Speculative Fiction Tropes: Nanotech
Today continues the April A-Z Challenge. This month, I'll be blogging (almost) daily about a different speculative fiction trope, one for each letter of the alphabet. Today's entry is on Nanotech.
Put roughly, nanotech deals with the construction of machines and devices on the nano scale, the manipulation of matter at the molecular level. The applications range from relatively "simple" things like the ultra-thin polymer coating on your anti-glare sunglasses to fantastic future applications like nanobots--machines that can manipulate the very atoms that make up the matter around us.
Sounding like science fiction already, isn't it?
Like most emergent tech fields, nanotechnology has been embraced by writers in the speculative domain. A multitude of imaginations have envisioned worlds where nanomachines serve a litany of purposes, from the mundane to the malevolent. They've been used as the foundational premise of some works and ham-handed phlebotinum in others.
In his 1956 short story The Next Tenants, Arthur C. Clarke describes tiny termite-esque machines that operate on a micrometer scale. While the measurements given for these microbots are technically too large to qualify as nanomachines, they possessed all of the qualities and characteristics that we now identify with nanotechnology. As such, Clarke's story is widely viewed as one of the first to depict nanotechnology in fiction.
In one episode, a swarm of nanites (another word for nanobots) gain sentience via collective intelligence, infecting the starship Enterprise and eventually evolving to the point of sapient thought.
Other examples in Roddenberry's famous universe include nanite viruses engineered as weapons, and pernicious "nanoprobes" the Borg inject into the bloodstream of their victims to facilitate assimilation.
I've never explicitly referenced any kind of nanotechnology in my works, though I have written some science fiction stories where it might be argued that nanotech was implied by the level of technology depicted. I do have an idea buzzing around that toys with the idea of a nano-apocalypse scenario, but I haven't decided if it's something worth pursuing just yet.
All signs seem to point to a real-life future built on the back of nanotech. As a writer in the speculative realm, that excites me. I feel very fortunate to live in a time when science fiction concepts are becoming reality. I don't know if I'll be the first in line to hold my arm out for the nanoprobe injections, but I will certainly be watching on the edge of my seat when that line begins to form.
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The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
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