Reality versus fiction – RPGs and snipers


This is a recurrent problem for those who enjoy reading combat fiction and know a bit about the real deal. Sooner or later most authors will place something over the limit, a situation that will puzzle the reader – killing the involvement in the story.

Writing about combat action is not easy. Even with first-hand knowledge and personal experience, a writer must be well versed in a lot of technical matters, not to mention the need to be constantly up-to-date with the latest upgrades of the industry. This peculiar sector of fiction got itself a lot of grumpy readers (me included), always at the ready to point at some mistake.

This is not about precision. I can’t care less if an author uses a wrong code or there is some degree of invention about weapons or such. This is about that kind of gimmick that sounds good on paper but it’s completely out of common sense. Let’s start from an example; I’ve just finished a novel (from a very good author) where two different shooters are able to hit in mid-air incoming RPGs, using sniper rifles.

Is this possible? Yes. High unlikely to happen, to say the least, but there is a very little choice to do that. Two times in a matter of a few seconds? No way. A rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) starts flying at more than 110 meters/second, with a terminal velocity close to 300 meters/second. That for old-style RPG-7 ammunition. A bullet fired from a sniper rifle, let’s say a .338 Lapua, is considerably faster and that gives the chance that a very lucky shooter may hit this peculiar target.

It’s a very small chance. That quickly gets even closer to zero if you consider the idea of firing upon an incoming rocket from the front. Two times in a row? It’s far easier to get the right numbers at a national lottery.

The idea is funny, but it’s also crappy. The bad guys fire RPGs, the good guys blow them off with their tremendous skill. Add the explosions and the adrenaline and you get yourself a nice scene. We’re used to this kind of stuff in any two-bit Hollywood movie but in a novel, it works in a different way. Seeing a movie sets the average guy in a passive mode, everything comes out of the screen with all the FX the production can buy. Reading requires a degree of involvement that is more difficult to maintain, a delicate equilibrium between the imagination of the writer and the acceptation of the reader. A crappy scene spoils it for good.

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