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Lasers in fiction

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Lasers in fiction

Postby Mea quidem sententia » Fri Feb 05, 2016 8:33 pm

If we consider lasers in fiction, we tend to think that all lasers—unless given technical descriptions or accurate portrayals—aren't actual lasers. The way lasers function in fiction should not be readily dismissed on the basis of the lack of knowledge of the developers, however. We don't dismiss the portrayal of space in fiction in spite of space behaving as if it's a medium. Meta Ridley and Pit shouldn't be able to fly in space, and sound waves shouldn't be able to travel. I think the reason why people question lasers is because it can possibly mean that characters in fiction are capable of reacting on a nanosecond level. What really matters isn't dodging lasers, but consistency. Consistency is always going to be the main focus. If a character dodges a laser, but cannot dodge a bullet, there needs to be an explanation on why. Was this character able to dodge lasers because he had some sort of ability, or was his inability to dodge bullets due to some kind of power stripping?

Lasers may be invisible to the naked eye, due to the wavelengths being either too long (radio, microwave, and infrared) or too short (ultraviolet, soft and hard x-rays, and gamma rays), but that doesn't mean it has to be in fiction, simply because of artistic license. Artistic license means that developers are allowed to be inaccurate simply for the sake of art, or effect, or story. I think we all understand that there wouldn't be much entertainment if there wasn't any sound in space, or if we couldn't see blasters being fired in Star Trek or Star Wars. If we want to see the effects of lasers, the power can be pretty high, as can the frequency of the electromagnetic radiation. UV rays, x-rays, and gamma rays fall under the category of ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation has high energy, allowing it to strip electrons from atoms or molecules, which means these lasers can produce plasma. Non-ionizing radiation like radio waves, microwaves, infrared, and even visible light aren't energetic enough to allow this.

So, in fiction, if necessary, it could be said that the reason why we see lasers is because it's in the category of ionizing radiation, but only if it's supported. For example, the plasma beam from the official Metroid Fusion Web site makes mention that the plasma beam fires three lasers, and these lasers are the reason for the plasma beam's penetrative ability. In order to ionize nitrogen alone, which is what air is mostly comprised of, it would require 1,402.3 kJ/mol to remove an electron. This would mean the laser is in the far ultraviolet range. But because air consists of nitrogen, oxygen, and argon, as well as a few other elements, the laser would need to ionize all of these, as well as have the ability to penetrate living organisms, since water is 816.33 times denser than air. Samus' plasma beam would be firing hard x-rays by this point, as it would fall in the picometer range.

If we can still see lasers in fiction, it could also just go back to artistic license. Superman's heat vision is seen plenty of times in the comics, and appeared visually in Man of Steel, even though from what I recall, he's only firing microwaves from his eyes. Smallville demonstrated heat shimmering, but later on in the series, the heat vision could be seen. While I am not certain yet as to what wouldn't constitute what makes a laser a laser in fiction, the important thing is to be consistent about characters and their reaction time. This should be applied for everything, including bullets. Honestly, if we all just wanted a quick litmus test on whether or not a laser is a laser, all we'd have to ask ourselves is if the shooter and the target become blind from the bright light upon contact. Yet, no fiction as far as I'm aware doesn't even bother with this.
Last edited by Mea quidem sententia on Sat Feb 06, 2016 2:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Lasers in fiction

Postby Friendlysociopath » Fri Feb 05, 2016 10:16 pm

Lasers are seldom shown to be invisible (Boy that's a weird sentence) because in any visual medium you have to... well... be visual. I've actually read several novels where lasers are described perfectly in line for how they work in reality- no visuals, no explosions, just an invisible beam of death and blowing holes in things-
-and it was boring as fucking hell.

I can only imagine how awful it would be for an actual medium that you watch to have invisible lasers that you have to dodge.
For games it would be next to impossible to dodge attacks you can't see coming.
For movies it would depend quite a bit on the movie in question- but I'm willing to bet dodging an invisible attack is going to come across as very cheesy. I think it could be done but it would definitely not be appealing to most people.
For comics people will be disappointed indeed when they can no longer see lasers but can see telekinesis, magic, and lord knows how many other things they aren't allowed to see.

As you said, not all lasers are invisible- but that's often the first argument people make in regards to lasers.
To which I have to ask- for superhumans with superior reaction times- is it not possible they can simply see a higher range of wavelengths than we can? Often they can see magic and life energy actively moving around- would seeing additional wavelengths be so strange?
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Re: Lasers in fiction

Postby Mea quidem sententia » Sat Feb 06, 2016 1:36 am

A character's ability to see lasers would depend on whether or not they can see infrared/ultraviolet or beyond. Bees can see ultraviolet. Being superhuman or being able to see some things doesn't mean one can see all things. Unless these superhumans possess specific traits to see these spectra, the only true way to know if a character can see these spectra is if it's clearly stated or drawn, or infrared/x-ray imaging technology is mentioned.
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