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Monomolecular Wire

Entry updated 8 July 2018. Tagged: Theme.

An ultra-strong and ultra-thin monofilament occasionally found in sf and typically consisting of a single, very strongly bonded molecule, though other explanations may be given. Obvious real-world precursors are synthetic fibres such as nylon monofilament; the film The Man in the White Suit (1951) extrapolates from nylon to the nearly uncuttable monofilament used to make the dirt-proof and tear-proof garment of the title. In the same year, Theodore Sturgeon published "The Incubi of Parallel X" (September 1951 Planet Stories), in which incidental use is made of "molecularly condensed fibre" as a super-strong zipline.

Monomolecular or microfilament wire is most often deployed as a cheese-cutter Weapon able to slice through virtually any normal material, just as strands of the film's wonder-fabric and Sturgeon's molecularly condensed fibre are dangerous to human fingers; so far the extreme version remains in the realm of Imaginary Science. An early sf example of such weaponization appears in Randall Garrett's "Thin Edge" (December 1963 Analog) as by Johnathan Blake MacKenzie, introducing the wire's use in a lethal booby-trap – strung across a doorway to slice apart the first intruder. Variations on this theme include the outdoor urban-terrorist snare for a moving "hoverbus" in John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar (1968), where it is stipulated that unstressed metal, glass and flesh rebond very soon after the wire passes through them – except for one unfortunate passenger who happens just then to be turning his head, and loses it thanks to that slight mechanical stress. Conversely, the victim of a decapitating monowire booby-trap in F Paul Wilson's Dydeetown World (fixup 1989) quite literally keeps his head by realizing the situation and very carefully avoiding dangerous movements for some while. A slightly more elaborate booby-trap of "Flying Blade" nanowire is deployed against a ship moving through a canal in Liu Cixin's Santi (May-December 2006 Kehuan Shijie; 2007; trans Ken Liu as The Three-Body Problem 2014). A mundane precursor of this device is ordinary steel wire strung across a road at a suitable height to harm motorcyclists or drivers of open-topped cars, as in Edgar Wallace's Again the Ringer (coll 1929; vt The Ringer Returns 1931).

Versions of monomolecular wire are also found in Frank Herbert's Dune (fixup 1965) as "shigawire", a favourite concealed weapon of the Imperial Sardaukar troops; in Larry Niven's Known Space series as "shadow square wire" (linking the Ringworld's orbiting sunshades), "Sinclair molecule chain" or the "variable-sword" which uses a Stasis Field to lend ultimate unyieldingness to ordinary wire; and in William Gibson's "Johnny Mnemonic" (May 1981 Omni). George R R Martin's "The Plague Star" (January-February 1985 Analog) features the dangerous "walking-web" Monster, a silicon-based Alien whose natural mode of attack and defence employs just such cutting monofilaments. In Comics, another alien (this time sentient and intelligent) with natural monofilament weaponry appears in Top Ten: Book 1 (graph 2001) by Alan Moore, Zander Cannon and Gene Ha.

Perhaps the most important peaceful application for monomolecular wire, with its supposed combination of extreme strength and extreme lightness, is in the construction of Space Elevators: Arthur C Clarke's elevator project in The Fountains of Paradise (1979; with exp afterword 1989) makes use of it under the name "hyperfilament". [DRL]

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