PLOT DEVICES FOR SCI-FI / FANTASY WRITERS
T. E. Mark’s Blogs
I mean like, really, absurdly, preposterously small…
No-No-No-No-No. Even smaller…
C’mon! You can do better than that…
Okay, maybe a comparative table and a few analogies will help you place this into perspective. Then we can move on to the rather important bits.
For writers, this will be from where you’ll be acquiring elements of Nanotechnology research to add to your next plotline.
That Perspective I Spoke of:
When I say small, I’m not just referring to your ordinary, run-of-the mill, head of a pin, recalcitrant dust speck on your glasses, need a microscope to see it, small. That’s nothing when it comes to Nanotechnology.
That pin-head I spoke of?
Yes, well, look at it closely – it’s roughly 1,000,000 Nanometres across. (Now, that’s the small I’m talking about)
Here’s a table for you: Perhaps this will help
One metre = One long step (a bit more than three feet in America)
One centimetre = One 1/100th of a metre (Not even close, but, getting there…)
One Micrometre = One 1/1,000,000th of a metre. (Hmmm. Additional Progress!)
One Nanometre = One 1/1,000,000,000th of a metre (Ta da!)
Needless to say, we have a bit of work to do before we’ll be fully wrapping our heads around this one. Suffice it to say, that something Nanoscale, or Nano-sized, in almost painfully, illogically small.
And to consider working with something this small is comparable to…. Similar to…. Quite possibly in the neighbourhood of…. Much like…
Well, besides defying the physical laws governing the use of similes, let’s just say that working with something at the Nano-scale is probably really hard.
Hey! Let’s do a little historical review before we get to those important bits. The hypothetical ways in which you, the masterful Sci-Fi / Fantasy writer, will use this material in your next spell-binding, sure to scare the Nano-sized crap out of everyone, novel. Or the way you, the reader, will read that next Nanotech novel feeling eager, determined not to be intimidated or overwhelmed.
Historical Review: It’s brief – It’s rewarding – It’s even brimming with accuracy.
1959 – The beginning
Richard Feynman, rather quite like the smartest guy in the Galaxy during his lifetime, and for several decades afterwards, gives a speech at Cal-Tech on 29 Dec, titled: ‘There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.’
Mr Feynman spoke about the future when we would be able to manipulate atoms and molecules at will. This spawned the concept of Nanotechnology.
People were in awe.
(We’re still trying to decipher the title of that lecture to determine how it relates to Nanotechnology.)
Professor Norio Toniguchi coins the term Nanotechnology.
(Though mere speculation, it is presumed that Professor Toniguchi drew the connection between Richard Feyman’s rather obscure 1959 lecture title, and messing around with really small stuff.)
The Scanning-Tunnelling Microscope is developed. We can now see atoms and molecules! Nanotechnology officially leaves the starting gate!
(By the winter of 83, everyone has one. They even top Atari Pong on Holiday wish lists.)
K. Eric Drexler writes his famous book ‘Engines of Creation,’ in which he details many visionary possibilities coming from the study of Nanotechnology. His book is prescient.
His predictions are far-sighted. (He cleverly makes scientists in this burgeoning field, and your humble narrator, giddy with excitement while scaring the passive reader into a paranoid frenzy.) Good job, K. Eric!
At this point, I feel it useful that we explore some of the recent advances in this appreciably ARCANE field while dribbling with… I mean, of course, dabbling with, some of the visionary concepts.
With Nano-sized materials, we have improved sun-blocks. (I will attempt no humour here as sunscreens prevent cancer – something I’m categorically opposed to.)
Quite useful, and very cool. (Unless, of course, you’re a window washer) With Nanoparticles, the glass can be made photocatalytic and hydrophilic.
(Cool and useful terms, by the way. Writers. Use them. Your readers will think you’re really smart. And that’s the whole point of being a novelist, isn’t it?)
While reacting with UV light, (Photocatalytic) the particles attack and munch on the dirt. (This is called Nano-munching) As rain contacts the glass, the particles react with the water, (hydrophilic) spreading it out helping it wash away the dirt. (This is called unemployment by window washers)
UV Protective clothing
Adding Nano-particles (usually silver) to clothing helps by reflecting away Ultra Violet rays which are the wavelengths of light responsible for sunburns
(I mean, who wants to be putting on sunscreen beneath your un-Nanofied clothing anyway?)
Scratch resistant coatings
Great idea. Chuck those fancy cutting boards and slice those veggies right on that Nano-fibre counter. Lose that ultra- delicate chamois and clean those glasses and that laptop screen with a sackcloth or a brick. (I could go on and on with this one – but, I’m not going to do it. Yes-Yes! You’re welcome.)
