the past.

John Carter fights with a sword because ERB wanted to write "sword and science" sf whether or not this made sense.

Dominic Flandry is able to fight with a sword because the Terran nobility is decadent and therefore practises archaisms.

SM Stirling's Emberversers fight with swords because the premise of their series is that technology and gunpowder have stopped working.

Have I missed anyone? (Addendum: Yes, but I will let readers find it.)

The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson
Rogue Sword by Poul Anderson
"Swordsman of Lost Terra" by Poul Anderson (here)
Swords Of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Sword Of The Lady by SM Stirling

9 comments:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Ha! I remember the pedantic discussions we had on John Wright's blog on why the Barsoomians fought with archaic weapons rather than with the modern weapons they also had. Complete with pseudo-scholastic analyses of the relevant texts from the Barsoomian canon.

And Dominic Flandry was able to quickly defeat Prince Cerdic in "Tiger By The Tail" due to the SCIENTIFIC fencing popular among the Terran nobles. Decadence doesn't always have to mean slackness, it seems. And I'm sure fencing enthusiasts can be found in Lancaster!

Did you have Anderson's THE HIGH CRUSADE as the book you missed? We see Baron Roger de Tourneville and his knights and men at arms attacking and defeating the alien Wersgor despite the latter having modern weapons. Poul Anderson managed to make this at least seem plausible because Baron Roger used surprise, speed, and guile to enable his men to defeat a race with more advanced weapons. But, he was of course updating his people as fast as possible.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
But THE HIGH CRUSADE is another book set in the past. In THE PARADOX MEN by Charles Harness, personal force fields turn aside bullets but not anything as small as the point of a sword so sword fighting has been reintroduced.
Paul.

David Birr said...

Paul and Sean:
The science fiction role-playing game *Traveller* argued that there are a lot of important components built into a starship's interior walls that will be more vulnerable to damage from a stray bullet or laser beam than from a swordstroke that misses the intended target, so swords were considered a better close-combat option aboard ship.

Besides which, as one of David Drake's interstellar mercenaries said, while pointing at the knife he wore in his boot, "Pistols jam on you, happen. This'n never did."

Paul Shackley said...

David,
Thank you for a completely unexpected addition.
Paul.

David Birr said...

Paul and Sean:
Personal force fields were also a factor in Frank Herbert's *Dune*, although there it wasn't the SIZE but the SPEED that was a factor. Most bullets traveled too fast to penetrate a shield, but scoot up close with a blade and you could ease it through. Oh, and if a LASER BEAM hit the shield, it caused "subatomic fusion," a danger to attacker and shield-wearer both.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul and DAVID!

Paul. Darn, I've heard of Harness, but never read THE PARADOX MEN.

David. I actually thought of Herbert's DUNE while reading Paul's comments. But you beat me to it! Yes, I recall the personal force shields in that book and how training for fighting with it affected Paul Atreides when he had to fight a duel with a Frememn without using a shield.

Sean

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, DAVID!

I assume the role playing game had only combat inside CIVILIAN star ships. I can imagine either Navy personnel or pirates boarding and fighting in space ships like that. I don't think that kind of combat will often happen with Navy warships. Anderson's ENSIGN FLANDRY gives us what I think is a very plausible description of how space fleets will likely fight in Chapter 17.

Sean

David Birr said...

Sean:
The game originally involved only adventurers who'd completed one or more four-year terms of military, exploratory, or commercial service, during which they picked up the skills with which they'd now begin adventuring. (Depending on rolls of the dice, it was actually possible to START your adventures as a retired ADMIRAL, maybe even with a patent of nobility.) Anyway, that meant that, yes, close combat shown inside a ship would be aboard a civilian ship — and was more likely to be a hijacking rather than boarding party.

Rules in later editions discussed boarding by Marines or other ship's troops. This could only be done once the targeted vessel had been immobilized and its weapons disabled, and would happen only to make sure the crew couldn't repair those systems and get back in the fight ... OR if there was something aboard you HAD to acquire.
"Where are those transmissions you intercepted? What have you done with those plans?" [click, wheeze]

At any rate, in *Traveller*, even a single tour of duty as a Marine meant you were trained to use a cutlass.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, DAVID!

Good! The later editions of "Traveler" seem to be more realistic, And, as so often happened, Poul Anderson wrote about how it might be possible to seize and/or board those ships. See "Margin of Profit" and Chapter XVI of WE CLAIM THESE STARS.

You are retired Army, so you would know better than I, but it seems to me that combat with knives or even swords need not always be impractical. I can see situations where use of such weapons would be practical. And, in any case I think it's a good for military people to be familiar with their use just in case it's necessary to use such weapons.

Sean