So, people have been accustomed to mythical beings such as the Basilisk and Medusa, turning people to stone and such. This concept, however, has rarely appeared in sci-fi.

Until I came across the Laundry Files, with their weapon concept called the Scorpion Stare, which works like this:

"One of the weapons Her Majesty’s Government is developing to deal with the threat is the SCORPION STARE network. Two or more observing viewpoints—cameras—feeding the right kind of hardware/software network can, shall we say, impose their own viewpoint on whatever they’re looking at. In the case of SCORPION STARE, about ten percent of the carbon nuclei in the target are randomly transformed into silicon nuclei as if by magic. Messy pyrotechnics ensue: gamma radiation, short-lived muons, some really pretty high-energy chemistry, and lots of heat. We worked out how to do it by reverse-engineering basilisks and medusae—animals and unfortunate people suffering from a peculiar, and very rare, brain tumor. Now we’ve got defensive camera-emplacements on every high street, networked and ready to be controlled centrally when the balloon goes up. Street cleaning by CCTV-controlled flame thrower."

So, while transmutation is obviously handwavium, in reality, such transmutations are plausible with Carbon and Oxygen Burning Fusion, where they fuse to form things such as Magnesium, Sodium, Silicon and Sulfur.

The catch? Such would require extremely high temperatures, between 5 × 10^8 K and 10^9 K.

Is it possible to create a beam that operates at such high temperatures?

Here are my rules:

  • Assume that there is minor unobtainium, a material that can withstand such heat in the first place, to construct the weapon.
  • The weapon can be of any size, need not be camera-sized.
  • $\begingroup$ Carbon and Oxygen Burning give carbon dioxide. Or do you breathe out magnesium? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jan 23, 2020 at 15:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica it refers to fusion, rather than combustion. Burning is used to refer to consumption of fuel in either case. I'll edit it to make it clear. $\endgroup$ Jan 23, 2020 at 16:01
  • $\begingroup$ In the books, I remember it being about QM. Observing whatever/whoever caused some particles to decay... but carbon can't transmute to silicon even if every single neutron switches to a proton. He was definitely going for something way more exotic than simple fusion. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Jan 23, 2020 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ In the books, it wasn't quantum mechanics - just magic. It's just that magic is a result of concealed physical properties in the Laundryverse. It's dressed in "observer" terminology, but "as if by magic" is the key line in the description of SCORPION STARE. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jan 23, 2020 at 19:17
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ More broadly, the Laundryverse isn't sci-fi at all. It's fantasy, with magic wands and spellbooks taking on a slightly different form, and the language of magic being the programming language of the universe (and thus subject to mathematical rules). $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jan 23, 2020 at 19:20

2 Answers 2



A beam of anything at that temperature would incinerate the operator, the operator's vehicle, the surroundings and any observers, too. It is a thousand times hotter than a thermonuclear explosion.

Moreover, it is entirely possible that it is simply not hot enough to ignite fusion at all... fusion requires heat, pressure/density and time. You can, to a certain extent, trade off one of those parameters for a rise in the other two, which is what we try to do with terrestrial fusion experiments where, unlike in a star, we don't have the luxury of confining our fuel for millions or billions of years. You might need a much, much hotter beam, which only makes the first problem even more of an issue.

It might be possible, in a vacuum, to shoot a beam out of a particle accelerator at your target, and some of the particles might undergo fusion but the cross sections will be very low (due to the pressure/density term mentioned above) though it won't really matter because the target will have been fatally irradiated and burnt by a the highly energetic particle stream anyway. Such a weapon won't work well in an atmosphere, and won't have a long range anywhere.

Ultimately, even if you could manage controlled carbon-fusion, it would be more effort than it was worth. Lower-temperature, smaller-nucleus fusion recipes are much easier to work with (we already have nuclear weapons, after all!) and release slightly more energy per nucleon and so are more efficient.

  • $\begingroup$ What I get from this is that instead of transmuting people and killing them, were such a feat possible, it's simply easier to kill people using the transmutation process. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jan 23, 2020 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ In fact, @VLAZ, that's how SCORPION STARE works too. On multiple occasions, the point is made that one should never look directly at the target of a basilisk gun when it goes off, and the result is a very hot semi-statue. So the transmutation would kill them, but the energy release would too. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jan 23, 2020 at 19:18

The transmutation process - nuclear fusion - will release vast amounts of energy, as in miniature hydrogen bomb. Great weapon, but difficult.

The US military looked at a laser weapon to do this back in the sixties - codename Fifth Card or some such - and of course they found that laser fusion is harder than it looks. Look up the National Ignition Facility and see what they can do!


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