I honestly see no need to expound on this one. (Just as long as they make sure the Nano-sized Sponge Bob is still visible I’m Okay with it. You know?)
Future Applications: The Neat Stuff
Self-Replicating Nanoscale Robots (Nanobots)
At the Nanoscale, these could be formed from almost any material – to perform almost any task.
Nanoscale, self-replicating, robots could clean the atmosphere, lakes and oceans. They could be programmed to consume any known pollutant. Goodbye Global Warming, Climate Scientists and Environmental Activists. (Party on Polar Bears and Arctic Seals!)
Self-replicating, Nanoscale robots, or Nanobots, could virtually eliminate waste dumps and landfills, literally solving our waste disposal problems overnight.
‘Did you take out the trash dear?’
‘No, honey. I fed it to the Nanobots.’
These little Nanoscale engines of creation could be fabricated inside your body and programmed to clean a clogged artery, or repair a degenerating disk, repair the damage to your organs, or dissolve a malignant tumour. And much-much more.
(Goodbye cardiovascular surgeons – hello egg-Mc Muffins with bacon.)
Not just Tea or Arcturian brandy, Captain Picard. These babies could, theoretically, produce anything. Tools. Appliances. Clothing. Gold? Diamonds? Insanely expensive electronic devices? Cash?
(Needless to say, scientists may encounter some resistance with this one.)
Human Augmentation (Neural)
Nanoscale robots could enter your brain and increase, exponentially, your cognitive abilities. You could be enhanced to function at the rate of a supercomputer.
No humour here, but a plug for my recent novel ‘AHNN.’ A fun and witty, though thoroughly provocative, exploration of Artificial Human Augmentation and a computer-run society. – https://www.amazon.com/AhNN-T-E-Mark/dp/1539552942/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476823226&sr=1-1&keywords=AHNN
Human Augmentation (Physical)
Nanobots could be programmed to augment your current muscle structure. Once attached to your biceps, triceps, etc, and after a short period of self-replication, you may be carrying the Mini out of the garage for that next trip to the market.
Thus far I’ve covered the basic principles, provided a brief historical review, described the current applications and offered just a glimmer of future apps.
Now, pulling much from K Eric Drexler’s book, “Engines of Creation,” and my own Nano-sized imagination, I’ll dip into the scary bits, which should give you, the no-nonsense Science-Fiction writer, abundant fodder for your next or future novel. And you, the avid Sci-Fi / Fantasy reader enough concern to cause panic attacks, rabid paranoia and a potential nervous breakdown.
I’ve titled this next section, conveniently, coincidentally, premeditatedly, ‘The Scary Bits.’
Future Applications: ‘The Scary Bits’
(‘Warning! Don’t get too weird about this stuff. We may not be there… yet.’)
Self-Replicating Nanoscale Robots
Nanoscale robots could be constructed from any material – anywhere. Even from atoms within living tissue. Yours, for instance. They could be programmed to attack your organs rather than repair them. They could gang together with their self-replicating robot buddies and block arteries – like the really special ones which take blood to and away from your heart, rather than clean them.
There’d be no trace.
That clever lot on CSI would be stumped.
(The only upside? And this is quite a stretch. No scary guys with ridiculous looking rifles taking guys out from six-mile away rooftops, or lurking in the shadows with nifty revolvers fitted with equally nifty silencers.)
As I said… a stretch.
Nano-Robot Mass Annihilators
Since the Nanoscale robots could self-replicate, a number of these Nano–sized annihilators (perhaps even one?) could be placed into an enemy’s water supply. The end result would be grim.
(No humorous titbit here)
Nano-Robot Mass Disruptors (1)
With a destructive breed of Nanoscale robots; programmed to, say, munch on building materials, (iron – Masonry) there’d be no reason for hijacking planes. 9/11 would be, in effect, the English Long Bow, or the Musket.
(No humorous titbit here either)
Nano-Robot Mass Disruptors (2)
The energy grid would be easy prey for terrorists armed with self-replicating, destructive, Nanobots.
(I’ll again spare the humour)
Nano-Robot Mass Disruptors (3)
Nuclear power plants. This one is too scary for me to add detail. Suffice it to say, that Chernobyl could be made to look like nothing more than a fender bender on the motorway.
Much of this speculation was eluded to in K Eric Drexler’s book. I claim credit here only for the hypothetical elaboration.
Self-replicating Nanobots could be programmed to form little machines. This is well-understood and has already been stated in my article, and elsewhere. These little machines could very well be communication devices. They could enter your body, lodge in your brain, making you, essentially, an ‘always-on’ cellular phone. Only… tuned to the frequency of your brainwaves.
