Raygun: Wikis


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A stereotypical raygun as shown in a 1955 patent application for a toy.
This article is about weapons. For other meanings, see Raygun (disambiguation). See Directed-energy weapon for various real weapons which are similar to rayguns.


Rayguns are a type of fictional directed-energy weapon. They have various alternate names: ray gun, death ray, beam gun, blaster, laser gun, phaser, etc. They are a well-known feature of science fiction; for such stories they typically have the general function of guns. According to the stories, when activated, a raygun emits a ray, typically visible, usually lethal if it hits a human target, often destructive if it hits mechanical objects, with properties and other effects unspecified or varying. A real-life analogy are electrolasers, electroshock weapons which send current along an electrically conductive laser-induced plasma channel.


A very early example of a raygun is the Heat-Ray featured in H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds (1898).[1] Science fiction during the 1920s described death rays. Early science fiction often described or depicted raygun beams making bright light and loud noise like lightning or large electric arcs. Nikola Tesla's attempts at developing directed-energy weapons encouraged the imagination of many writers.

Soon after the invention of lasers during 1960, such devices became briefly fashionable as a directed-energy weapon for science fiction stories. For instance, characters of the Lost in Space TV series (1965–1968) and of the Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage" (1964) carried handheld laser weapons.[2]

By the late 1960s and 1970s, as the laser's limits as a weapon became evident, rayguns were dubbed "phasers" (for Star Trek), "blasters" (Star Wars), "pulse rifles", "plasma rifles" and so forth.


Ray guns as described by science fiction do not have the disadvantages that have, so far, made directed-energy weapons largely impractical as weapons in real life, requiring a suspension of disbelief by a technologically educated audience:

  • Ray guns draw seemingly limitless power from often unspecified sources. In contrast to their real-world counterparts, the batteries or power plants of even handheld weapons are minute, durable and do not appear to require frequent recharging.
  • Ray guns in movies are often shown as shooting discrete pulses of energy visible from off-axis, traveling slowly enough for people to see them emerge, or even for the target to evade them[1], although real-life laser light is invisible from off-axis and travels at the speed of light. This effect could sometimes be attributed to the beam heating atmosphere that it was passing through.[citation needed]. A possible evasion tactics is dodging the firing axis of the gun, theorized in the early story of Mobile Suit Gundam by the character Char Aznable when he first encountered the series protagonist's machine's beam rifle and seemingly dodging it without any difficulty.

Some of the effects are what would be expected from a powerful directed-energy beam, if it could be generated in reality:

  • Ray guns are often shown as transmitting heat, as with Wells' heat rays.[1]
  • Ray guns may be used to cut through hard materials like a blowtorch.[1]

But sometimes not:

  • In movies, rays are often depicted as having effect instantaneously, with a touch of the beam sufficing for the intended purpose.[1] Raygun victims are generally killed instantaneously, often – as in the Star Wars films – without showing visible wounds or even holes in their clothing.[1]
  • Some rayguns cause their targets to disappear ("de-materialize", disintegrate, vaporize or evaporate) entirely, personal equipment and all.
  • Occasionally a raygun is shown as transmitting cold, as with the "freeze rays" in the TV series Batman (1966–1968) and Underdog (1964–1970).[1]
  • Visible barrel recoil.[citation needed] This would only happen if the momentum of the beam were comparable to that of a bullet shot from a gun.
  • A wide range of non-lethal functions as determined by the requirements of the story: for instance, they may stun, paralyze or knock down a target, much like modern electroshock weapons.[1] Many of the more implausible functions are almost farcical and involve transmutation of matter such as rayguns that age or de-age people (various cartoons), or shrink rays (Fantastic Voyage, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids)

Ultimately, rayguns have whatever properties are required for their dramatic purpose. They bear little resemblance to real-world directed-energy weapons, even if they are given the names of existing technologies such as lasers, masers, or particle beams.[1] This can be compared with real-type firearms as commonly depicted by action movies, as tending infallibly to hit whatever they are aimed at (when wielded by the heroes) and seldom depleting their ammunition.[3]

"FX-Ray laser" in American science fiction and animation is a humorous name for a raygun that shoots a visible beam: "FX" is a show business term for special effects.[citation needed]

Rayguns by their various names have various sizes and forms: pistol-like; two-handed (often called a rifle); mounted on a vehicle; artillery-sized mounted on a spaceship or space base or asteroid or planet. The pistol form is seen most often.[citation needed]

Rayguns have a great variety of shapes and sizes, according to the imagination of the story writers or movie prop makers. Most pistol rayguns have a conventional grip and trigger,[citation needed] but some (e.g. Star Trek: The Next Generation phasers) do not. The shapes of some rayguns are influenced by an opinion that they look most effective and weapon-like if they look somewhat like real guns; others, such as this, are not:

Sometimes the end of the barrel expands into a shield, as if to protect the user from back-flash from the emitted beam.

Types of raygun

The following is a partial list of notable rayguns or types of rayguns.

The ray is usually stated to be one of the following:

Rayguns are often one-handed, sometimes two-handed, and often artillery-sized fastened to a spaceship.

Rayguns powered by a backpack powerpack are described from time to time in science fiction.

List of rayguns

See also


Real-world development

Distinguish from


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Van Riper, op.cit., p. 46.
  2. ^ Van Riper, A. Bowdoin (2002). Science in popular culture: a reference guide. Westport: Greenwood Press(2008)carried by a player on litlle resistance or Nazi zombiesCall of Duty WaW. p. 45. ISBN 0-313-31822-0. 
  3. ^ Van Riper, op.cit., p. 47.

See also

External links

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