More Futuristic Guns

Please, sir, I want some more… futuristic looking guns!

ARX-160:
arx160-16The Beretta company, the people famous for the world’s most popular pistol, designed this baby as part of Italy’s own Future Soldier program.  Here, we see the souped-up version, with an additional 60mm grenade launcher and a computer-assisted, advanced optics, night-vision scope.

A relatively recent addition to the gun lineup, this weapon has still managed to make its way onto the pop-culture scene, showing up in the series Nikita, the Modern Warfare and Rainbow Six video games, and the movie Forces Speciales starring Djimon Hounsou.

CF-05:
chang_fengThe Chang Feng 05, a submachinegun that was developed by the Chinese arms manufacturer in response to the military and police’s demand for a new breed of handheld automatics.First seeing service in the late 90’s, it has some rather interesting design features. The first is the top mounted cylinder magazine, which feeds bullets in a rotating fashion into the chamber.

Despite it’s cool design, it has yet to really break onto the scene, appearing in only two video games: Mercenaries 2, and Firearms: Source. Give it time…

CR-21:
VektorCR-21-1Another South African creation, this is the bullpup Vektor CR-21. A composite stock assault rifle that is considerably lighter than its competitors, it also has the usual advantages of a modern weapon. These include a mount for a grenade launcher and a computer-assisted scope.

Not surprisingly, it appeared in the sci-fi movies District 9, Doomsday and Slipstream, the anime movie Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex, and a slew of video games.

HK G-36:
G36Now I know people here have seen these one before! Designed by German arms manufacturer Heckler and Koch back in 1996, this gun has made the rounds in the movie and game verse. Due largely to its futuristic look, sci-fi franchises have made sure to keep it stocked.

So far, it’s appeared in such movies as Equilibrium, Children of Men, DOOM, and V for Vendetta, animes such as Full Metal Panic and Cowboy Bebop, and more video games than I can name.

HK MP7:
HK_MP7You got to hand it to the Germans, they make great guns! Another example from HK industries, known as the MP7, this weapon is a sub-machinegun that also has the honor of being labelled a PDW (Personal Defense Weapon). Developed in response to the proliferation of body armor in the field, the MP7 was specifically designed to combine armor-piercing rounds with a high rate of fire.

It’s cinematic appearances include such hits as Stealth, Live Free or Die Hard, Next, Hancock, Wanted, The Interceptor (Zapreshchyonnaya Realnost), G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Zombieland and District B13: Ultimatum. It also has a strong representation on television, including Battlestar Galactica, Stargate: SG1, and such video games as Half Life 2, and the Rainbow Six, SOCOM, Splinter Cell and Modern Warfare 3.

QBZ-95:
qbz-95Here’s another installment from modern China, this bullpup assault rifle was designed for the as a replacement for the aging type 56 and type 81 assault rifles (derivatives of the AK-47). Light, versatile and highly adaptable, this weapon can be modified to act as a machine gun, sniper rifle, light infantry weapon, and an assault rifle with a 35mm grenade launcher.

And because of its look and feel, it has appeared in the movies Inception, the series Stargate: Atlantis and Universe, and the Rainbow 6 series and Modern Warfare 3.

SAR-21
SAR-21_RAILAnd now to Singapore, a city-state famous for technological innovation. One such example is this, the ST Kinetics Singapore Assault Rifle-21, a rifle built for the 21st century and an intended replacement for the countries aging stocks of American made M16A1’s.

Having been unveiled in 1999, it has yet to make a big splash. Still, it has already made appearances in the movies Gamer, as well as the video games Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Ghost Recon Online.

TAR-21:
tavor_05Everybody knows that Israel is famous for making some sweet-ass and powerful guns! The Desert Eagle, the Uzi, and now this, the Tavor TR-21. Much like the SAR-21, the name stands for Tavor Assault Rifle – 21st century, and it was built to become the mainstay of the armed forces to replace older weapons. A bullpup design, this weapon is compact, modifiable, and comes in many variants.

And of course, it’s made several appearances. These include the movies of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, and Screamers: The Hunting, and the video games series of Rainbow Six, Batman: Arkham City, and Modern Warfare 2.

TKB-022:
tkb022_1This gun never made it beyond the assembly line, and as such has made no appearances in pop culture. But you know what, who the hell cares?! Just look at the thing and tell me it’s not a futuristic gun! Based on a very unique take on the bullpup design, the Korobov, as its known, was intended as part of a new generation of weapons designed to replace the Kalashnikov.

