Energy weapons, ie lasers, particle beams, plasma beams and disintegration rays, seem to be the most misunderstood of weapons. Which is probably why they are handled so poorly in TV and movie science fiction. Lasers were used in several 60s TV shows in a manner that is not consistent with the way they really work. In Lost in Space lasers, with very visible beams, simply splashed off their targets like colored water and the victim was killed or not. No holes burned into the creature, which is what a laser would do. In Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea the laser beams were invisible, probably more due to budget than an attempt at accuracy. And they disintegrated their targets completely. Most portrayals of lasers showed visible beams, no matter the medium they traversed, when in reality the beams are invisible unless something like smoke or moisture gets in the way. Phasers were probably the most well known beam weapon, and Star Trek was never very consistent with them. In one show they are blue, in another red. They were regularly shown to be hyperlight weapons fired from one faster than light spaceship at another. But in one episode they were shown to be slower than light, demonstrated by a hyperfast being stepping out of the way of the phaser blast. In the original series they were said to turn matter into energy, resulting in the target glowing, expanding and disappearing. Then I guess someone told the producer that turning a ninety kilogram object into energy would be the same as tossing forty-five kilograms of antimatter at the same amount of matter. Lots of heat, radiation, and a blast wave that would destroy a good portion of a continent. Not the kind of thing you would want to fire at someone standing twenty meters away. Later is was said that the phaser burned people to death and moved their body to another dimension. I guess the dimension of burned dead people. Wouldn’t want to live there during a war in our galaxy, as there would be bodies appearing all the time. Then it was said that phasers vaporized their target, which is supposed to mean that they heat the victim to the point where they turn to vapor that dissipates through the air. But they don’t show vapor. In one Deep Space Nine episode a man is vaporized while kneeling on the floor. He disappears and leaves a few scorch marks on the carpet. There are many other bad portrayals of energy weapons, and I have researched the concept to make sure that mine don’t join them. They may not be perfect, but I believe that they are more realistic.
First off about laser beams. They are more like invisible sword blades than anything else, and they burn holes or cut through things. Now unless the timing is perfect, they will either not completely penetrate the target, or they will penetrate the target and beyond, meaning walls, windows and other people are all at risk. What about vaporizing someone with a laser beam? It would be possible if enough energy was pumped into the target. More likely parts of the victim would be vaporized while other parts fell to the floor charred or possibly even intact. But let’s say the entire body of a hundred kilo human was turned to vapor. This would take a lot of energy, as every gram of the person would have to be converted from liquid or solid to gas state. And the room would be filled with superheated steam, as at least part of the body would rise to these temps. Not air you would want to breathe, or even contact your skin, as severe damage was sure to follow. In fact the air temperature could rise to the point where objects in the area burst into flame. Also, there may be some bleed over that strikes other objects in the room to their detriment, unless the wide angle beam is perfectly shaped to the body it is destroying, which would seem impossible.
Now if I understand it properly, a particle beam could kill or destroy in several different ways depending on the strength of the beam. It doesn’t take that much energy to kill by penetrating the body with hard radiation. A higher energy level would cause heating of the target to above laser beam temps, and could result in anything from charring of the surface while killing internal cells, to vaporization. Again there would probably be some heating of nearby objects leading to their melting or flaming depending on their material. And some beam that didn’t hit the target would cause collateral damage to the area. Plasma weapons mostly depend on the high heat of their substance to cause damage. If a beam or bolt is superheated to let’s say ten thousand degrees, and puts a gram of plasma on the target, then it would heat a hundred kilogram body ten degrees. Not that it would distribute the heat over the entire body. The area hit would probably be vaporized and a hole burned into the target. A 100,000 degree bolt would cause a hundred degree rise, and of course adding more mass to the plasma would also increase the damage. If enough energy was pushed into the target to vaporize it or cause severe burning, then collateral damage could also be expected, just as with lasers and particle beams. Antimatter beams in atmosphere have a lot of associated problems and would probably not be the weapon of choice, though they could cause some spectacular damage. Electron beams could also be used to raise body temperatures to the point where the meat cooks, but would probably not be capable of vaporization.
The point here is that energy weapons on settings designed to cause massive catastrophic destruction of a physical form also bring their own problems to the equation. But instead of making such weapons a problem to the storyline; they introduce elements that the author can use to make the story more interesting. Instead of destroying a body and leaving no evidence, they leave behind a tale of their use. What could be a bigger mystery than a story in which a body is vaporized, not even leaving the DNA behind, but the room shows that something big and nasty was used here to commit murder. In my opinion thinking about the science behind the device can only make the story better.
Now an excerpt from Exodus: Empires at War: Book 2, coming out at the end of this month:
“Nothing,” said the dark man as he pulled a heavy pistol from under his coat. He quickly set the charge and pointed the weapon at the Prime Minister. He waited until the man turned with bottle in hand. The count’s eyes went wide as he saw the pistol, and his mouth silently formed the word no.
The dark man fired the heavy military laser on a wide beam, holding the trigger down for two seconds as it pumped eight hundred megawatts of energy into the Prime Minister and the wall behind him. Clothing flared to ash and flesh flashed to vapor. The bottle in his hand burst in a fireball of burning alcohol and glass vapor. The man’s bones caught fire, much of it turning to superheated powder. The wall behind the Prime Mister caught on fire as paint vaporized and an old painting flashed to ash. The liquor cabinet ashed under the heat, said ash blown into the air as the bottles within exploded.
The dark man stepped back from the heat as he lowered the pistol, shielding his face with his other hand. Before him were the remains of the Prime Minister, some blackened pieces of his major bones and ash that was swirling around in the flames. Alarms sounded through the otherwise quiet house. The dark man took aim at the floor and fired another long burst, destroying the bone fragments and turning the hard rock that had been hidden by the carpet into lava.
The job completed, the dark man shook his head and faded back into the shadows. He did not kill for pleasure, though it had been a pleasure to eliminate this loose end. If he tarried there would be others that would see him, and he would be forced to kill again.