As a long-time fan of both science and science fiction, I expect the science in the fiction to be, at least, not mind-blowing stupid. Especially, I expect it to not be too magical, but a better way to put it is I expect it to not piss me off. Granted, the hardness of the SF determines how important this is. By the time you get to fantasy (completely soft SF), the science is magic!
And as a long-time Star Trek fan, I’m used to taking the ball and running with it, to imaging how, for instance, transporters and holodecks work. In fact, I call such flights of imagination “Star Trekkin’ it,” and I’ve been doing it since the 1960s!
The point is that I’ve decided how the guns work on the HBO show Westworld. And the best part is, it might even actually work!
There are a number of initial conditions regarding the guns on Westworld:
- They must not kill the guests.
- They otherwise act like real guns.
And it turns out, if you listen, the creators of Westworld have more or less given us big clues about exactly how the guns must work. Here I’m fleshing that out a bit for my own amusement.
An important aspect, often seen on the show, has to do with the second point. When shooting inanimate objects, from tin cans to thick oak fort doors, the guns can destroy or shoot through objects.
We saw the MiB fire a shotgun slug from his LeMat pistol through a thick adobe wall, and we saw Dolores’ gang shoot through the fort doors (which are generally designed to prevent that very sort of thing).
On the other hand, we’ve seen young William (merely) knocked down (somewhat in surprise) the first time he’s shot, and we’ve also seen the older version of him take hits with almost no reaction.
On the other, other hand, we saw Teddy knock him down and out with multiple rounds, so hitting even an experienced someone enough times takes a noticeable toll.
So how is that possible?
I suggest three interlocked systems:
- The “gunpowder” in the shell.
- The bullet itself.
- The gun barrel.
We do know there is something about the ammunition, which Westworld calls “simunition” (combination of simulation and ammunition, obviously).
We also know the guns themselves have special systems that recognize what they’re aimed at. Ford apparently altered this globally to let the hosts rebel.
(He apparently enabled all the explosives in the park as well. The used to require Control Room authorization for use. Remember the season one MiB jail break with Hector?)
Here’s how I have it worked out in my head:
The “gunpowder” in the shells
Firstly, it’s not gunpowder or anything like it. (Most modern real guns don’t use actual gunpowder anymore.) But the simunition shells are special: they contain two charges, a weak one and a strong one.
Or a single charge that can be fired weakly or strongly.
The weak charge (a funny thing to say given my interest in quantum physics) fires when the gun is pointed at a human. Otherwise the strong (or full) charge fires.
You can actually hear the difference in how the shots sound. At least in season one, when the guns worked as they should.
In the first episode, when Teddy fires at the MiB, the shot noise almost sounds like an air gun or paint ball gun. But when the MiB shots Teddy, the sound is the traditional pistol noise.
So safety feature one drives the bullet differently depending on the target.
The bullet itself
I’m not sure velocity is enough to create a difference between a moving bullet that can penetrate (what I’d assume is) aged oak and one that can not penetrate human skin.
So I think there’s something about the bullets themselves.
What about a special composite that is particularly sensitive to impact velocity such that it explodes into dust on slow speed but acts like a solid slug at high-speed? Something like oobleck.
Or, alternately, what if a static electrical charge caused the bullet to hold together like a solid chunk of metal, but without that charge (or with a much weaker one) it was basically metal dust that explodes on contact.
Which brings us to…
The gun barrel
I think the gun’s barrel might serve three purposes. The first one, obviously, is to act as a sensor to determine what the gun is pointed at.
It might also act as a choke to insure the correct bullet speed, to slow down even more a weakly fired bullet.
And it would also be the place to apply the static charge that holds the slug together.
But what about explosives?
One assumes that even the nitroglycerin has some mechanism that allows the system to control whether it explodes or not. Which would suggest it’s not really nitro at all, but something made to look like it.
Given that Logan, young William, and Dolores, were able to rob a nitro shipment, it can clearly fall into the guests’ hands and equally clearly needs to be made safe somehow.
Neat trick, that.
And, apparently, Ford authorized every explosive in the park!
And Knives and Swords?
Edged weapons are the main danger in Shōgun World, but guest and hosts carry big knives in Westworld, too. One assumes edged weapons also exist in The Raj.
Presumably the hosts have extremely good “motor functions” that allow them to lightly cut a guest without doing major damage. And apparently medical technology in the future makes it pretty easy to repair a lot of damage.
Hosts also have a Samaritan routine that would have them leaping to defend a guest threatened by another guest with a knife. (Or, indeed, threatened seriously in any way.) We saw Teddy do this with Ford when the MiB produced a large knife during their season one chat.
Shōgun World, given that it’s for more extreme visitors, probably does allow the hosts to do minor damage to the guests. I would assume most of Westworld is less dangerous.
Whew! I feel much better now that I understand how it all works. Or at least have a story about how it could work.