Unfortunately, this proposed design was overlooked in favor of other, more conventional pieces. Too bad too. Maybe they could churn out a few test models strictly for science fiction directors. I know they’d pay to get their hands on them!

XM8:
XM8_carbineAnd finally, we have the XM8, possibly the most futuristic looking gun available on the market. Designed in the late 90’s and early 21st century in the US, the XM8 represented a collaborative effort between Heckler and Koch (natch!) and the US Army to develop a lightweight assault rifle that could replace the M16 and its variants.

Thought the project was cancelled in 2005 (politics!), the gun made some pretty serious waves on the public mind and inspired its use in numerous franchises as an example of a futuristic weapon. Examples include the movies Children of Men and District B13: Ultimatum, the tv show Mail Call, and the video games series SOCOM, Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon, Raindbow Six, Command and Conquer 3, Metal Gear Solid 4, Crysis 2… the list goes on and on! Just goes to show you, you don’t have to be operational to make an impression!

Final Thoughts:
Looking at this futuristic array of weaponry, I notice a few things that might provide some hints as to the future of firearms. On the one hand, there is the clear indication that new designs which take advantage of bullpup or top loaded magazines are the way of the future. For quite some time now, gun designers have gone with the concept of a front loader and it seems that this is the result of convention. However, a paradigm shift is clearly in effect and I imagine that all future designs may very well phase this out.

Second, there is the Future Soldier program and how modern weapons are being designed to be consistent with its requirements. What this means is that new firearms models must be able to sport computer-assisted aiming (aka. ballistics computer scopes) as well as night vision and even thermal imaging. In addition, it is hopes that these scopes will be able to be connected to the new generation of Head’s-Up Displays (HUDs) which are being specially designed for infantry use.

Oh, and a possible third conclusion is that all future weapons will need to come with their own built-in grenade launchers. That may not be a requirement per se, but I sure hope it is since it’s just so freaking cool. And keep in mind they can be modified to shoot air burst shells so that police and peacekeepers won’t get go all nutjob on mobs of unarmed people. It’s all about proportionality…

Thank you, that’s all for now. As much as I’d like to make this a new series right now, I have too many of those on the go and I already spend too much time on those. Seriously, things are getting way back up with my regular writing and my real job! But if people like this enough, maybe I’ll stay on it and be sure to post new examples as they come along. Oh, and of course suggestions are always welcome. Good day and good hunting 😉

Alternate Histories…

When it comes to science fiction, alternate histories are a special kind of sub-genre. They explore the what ifs of history, challenge our notions of inevitability, and open up whole worlds based on what could have been. They are a source of fantasy and speculation on the one hand, offering the reader a chance to explore endless possibilities, and realism on the other, showing how a drastically different world can be entirely plausible.

Some might ask why this sort of thing would be considered sci-fi at all. Why not simply file it under the heading of historical fiction next to all those recreations or Dan Brown novels (Ha! Take that, Brown!)? Well, the answer is that, like time travel novels, there is a scientific basis for this kind of story. I’m sure everyone’s familiar with the Multiverse or Alternate Universes hypothesis. In essence, these theories arise out of quantum mechanics as well as pure fantasy, positing that there may be an unlimited number of alternate universes in which all possible realities have been realized.

So really, creating a world where things unfolded differently from our own is not only fun and creative, its also a relatively scientific approach. Who’s to say that this world doesn’t exist somewhere out there, in a different dimension of the universe as a separate quantum reality? Hell, there may very well be countless such realities paralleling our own. And imagining how and why things unfolded differently in any one of them is what makes them fun!

All that being said, let me get into some prime examples of Alternate History and what was good about them. For starters, the classic tale by Philip K. Dick and the world where the Allies LOST the Second World War.

Man In The High Castle:
This story takes place in the US during the 1960’s where a different kind of Cold War is brewing between two superpowers. But unlike the world that WE know, in this world those superpowers are Japan and Germany. After losing the Second World War, the US was divided between these two powers, a loose federation of Midwestern states is currently unoccupied between them, and Jews, Africans and other “undesirables” have all but been exterminated. The rest of the world is similarly divided, falling into either the Greater German Reich, the Japanese Empire, the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, or the Italian Empire.

