“The best article I have ever read on hand-to-hand combat in space was written by Harry Harrison and published in the fanzine Amra.” – Frederik Pohl
I’ve mentioned before that coincidence seems to play a large part in tracking down the more obscure items written by Harry Harrison. I came across the above quote, in Pohl’s autobiography The Way the Future Was; it refers to an article by Harry Harrison that I’d never seen.
A quick search on Google revealed that the article was titled ‘Take That, You Alpha Centaurian Swine!’ and was published in the October 1967 issue of Amra. Google also showed that a collection of back issues of the fanzine had sold in the recent past for megabucks. Not much chance of getting hold of a copy then.
But a couple of months later I was going through a box of Harry’s papers and came across the original typescript and Harry’s accompanying sketches.
I’m not sure what the illustrations in Amra were like – but here I’m posting the article with the author’s own sketches.
And, coincidentally, I was OCRing some of Harry’s short stories last week, and had ‘No War, Or Battle’s Sound’ on the scanner. As I was fixing the text I noticed that the weapons described in the story had a familiar ring to them. That story was published in 1968.
Here then is – probably – the best article ever on hand-to-hand combat in space. And if anyone wants to take up Harry Harrison’s challenge at the end of the article – forty-odd years after he made it – then you can do so by leaving your comments here.
If anyone has the original issue of Amra, then please get in touch, as I’d like to see a scan of it.
Take That, You Alpha Centaurian Swine!
by Harry Harrison
The general level of weaponry in hand-to-hand space battling is very depressing. All of the invention seems to have been done by E.E. Smith a few generations back, and the authors who came along later have been happy to use Doc’s armory without modification. The names may be changed, but call it what you will – it is still Van Buskirk’s space axe that crunches through the helmet.
And what about that space axe? As described by the immortal Doc even the iron-thewed Van couldn’t have done much damage with it in a null-G situation. You only have to think of all the complex tools that have been designed to turn nuts and bolts in space – without having the operator turn in the opposite direction – to realize what would happen when that mighty axe was swung.
I have brooded on this problem, and the possibilities of new weaponry in space, and present the results here. They are free for all to use, I ask only that authors retain the names I have assigned so I can enjoy a bit of egoboo.
Firstly that axe. It will have to become a Power Axe that will operate independently of gravity. To all appearances a normal axe, it has a power source concealed in the haft and four small jets located in the tip beyond the blade. The only pressure required to swing it is the pressure of a fingertip on a switch.
Admittedly a great deal of practice in free fall will be required to master this device – but time is one thing that the military has in sufficient quantity and a daily drill with the Power Axe will be a welcome addition to the schedule of activities. Once mastered the axe can be used as a second source of propulsion in space as well as being a deadly weapon to be used to hack through space armor.
So much for the normal. What about the original weapons, the devices that grow out of need, that are adapted only for use in space, against space-suited opponents. The possibilities are wonderful.
Consider the situation. You are faced with an opponent in a spacesuit, armored perhaps, though weight and the resulting inertia might prove to be a handicap. In any case the problem to be solved is the same one that has faced every soldier since the beginning of time. Kill the opponent. In space this can be done two ways – by killing the individual, or by destroying the integrity of his protecting suit so that the conditions of space kill him.
First the opponent. A device that will not work against an armored opponent but which will be just dandy against a fabric-swathed enemy is the Lightning Prod.
A light weight hand-held device that can be easily maneuvered into position, it has a single operating button that triggers a jet from the rear of the handle (A). The jet drives the Lightning Prod forward at a speed great enough to force the sharp spikes (B) through the layers of cloth and rubberized fabric so that they bite into the flesh of the luckless occupant of the suit. Upon complete penetration the triggers (C) are closed and a death-dealing shock from compact accumulators is sent through the conducting spikes. End of enemy.
The Drillger may be used against armor or fabric, and is a powered weapon with driving jet in the hilt (A). The blade is a tapered drill, something like a rock drill, that turns at great speed and that can easily penetrate most materials. If a deadly wound is not -inflicted the removal of the Drillger will leave a nice vent for the suit’s atmosphere.
More useful against full space armor is the Gropener. Held in one hand it is activated by a single button (A). This turns on jet (B) that pushes the weapon against the opponent with great force allowing the oscillating blade (C) to saw a slot, hack off a limb or a head or generally cause enough damage to win the encounter.
The Nipoff utilizes the ancient principle of the geared down worm screw, the same simple mechanical device that enables a 100 pound woman to lift a two ton car. Held in one hand it need only be pushed gently against the enemy’ s arm or leg to become effective. At that moment the battle is over and the victor can go on to more important duties. Contact closes button (A) which causes the two blades to close on the chosen limb. Once locked in place it cannot be removed and the unlucky victim can only look on in horror as the geared down electric motor slowly closes the blade and severs the member. Very nasty.
I think it fair to assume that technology will have advanced a bit by the time hand-to-hand space battles will be needed – if they ever will be needed – and it is not unfair to assume that a reversible adhesive will be developed. We are learning a lot about surface films these days and a film whose character can be changed electronically to be alternately adhesive and neutral seems a logical outcome. This film coats the feet of the Pryder (a prying spider if the derivation appears dubious) and enables it to walk on any space suit surface.
The Pryder can be hand launched or scattered mechanically in a mass barrage. When one of these little devices touches a surface it begins a spiral search pattern over the surface, with sensitive extensions of the prying-jaws (A) searching for any cracks or openings. As soon as a joint or wrinkle is detected the Pryder stops and squats and turns on full adhesion. The prying-jaws are inserted, the motor started and whatever crack they are jammed into is widened. The result is obvious.
A nasty bit of business is the Slaphole. This has an armored back that is held in the palm – and a contact fuse operated shaped charge on the inner face. In use it is a deadly slap, on the back, since contact explodes the charge which punches most of its energy straight down, blowing a neat hole through whatever material the space suit is made of.
A final, and not so deadly, weapon is the Soot-shoot, a hand held device to be used for taking opponents out of operation, perhaps when prisoners are needed. It has a charge of compressed gas that expels positively charged particles of carbon black. Aimed at a helmet it would blanket it and render the occupant blind. Very neat. Truss him up and bring him home.
I’ll be happy to hear from anyone who can convince me that these devices wouldn’t work.
(c) Harry Harrison 1967 and 2008