This one even scares me, thus, I’ll again avoid the humorous addition and allow you, writers and readers, to fill in the blanks with your own imaginations.
Looking forward: (Into my article, I mean)
In each of my earlier posts, I’ve sought to inform, entertain, instruct (a little) and provide inspiration for the writers and readers of Science Fiction or Fantasy literature.
As a Sci-Fi writer myself, I’ve also tried to offer my own speculative ideas for plot lines.
And, for writers to add colour and a bit of legitimacy to their next novels, I’ve typically offered tables of cool and relevant terminology, which if used judiciously, should augment your stories making them sound infinitely more credible, authentic, and even legitimate.
I will not diverge from this format here.
Before I wrap this one up, here are some useful terms for your next book with brief definitions and/or additional silliness, intended to share with you my theory, that, if you keep them laughing, at least a little bit, they’ll keep turning pages.
Cool and potentially hazardous terminology:
An early term describing Nanoscale materials. More recently called ‘Nanotubes,’ ‘Carbon Nanotubes,’ and sometimes, on those more poetic and whimsical days, ‘Bucky tubes.’
(Cool term – They should never have sought to modify or replace it)
Nanoscale machines operating on the molecular scale. Essentially refers to combining really, really small simple things, like carbon Nanotubes, with similarly small things, like other carbon Nanotubes, into very complicated, but very small, machines.
(The key element here is size. This is an area in which size does in fact matter – a lot!)
Refers to hybrid Nanosystems of silicon technology and biological molecular machines.(Basically, Nanoscale systems constructed from living tissue. Presumably within a living organism. Like a human being )
Any device constructed at the Nanoscale with a specific interest of being small, doing something important, and even possibly (hopefully) beneficial.
(I have no comment to add to this one – the humour is already there – feast away.)
Nanoelectronics – Nanomechanics – Nanophotonics
Areas of research and development within the field of Nanotechnology.
(For those feeling the need for elaboration on these terms, after making it to this point in my article, please consult the internet and/or consider picking up a copy of ‘Engines of Creation, by K Eric Drexler.)
Refers to Nanoscale Nanostructures and Nanodevices with fast ion transport. This one is mostly used in the field of Nanoelectronics. and refers, generally, to the movement charged sub-atomic particles.
(Oh, hell, writers, just toss the bloody term in somewhere! Anyone who doesn’t know that a charged sub-atomic particle is called an ion probably won’t be reading a Sci-Fi novel anyway.)
We’ve seen, over the last 20 years, perhaps longer, such things as electronic devices, (Cellular phones and laptops come to mind) getting smaller and smaller. Smaller has indeed become the new ‘big’ in technological development.
It was only a matter of time, when you think about it, that scientists would start fiddling about with trying to make things, like machinery and tools, at the atomic scale.
Like you, I’m mystified, but I also feel a slight twinge of concern.
I read ‘Engines of Creation’ in my teens, and again a few years ago. It intrigued me the first time but scared me later on.
Here it comes:
My hopes are, that right-minded people, and only the people I would categorise as right-minded, work in this field, as I would love to see Nanoscale devices which dissolve tumours, repair arteries, and solve our energy, pollution, and waste problems.
Like all scientific developments, there exists, in this field, the potential to do wondrous things – miraculous things, and, unfortunately, terribly destructive things.
For me, the eternal optimist, I’ll assume our men and women of science will have learned from the past. That they’ve seen how their great achievements in science and technology have been turned, again and again, into destructive devices and weaponry.
I’ll assume, that when asked if they can use this new technology to develop a new type of weapon, in whatever form that may be, their answer will be a strong, resounding. ‘No, not really. But, you know, we might be able to see that no child, not even yours, ever dies from cancer again. Ever!’
I’ve specifically enjoyed writing this issue of my PLOT DEVICES FOR SCI-FI / FANTASY READERS AND WRITERS, and hope you’ve been at least modestly, if not entirely, enriched, intrigued and entertained.
If my work pleases you, consider sharing this with your networking pals and maybe picking up one of my six recently published novels:
‘Love in the Time of Apocalypse’ (Published – June 2017)
‘Alina’ (Published – May 2017)
‘Never a Sun Rises’ (Published – April 2017)
‘Fractured Horizons: A Time Travel Odyssey’ (Published – Jan 2017)
‘…but then, why Mars really?’ (Published – Dec 2016)
‘AHNN’ (Published – Oct 2016)
T.E. Mark is a Science Writer, Author, Language Teacher and Violinist. He has written novels for Young and Adult Readers, and continues to write science articles for national and international magazines.