Good Minds Suggest—Matthew Joseph Harrington's Favorite Nanotechnology Fiction

June, 2013
Matthew Joseph Harrington Bulletproof material that's paper-thin, sensors that can smell cancer, sponges that soak up snake venom in the bloodstream—emerging nanotechnology is finally catching up to the wild stuff of science fiction. But storytelling still outpaces reality in debut novelist Matthew Joseph Harrington's The Goliath Stone, written with best-seller Larry Niven (the Ringworld series). In their futuristic adventure an asteroid manned by intelligent nanomachines is set to collide with Earth—a future that, with luck, will remain in the realm of sci-fi. Harrington shares his favorite novels that explore the awesome perks and bizarre dangers of nanotechnology. Read on if you want Gray Goo—an apocalyptic scenario scientists have considered in which nanorobots replicate out of control and consume the biosphere—to haunt your nightmares.

Blood Music by Greg Bear
"This has to be in here, the way Heinlein has to be mentioned when comparing treatments of most science fiction tropes; Bear covers a huge amount of ground here. Though the term 'nanotechnology' is never used—the working bodies are developed from leucocytes, repurposed for data processing—he dealt with the Gray Goo (plus salvation!) scenario so thoroughly in so many areas that every work afterward must either come up with a totally different approach or look like a weak knockoff. It came out more than 30 years ago, and it's still fresh."


The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
"Stephenson didn't bother with Gray Goo; the sensible, industrial, and medical nanotech in this story is well designed and does exactly what it's supposed to, nothing more...except for the part about turning society upside down and inside out, since so much of the world's economy and various governments' responsibilities are based on making things and fixing problems, and those are covered now. The most amazing thing is a subtle one, to wit: Absolutely everyone treats the way they live as normal. A story within the story deals with a nanotech-based device designed to shake people out of stagnation—which falls into the hands of, and imprints on, a little girl of the underclass who unwittingly becomes one of the movers and shakers of the era. (The book also contains the funniest product description I have ever read.)"


A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
"Another work that doesn't mention nanotech but relies upon it. Vinge did things with the Gray Goo concept that even Greg Bear didn't, and that's only one of the stunningly original facets of the tale. In addition to the nanotech that makes the story possible and necessary, we have: a group intelligence that only works in small groups, potentially immortal as each member (nonsentient when alone) dies off and is replaced; speed limits and potential intelligence related to the local density of matter, so that transluminal travel is easiest out where there are almost no places to live, but the rich cores of galaxies are known as the Mindless Depths; data processing so powerful that computer simulators are essentially custom product fabricators, and secure message encryption is a matter of life and death—or worse; and a network of intragalactic communications, full of misinformation, outright lies, and occasional sheer madness that surely bears no resemblance to anything that came into existence on Earth in the years after this was written. Cough cough."


Innerverse by John DeChancie
"A small group of idealists has put together a system of nanotech whose principal function is to stop crime by influencing people's motivations. It works; everybody has to be nice to each other. Of course, the team are already Good People—they thought of it, didn't they?—so they don't use the full-strength public version on themselves. What could possibly go wrong? DeChancie answers that question very thoroughly indeed."


The Four Lords of the Diamond by Jack L. Chalker
"Yet another work that doesn't mention nanotech; it was written before the word was in use. But it contains the most powerful and versatile nanotech I have ever seen in a story. This is actually a collection of four novels, each dealing with someone having to cope with the wildly different effects of the nanotech on four planets of a system being used as places of exile for the worst criminals in the galaxy. The effects range from surreal to downright magic. The tales are also mystery/suspense novels; no spoilers—well, one hint: How did one system end up with four habitable planets?"


Plague Year by Jeff Carlson (Goodreads Author)
"Jeff Carlson doesn't need Gray Goo to wreck the world; all he needs is one little oversight in programming a bot designed to cure cancer. Give the designers credit: It does do what it says on the tin. And there is a safety feature: The bot breaks down at low atmospheric pressure—the kind you find above 10,000 feet. Supply raids down into the dead lowlands are safe, if you get back quickly...unless you're spotted by other raiders and they track you home. And meat is always scarce."



Vote for your own favorites on Listopia: Best Books About Nanotechnology



Comments Showing 1-7 of 7 (7 new)

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message 1: by Jack (new)

Jack Hah! I'm pretty sure I went to high school with this mook. We were best friends for a while. The fact that Matt is collaborating with Larry F*cking Niven does not surprise me at all. Awesome.

I'll be ordering The Goliath Stone now. Way to go Matt.


message 2: by Dean (new)

Dean Bekken Larry fucking Niven is still alive? Fuckin' A!


message 3: by Danyel (last edited Jul 07, 2013 12:22PM) (new)

Danyel Lawson You might like Stone an epic scraped from the quantum residue of a series of conversations told confidentially to a stone by a master criminal from a previous permutation of the nature of time and space in the local galactic sphere.

A near future new classic Counting Heads by David Marusek.
You might also enjoy reading Neal Asher's Gridlinked and The Skinner the first in a set of cross series epics.


message 4: by Gregory (new)

Gregory Marlin Dean wrote: "Larry fucking Niven is still alive? Fuckin' A!"
I'm also pleased, "The Mote in God's Eye" is a great read! I read this quite some time ago. If I have this right, it's about an invasion of intergalactic uber-socialized, somewhat diminuative sauropods. Little elephants with base-8 computer reasoning. "Fluckton flishithy"!


message 5: by Gregory (new)

Gregory Marlin I did't get it right. I believe it's, " Thuckton flishithy".


message 6: by _ (new)

_ @Gregory - you are describing "Footfall".


message 7: by Gregory (new)

Gregory Marlin J.D. wrote: "@Gregory - you are describing "Footfall"."
I figured that out after I posted. I'm embarassed. Frankly, I planned to look it up and post a retraction and correction. I sincerely appreciate your correction. I did read "The Mote in God's Eye", but it's been quite some time. I realized my mistake as I was describing my post to my sister. I must find it again! Again, thanks!


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