The Retromancer Blog
Summary: An in-character blog post from an Internet celebrity reporting from the near future.
Foundries: The New Blades
By Mike "The Retromancer" Wolfe
Soundtrack: "Sun and Steel" by Iron Maiden
History's a funny thing. Thousands of years ago, we made simple stone and wood weapons, before finding out bronze and iron could cut stuff better. Once they invented guns, it was only a matter of time before melee weapons were reduced to a few niche applications (combat knives, police batons, kitchen cutlery, etc.). While a few modern rifles still have bayonet sockets, there's not many bayonet charges in contemporary gunfights.
Melee Weapons: During the last century, most countries regulated the hell out of guns, often as response to spree killers and criminal activity. Some places got extremely paranoid and banned possession of things like muskets and crossbows without excessive paperwork. Because as we all know, crossbows are common concealable weapons used in drive-by shoots, am I right? Or how about those frequent sail-by shootings by pirates with flintlock blunderbusses? As desktop manufacturing got more mainstream exposure, you had printable guns as a logical extension of that (hyperlink: Defense Distributed). Now, I've covered homemade guns before (hyperlink: Blog Archives: Arsenal of Fun), so how about weapons allowing you to get up close and personal?
Clubs: First, let me start with one of the simplest types of weapons, the bludgeon. From simple sticks to higher tech electrified riot batons and cattle prods, the club's always been a favorite weapon. They're easy to improvise, and nowhere near as regulated as guns and blades tend to be. They have the impression of being potentially less lethal than firearms or edged weapons, since they're more likely to crack bones than penetrate you. However, these weapons can kill if they hit certain places or certain amounts of force, just as much as any other thing can. Being crushed by a falling boulder can kill you more definitely, say, than being whacked with a foam stick. Fabbers can produce smaller bludgeons, including electrified ones, fairly easily. Remember baseball? It used to be the national pastime of the USA. Now the national pastime is pointless violence for its own sake, and today's droogs (hyperlink: Wikipedia: A Clockwork Orange) like to walk around with baseball bats. It's also possible to make knuckleduster type weapons, although combining them with blades can yield some nasty results if the slip.
Macanas: However, they could be combined with other things. After all, a wooden stick with nails driven into is a pretty easy weapon to make. It's also a new idea. The Aztecs (hyperlink: Wikipedia: Aztecs) had their own sword-clubs, macanas, using wooden clubs with obsidian blades slipped into the side. Some people fab clubs with slots to slip glass or ceramic blades into. Some people fab plastic handles and use single, large blades, but these "macanas" are plastic batons with several smaller disposable blades. These fuckers can slip through metal-detectors like no one's business, although there's scanners that can (potentially) detect them, like backscatter and terahertz ones. As a result, they can be carried as simple plastic sticks (or disguised as something else) and then have the blades inserted into them after passing through a checkpoint. The blades wear out or break off after a few uses, but that's fine, as they can easily be replaced with others. I've seen one particularly nasty one designed to take disposable razor blades. Some are covered with blades all around, while others only have the blades on one side.
Gun-staves: Oh, boy. This is where you merge the gun and melee weapon yet again. I'm not talking about bayonets or pistol-whipping here (at least not in the classic sense). The gun-staff is simply a single shot or stacked charge firearm inserted into a bludgeoning melee weapon. I'm not talking about hitting someone with an empty shotgun or rifle, either. I mean something like a cane-gun, a walking stick with a Metal Storm-style electronically fired barrel concealed inside. Single shot and pneumatic versions were popular during the Victorian period, and some in the steampunk crowd have taken notice with blank-firing versions in movies, shows, and online series. There's also compact versions, like a baton-length weapon able to hold bullets. There's an obscure Portuguese company that made something called the Biggun (hyperlink: Inventarium) that made something like this, but similar designs seem to have been independently developed. Some of these weapons might not use firearms, but instead use a spray nozzle, spring-loaded mechanisms, or pneumatic action to fire a round or chemical. I've heard of riot cops using these things.
Whole Blades: One of the more interesting developments with fabbers is the ability to work with ceramics. Whether directly (by some special feedstock) or indirectly (such as a mold for glass), a feedstock typically has to be heated in a kiln or vessel of some kind. Some plastic blades have been fabbed, but they're rather flimsy and clumsy compared to a ceramic edge. One problem with ceramic weapons is that they are fairly brittle and can shatter. That's why many would be fabber blade-smiths make a handle or hilt separately, or design them to accept disposable blades. Other times, the broken blade still has sharp fragments, allowing the wielder to keep using it in a different way. While a macana would be designed for several disposable blades, ad hoc daggers or swords often use one longer blade. There are some weapons utilizing a longer "sword" with some disposable blades underneath, but these "sawtooth swords" are fairly rare. Straight, single-edged weapons are probably the easiest for many ceramic blade-makers to sharpen. However, I have seen some credible attempts at making curved edge weapons, including a decent looking katana (hyperlink: Image Search: Ceramic Katana). A friend of mine in Australia joked that a glass katana would be perfect for bougan samurai.
Gunblades: You might remember one of the worst games I've ever had the misfortune of playing (hyperlink: Blog Archive: Final Fantasy VIII Review). The main character's weapon of choice was a retarded thing called a "gun-blade," a long barreled revolver with a massive sword blade underneath the barrel. Now, as a weapon, guns and swords have been combined before (in ways other than bayonets). The Renaissance and Napoleonic periods had early pistols concealed in swords, axes, and other things (hyperlink: TV Tropes: Swiss Army Weapon). Even in the Victorian period, there were officer's swords with revolvers concealed in the hilt. The problem with these is that they're not particularly accurate (although that might not matter at point blank range). The one real life design I've seen that's more retarded than the video-game gun blade is a real life design from World War II, a Japanese Nambu pistol with a katana blade on top. That abomination was the offspring of one of the world's best swords and shittiest pistols, ladies and gentlemen. But moving back to home-fabbed weapons, it figures someone's tried combining homemade guns with homemade swords. Mostly, they're stuff along the lines of stacked projectiles or single shot barrels integrated somewhere near the handle, with a trigger nearby. Some have a gun barrel in parallel with the blade. Others have it perpendicular, able to be fired when not in position. Others have it pointing out the bottom of the hilt. No matter where it is, it's typically inaccurate and useful only as a surprise mechanism. I imagine if you stab and shoot someone at the same time, you must really want them dead. If we ever get attacked by zombies, there's no kill like overkill.
The funny part? The parts used in many of these weapons aren't metals, but ceramics and plastics. Even thousands of years after developing metalworking, we've have gone back to the "classics" for hurting each other. While there's plenty of these things being made, I do realize something. I'd still take my old shotgun over a lot of this gimmicky stuff for self-defense, but I won't lie, they are fun to swing around. Just don't be surprised if someone asks you why you're carrying a massive ceramic sword down the street. Then again, even if you are carrying some concealed homemade weapon, you might want to be the guy who brought the gun to the swordfight (hyperlink: Youtube: Raiders of the Lost Ark Sword Scene). It worked for Indy, after all.