Man In The High Castle, Map

The reasons for this are made clear throughout. For one, the assassination attempt of FDR by Giuseppe Zangara’s in 1933 was successful. As a result, the US experienced a weak string of governments led by FDR’s VP John Nance Garner and then Republican John W. Bricker. Without FDR’s leadership, America never recovered from the Great Depression and was unable to offer military assistance to Britain and Russia or defend itself against Japan when WWII broke out. As a result, the Axis powers won and the US itself was conquered and divided by 1948.

In the world which resulted, the Mediterranean has also been drained, Africa has been sterilized through the worst manifestation of the Reich’s human experiments, and the Reich is sending people to the Moon and further into space. Technology has advanced quicker within the Reich, but at a tremendous cost in human terms, and the resulting impact on the Reich’s culture is evident everywhere. Madness and mass murder have become a permanent part of their psychology, which is part of the reason why they are planning on war again. The Japanese sphere is much more peaceful and phlegmatic by comparison, but technologically less advanced. In any coming conflict, they will be at a disadvantage and they know it!

Enter into this world a series of characters who represent the various facets of society. There’s the Japanese Trade missioner in San Francisco, Nobusuke Tagomi, Mr. Baynes, a Captain in Reich Naval Counter-Intelligence who poses as a Swedish Industrialist, Frank Frink, a secret Jew who is trying to start a jewelry business with his partner, Wyndam-Mason, an industrialist and the former boss of Frink, Robert Childan, an American antiquities dealer who sells his wares to Japanese customers who are interested in owning examples of pre-war Americana, and Juliana Frink, a Judo instructor and Frank’s ex-wife.

In the course of the story, we find that Baynes is traveling to San Francisco to meet with Tagomi, ostensibly as part of a trade mission, but really to deliver a warning. Germany is gearing up for war with Japan and plans on using nukes! Mason introduces the subject of the book known as The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, an alternate history that deals with the subject of how WWII could have been won. Frink and his partner begin manufacturing jewelry in the hopes of selling it through Childan, who does good business with antiquities but finds that innovative new things are not appealing to his Japanese customer base. And finally, we see that Juliana, after hooking up with a Reich secret agent, is traveling to middle America to find the author of Grasshopper, a man known by his signature – “Man In The High Castle”. The Reich wants this man dead, for obvious reasons.

By books end, Juliana kills the German agent once she discovers his identity and finds the man for herself. She learns that, in spite of the mystery surrounding him, he is actually a perfectly normal man who was inspired to create something groundbreaking. His inspiration for the book apparently came from the Oracle, an aspect of the I Ching which people use to ordain the future (and which plays a central role in this story). How he applies the Oracle to past events is never fully explained, but the point is clear. By book’s end Juliana realizes that they are living in the wrong reality. Germany and Japan were meant to have lost the war and the history was meant to unfold differently.

While difficult to follow at times, mainly because of the sort of stream of consciousness way PKD writes, this book was fascinating and is the perfect example of an alternate history. The plot device of the book, itself an alternate history, illustrates beautifully how history unfolded differently in this alternate universe and spares the reader from having to read through an intro that explains how it all happened. And aside from some debatable scenarios, like the draining of the Mediterranean, most of what goes on in it seems highly plausible.

Fatherland:
Another example of an alternate history in which the Axis once again won World War II, but did not conquer the New World. In addition to being a novel, it was a adapted into a TV movie starring Rutger Hauer, Miranda Richardson and Peter Vaughan. The author, Robert Harris, has done many works of historical fiction, including Enigma (also adapted into a movie), the Roman historical novel of Pompeii, and a trilogy centered on Cicero (Imperium, Lustra, and Conspirata). And though Fatherland does resemble Man in the High Castle in many respects, it is arguably more realistic and novel in its approach.

The story opens in the Greater German Reich in 1965 after a murder has taken place. Investigating this murder is Xavier March (played by Rutger Hauer in the movie), an investigator working for the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo). The victim is a high-ranking Nazi named Josef Bühler, and his death was meant to look like an accident. As he investigates further, he finds that Bühler’s death is linked to several deaths of high-ranking Nazis who lived through the war. In each case, their deaths are made to look like accidents.

At the same time, Charlotte “Charlie” Maguire, an American journalist, has come to the Reich to witness Adolf Hitler’s 75th birthday. This event is also being used by the Reich to heal the rift between the US and Germany, as there has been a state of detente between the two since Second World War. While in Germany, she is slipped a package from a stranger containing details about Bühler and begins looking into it herself. In time, March and Maguire meet up and begin exchanging information, hoping to discover the truth behind all the deaths.

