Yesterday, I spoke of why ancient weapons such as swords captivate modern audiences. But I thought on the issue some more and realized that the past isn’t the only source of idealized weaponry, for there are two other instruments of war that figure in stories of adventure: space fighters and giant robots. Unlike the sword, neither weapon has existed in real life, thus their image has not yet been diminished by being made obsolete in the face of advancing technology.
In the vacuum of space, where everyone sees everything, space fighters make no sense at all thanks to precision guided missiles. If something reusable is needed, drones would suffice. Battles would be fought at very long range, and they would end in minutes. There wouldn’t be a single dogfight, not even between drones.
But that’s not romantic.
Space fighters allow a hero to chase and outmaneuver an enemy, fighting hard to bring the elusive foe under his guns. Though a form of firearm combat, what distinguishes the dogfight is the high-speed intensity of the battle, and the fact that a single shot won’t always be enough to take down the foe. Even better, not just anyone can get in a plane and do battle; dogfighting requires skill, just like swordfighting.
Like space fighters, giant robots are completely impractical. They’re too big, making them easy targets. They require too much fuel, making them wasteful. Their humanoid shapes have too many failure points, making them a nightmare to maintain.
But they look cool.
Giant robots take standard hand-to-hand combat and scale it up big time. Battles that once trashed rooms now trash cities. Moves that once merely hit hard now hit with gargantuan force that would level a mountain. Human beings could now use their typical combat style to devastating effect. Even firearms don’t detract from the coolness, for a giant robot’s powerful armor will make sure a single shot doesn’t take it down. Giant robots bring their own level of romance to sci-fi, capturing the enthusiasm of children and adults alike.
Though these weapons of war won’t ever exist, their hold on tbe popular imagination is tight, showing that heroic virtue can exist even in a world of scientific marvels.