I’ve always liked the phasers of Star Trek more than the blasters/turbolasers of Star Wars. Ship to ship: phasers are computer controlled and seem to always hit the target (even if they don’t necessarily damage the target), while turbolasers are manually targeted and can’t seem to hit a damn thing. Same with hand-held weapons… phasers are zero time of flight weapons that non-professional soldiers can wield accurately, while blasters seem to travel slower than bullets and the biggest, most expensive and advanced military out there has troops so poorly trained that they can’t seem to hit the broad side of a barn.
But there’s one area where blasters are better than phasers: total energy usage per shot. If you get shot with a blaster, it’s like getting shot with a firearm. *Perhaps* an extra powerful firearm… a 12-gauge filled with buckshot, perhaps, but still roughly equivalent to a conventional gun. But phasers have a top setting that will *vaporize* a human. That’s not just overkill, that’s an *insane* level of overkill. It’s like using a TOW anti-tank missile to target an individual.
And this is one of the things that Star Trek got wrong. Not that it’s necessarily impossible for a weapon the size of a keychain to vaporize a human, but that the process of vaporizing the human wouldn’t utterly trash the surroundings. Face it: you’re converting, oh, 180 pounds of water to steam, and converting the calcium in the bones, the metal and plastic in his clothes, tools, weapons, etc. into plasma. And if the target is also holding a phaser, you’re converting *that* into vapor, which means that its battery (or whatever the power source is) is going to explode.
Phaser-vaporizing someone on board a spaceship is going to be a disaster, because by converting 180 pounds of water into steam, you’re increasing the *volume* by a factor of around 1,000. Imagine if the room the target was in suddenly found itself loaded with 1,000 more people. The pressure will blow the hull apart. While a blaster will simply poke a hole in the target, maybe burning their clothes.
Star Trek always made the result of someone getting vaporized pretty… well, sterile. Zap, bright light, gone. But it wouldn’t be like that. If you want to know what someone getting phasered at full power would look like, YouTube provides. Behold the phenomenon of the “Arc Flash,” where enough electrical energy can be dumped into a human to convert said human into a steam explosion. Obviously, this might be considered slightly grisly, so gather the kids around (occurs at 1:14; you can adjust settings to .25 speed to watch the guy go from “normal” to “Hey, he’s a glowing blob, just like in Star Trek” to “Where’d he go?” in three frames):
It’s kinda unclear just what the hell happened here, but it sure looks like the guy was converted into mostly a cloud and a bit of a spray. In any event, there’s no missing the fact that something really quite energetic happened to the guy. The captain of the Klingon scout vessel vaporizes one of his crew on the bridge, they’re going to be scrubbing it down for *days,* assuming that the steam and overpressure doesn’t kill everyone else on the bridge.
In the later Star Trek series, the “vaporize” setting seemed to fall out of fashion. More often than not energy weapons were used as “simple blasters” of roughly firearm-power. And that’s all you need. Firearms are as powerful as they are because that’s Good Enough. You don’t *need* a weapon that essentially turns the target into a suicide bomber.
It might be interesting to actually show accurate phasering on some future Star Trek movie or episode. In one scene, out heroes board a wrecked space station. They go in a room where someone was shot with a phaser set to Blaster Mode: the doctor rushes over, applies hand to carotid artery, looks up sadly and says “He’s dead.” Then they go to the next room, where someone was vaporized. All the furniture is smashed up against the walls; the floor, ceiling, walls, furniture are all covered in gore. Blood sprayed everywhere, teeth embedded in the ceiling, small bits of burnt, semi-burnt and unburnt eviscera scattered about, bits dripping from the ceiling. Doc stands there in the door, slack jawed; Ensign Redshirt looks in and promptly doubles over and upchucks the Tribble Surprise he had for lunch. Captain Hero looks looks in, turns a shade of green and asks “So, Doc, who was it?”
Doc looks at Captain Hero like he’s a freakin’ mo-ron and replies with something like “How the hell would I know?”