In time, they come to uncover that the deaths are part of a cover-up conspiracy whereby the planners of the Holocaust are being eliminated one by one. This is being done in preparation for the meeting between Hitler and Josheph P. Kennedy (the president of the US in this story), basically to ensure that Germany’s crimes don’t get in the way of a new alliance. When the Gestapo get wind of their discovery, March is arrested and tortured, but Maquire escapes and heads for Switzerland with the proof they’ve found.

March is eventually freed with the help of the chief of Kripo, but quickly realizes his rescue was staged so he might lead them to Macquire. He instead heads for Auschwitz, which has been dismantled since the war, looking for some indication of what went on there. He soon finds bricks in the undergrowth, indicating the existence of old structures. Satisfied that it was real, he pulls out his gun and prepares for the inevitable.

The story not only does a good job of postulating what would have happened had Germany won the war (i.e. the Holocaust would have been covered up and disavowed by later generations in order to protect Germany’s reputation), but also on how this victory came to be. In addition to Reinhard Heydrich (the chief of Reich security during WWII) surviving his assassination attempt in 1942, the Germans also learned that the British had cracked their Enigma codes and changed them, thus being able to successfully cut off Britain with their U-boa ts and starve it into submission by ’44. In the East, the Germans also manage to defeat the Russians in the Caucasus in 42′, thus securing the Baku oil fields, cutting off Moscow from supply and finishing them off by 43′.

With victory in Europe complete, they then begin testing their own nuclear weapons and developing “V-3” intercontinental rockets by 46′. However, the US wins in the Pacific and drops their own nukes on Japan, ending the war there and leading to a state of Cold War between the US and Germany. Thus, in this alternate world, it is the US and Germany that are the global, nuclear superpowers rather than the US and USSR. The story also ends on a cliffhanger note, leaving the reader to wonder if war breaks out between the US and Germany and whether or not the main characters survive.

However, not all alternate histories revolve around WWII or even recent events. Some go much farther back in time, tackling pivotal events like the “discovery” of the New World, or the fall of Rome, or, in the case of Harry Turtledove, the outcome of the American Civil War. This is an especially good example of alternate history because of its apparent plausibility.

Guns of the South:
In this story, historian Harry Turtledove explores the very real possibility of what would have happened had the South won the war. It involves some South African ultra-nationalists (Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging) traveling back in time to supply Robert E Lee’s army with AK-47’s and nitroglycerine tablets (to treat Lee’s heart condition), thus ensuring a Southern victory at Gettysburg and in the 1864 campaign. The motives for this aid are made clear in the course of the story when Lee finally questions the helpful men who’s accents and technology they find strange and intriguing.

In essence, the leader of the time travelers (known as the AWB, the anglicized version of which is “America Will Break”) tells Lee that in 2014, where they have come from, white supremacy has not endured and that in South Africa by their time, blacks have eclipsed whites as the dominant power. They feel that the only way white supremacy will survive is if the American South won the Civil War, thus ensuring that it would have a home in the US in the future. Lee accepts their help, and the Confederates eventually win the Civil War and the Union, England and France are forced to recognize the CSA.

What follows this is not only intriguing but highly plausible. Lee becomes president of the new south and abolishes slavery, in keeping with his views and the reality of the post-war situation. Not only is slavery untenable from a moral standpoint in his view, Lee knows that forcing former slaves to return to the plantations will only lead to violence and spur on black guerrillas who are now operating throughout the Confederacy. At his inauguration however, men from the AWB attempt to kill him with Uzis and end up murdering his wife, VP and several dignitaries. Lee then seizes their HQ and finds many more things from the future (like lightbulbs and books about the marginalization of racism in the future). He then successfully uses these books to convince his congressmen that slavery is obsolete and must be condemned. Abolition is thus passed in the South without incident.

The story ends with the Union, angered by British recognition and support of the South, invading Canada. Also, Lee is made aware of the fact that they are developing their own version of the AK-47 in case of future war. However, he remains convinced that the CSA will maintain its technological advantage, and will in time catch up with the North in terms of industry and be able to defend itself if worse comes to worse.

Having completed this one volume, Turtledove went on to create ELEVEN more books in the series, drawing out this alternate history thread and creating a very plausible timeline in the end. To sum it succinctly, the US enjoys mostly peaceful relations with the CSA for about fifty years, but angry over England and France’s support of the CSA, aligns itself with the new power in Europe at the end of the end of the 19th century – The German Empire! As the alliances take shape in the early 20th century, it’s Germany, Austria-Hungary and the USA versus Britain, France, Russia and the CSA. Neat huh? One can see without much effort how this will shake things up!

