Many a piece of science fiction has that moment where the hero is in a very bad scrape, fighting for their life, and then gets out of it with the help of a trusty futuristic weapon. Han shooting first comes to mind, but as cool as laser guns are, they don’t even scratch the surface of the most interesting implements of destruction science fiction protagonists have wielded against their enemies throughout the genre’s long history.
Phasers (Star Trek)
The standard armament of Starfleet personnel in every incarnation of Star Trek has been the staggeringly versatile phaser. Classified as a directed-energy handgun, a phaser usually fires concentrated beams of artificial subatomic particles called nadions. The most notable thing about these trusty, durable, and lightweight guns is that they have many different settings for different purposes: indeed, the phrase “set phasers to stun” and its variants have long been pop culture clichés. Though stunning is probably the most common usage for phasers seen in Star Trek, because the Federation espouses nonlethal methods, they can also be used to disintegrate living creatures, weld metal, heat objects, blast through rock, and even pierce energy shields.
Kagrenac’s Tools (The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind)
Putting the three blasphemous objects of the master smith Kagrenac on this list is sort of cheating, since The Elder Scrolls is much more a fantasy series than it is a sci-fi one. But the massively popular RPG series by Bethesda does often incorporate sci-fi elements, especially with regard to the lost race of the Dwemer. Once upon a time, these isolationistic master researchers controlled much of the world of Nirn with their steam-powered automata and other amazing technologies. One of the greatest Dwemer scientists, Kagrenac the Tonal Architect, discovered the disembodied heart of the trickster god who created material reality and forged three weapons to harvest its energies: The hammer Sunder, the dagger Keening, and the gauntlet Wraithguard. By using Sunder to resonate the heart, Keening to shape the power that was released, and Wraithguard to keep himself alive while doing it, Kagrenac intended to help his race ascend to the stars above–and indeed, the Dwemer disappeared completely after the Tools were first used. Recovering these items is an integral part of the main quest in Morrowind, and the player must wield them at its very end. Kagrenac’s Tools have the distinction of possibly being some of the most powerful weapons in fiction, period: in the backstory they are capable of nearly limitless destruction and imperil the entire universe.
Lightsabers (Star Wars)
Merely by mentioning “lightsaber,” I can make you hear the noise one makes when it turns on in your head. That’s how iconic Star Wars’ Jedi laser blades have become. Infamously, the Wikipedia page for lightsabers was once longer than the one for the printing press. Part of the mystique of the lightsaber is the fact that only Jedi and Sith–in other words, only people extremely attuned to the Force–can use them, but in George Lucas’s earliest drafts, they were as common as blasters, and any chump might have one. Star Wars fiction has devoted many thousands of words to the origins, construction, and wielding of lightsabers, and they are extremely elaborate in their design, with those focused-energy blades formed from a complex series of emitters, crystals, and lenses. Besides the standard version, characters in Star Wars have wielded double-bladed and curved-handled lightsabers, ones hidden in canes, and many other variants, including, absurdly, a double-hilted one with a third blade connecting the two hilts nunchaku-style. Several Star Wars video games have also given players the opportunity to build their own lightsabers for their characters.
The Speaking Gun (Nightside series)
British author Simon R. Green’s sci-fi/noir Nightside universe, located in an alternate-dimension London, is full of strange and dangerous things. Easily among the strangest and most dangerous is the Speaking Gun, which can definitely contend against Kagrenac’s Tools for the title of deadliest weapon ever written about. “Gun” is sort of a loosely-applied term for this… thing, because it doesn’t really fire any projectiles. It’s a living creature, in point of fact, shaped like a gun but made from a disgusting mass of muscle, bone, and skin, and its main component is one of Lilith’s ribs (it was made by the demoness’ sons). The Speaking Gun is a psychotic nihilist that influences its wielders to cause as much destruction as possible and longs for the universe to end. It’s infused with the antithesis of the words of creation, “Let there be light,” and when fired it speaks the true name of its target, “uncreating” it and erasing it from existence entirely.
The Sonic Screwdriver (Doctor Who)
Using the word “weapon” to describe everyone’s favorite Time Lord’s never-leave-the-TARDIS-without-it tool may not be one hundred percent accurate. After all, he usually strives to be nonviolent, even pacifistic, and the Sonic Screwdriver is most often used for things like unlocking doors and fixing machinery. Still, the small handheld cylinder can do just about any small task as long as wood isn’t involved, and it’s definitely been seen to shut down rampaging robots and activate and deactivate other, more directly applied weapons. The Doctor’s natural charisma and tricksterish nature also lets him bluff with the Screwdriver, using it to convince unaware people that he’s actually got an extremely dangerous weapon, and what better weapon is there than one you never have to fire?