In the US too, politics change as the Republican Party is blamed for losing the war. It disappears and Lincoln, himself despised, ends up joining the Socialist Party, the only rival to the Democrats. With America and Germany as allies, cultural changes occur as well, such as fine mustaches becoming all the rage. This is in reference to Kaiser Wilhelm who was renowned for having a bushy soup strainer on his upper lip!

But its the wars where the real change occurs. When World War I comes around, America is immediately involved and the stalemate of trench warfare is seen running across the Mississippi river and also between Canada – part of the British empire – and the northern US. The black former slaves of the Confederacy, freed by President Robert E. Lee in the 1880s but then left to rot, rise in a Communist-backed revolt in 1915 but are ruthlessly crushed. In the end, the US army conquers Canada in 1917 with the use of tanks and breaks through the Confederate lines in Kentucky and Virginia. Russia is similarly brought out of the war by a revolution in this timeline, but not a Communist one. The US navy then turns its attention to Britain and puts up a blockage with starves it into submission. The USA and Germany have won the war.

Also similar to real history, the victorious powers impose harsh peace terms on the losers, complete with territorial losses, “war guilt” clauses, reparations, and disarmament. Politics thus become radicalised in the defeated powers – Britain, France and the Confederacy – and fascist parties gain control in all of them. The Second World War then arrives on schedule after a demagogue who is voted in in the CSA who resembles Hitler, though his hatred is aimed not at Jews but at blacks. The war opens with a Confederate blitzkrieg into Ohio that almost cuts the US in half, but in time, the weight of numbers begins to swing the balance the other way. Much like in the real WWII, the death camps run by the Freedom Party to exterminate the South’s blacks continue to run full blast, even as their armies are in full retreat.

Both sides are also racing for nuclear weapons, and some are used in the end – but Germany and the USA have more of them than Britain and the CSA, so the victors in the First World War win once again. And this time, the Confederacy is fully occupied and formally abolished. The United States is reunited after generations of disunity, but a genuine reunification will not come for many generations, if at all.

Thus, while some small changes in historical events led to some rather cataclysmic changes in Turtledove’s story, things pretty much meet up with real history in the end and come to resemble the world as we know it today. Russia is not Communist, and the Cold War of the post-WWII era is markedly different, but the general outlines are the same. So in a way, his story is just like PKD’s and Harris’ in that things diverge in the beginning but come back to what we, the readers, interpret as the normal course of history in the end. Hmmm, one might construe that their is a point in all this, a lesson if you will. And in that, they’d be right!

The Lesson of Alternate History(?):
This humble narrator would suggest that if there is a lesson to be learned from Alternate Histories, it is that the force of history is a powerful, weighty thing and that while small changes can have a big impact, the general pattern reasserts itself before too long. At least, that is what the authors in question appear to be saying. In PKD’s Castle, the story ends with the character of Juliana Frink realizing that Germany and Japan lost the war and that the author of the alternate history book wrote it for just that reason. Fatherland ends with every indication that the Holocaust will be revealed and that the US and Germany will remain enemies. And Turtledove’s Guns of the South, though it takes about half a billion words to get there, ends with WWI and II playing out pretty much the same as they did in real life.

But as I’m sure someone wise might have said (might have just been me!), books tell us far more about the author than the subject. It could be that history is a chaotic arbitrary process and the idea that it will meet up with us or overcome obstacles that are artificially put in place is an illusion. For all we know, causation and inevitability are things we impose based on a false consciousness, that we believe we are where we are meant to be because we have to. That idea is often explored in alternate history as well, where the characters believe that their own timelines are the “right” one and that if tampering took place, it was for ill. However, the stories always seem to end with things going back to the way they were meant to be. Everyone’s happy, or at least, a sense of balance is restored.

Either way, it tells us much about ourselves, doesn’t it? We are creatures who like to tamper with things, who like to ask “what if” and experiment with the natural order. But in the end, we also depend on that order and want to know that it will unfold as its meant to. Whether its an illusion or its real, its one of the many things without which, we would be lost!

Sidenote: Shameless plug, but it so happens I wrote some articles on the subjects of the multiverse and alternate universes. They are available at Universe Today.com, here are the links:

Multiverse Theory
Altnernate Universe