Today’s relevant shout-out goes to Destiny: Rise of Iron for its depiction of a nanotech bloom as something other than the traditional (boring) homogeneous gray goo:

Meet SIVA:


So many of the probable phases, all on display: the hard-shelled geoms (which I conceive of as processing nodes) and bundles of organic-looking transport/processing motile cables, both growing together and through other objects; hazes of foglets, both being excreted by other constructions and moving independently; and (not pictured), streams of liquid nanite soup glowing lava-like with the radiant heat of active [dis]assembly.

If you’re looking for a visual reference for what I envision rampant nanite blooms to look like in the ‘verse, you could do a lot worse.


Trope-a-Day: Overheating

Overheating: A problem everywhere.  The logistics of a post-scarcity society may have eliminated most material-supply problems; advanced ergtech may have made energy not a meaningful practical constraint; computer power may be an absolute bargain everywhere; but even with every fancy high-tech possibility up to and including neutrino-catalyzed cooling in play, the requirement for heat dissipation still enforces speed constraints on nanotechnology, density limits on computronium, causes problems for guns firing on full-auto, prevents stealth in space, and requires most heavy industry to be kept at least in orbit even if its customers are downwell.  Damn you, thermodynamics!

Trope-a-Day: Nanomachines

Nanomachines: One of the very common forms of Applied Phlebotinium in the Empire, and the Worlds in general.  However, this being at least firm SF, they don’t cause physically implausible superpowers – and in general obey the laws of physics – do require energy sources (be it chemical or external power transmission), do need to dispose of their waste heat (a particular limitation on in-body nanomachines, given how little of it it takes to do serious damage to the host), and, by and large, require specialized operating environments to do their jobs.

And while they are incredibly useful in manufacturing, they are not the be-all and end-all; if you need a large steel casting for something, it would be ridiculously inefficient – and uneconomic – to nanofacture it rather than use a perfectly good robotic steel foundry to do the job.  Even in nanofacture, macroscopic machines with nanotech operating heads are actually much more common than swarms of independently operating assemblers.

Trope-a-Day: Grey Goo

Grey Goo: Mostly averted, for the simple reason that the power (and thermal management) requirements are something of a bugger.  Breaking a great many of the chemical bonds which make up Stuff requires substantial amounts of energy, which is inconvenient for something the size of a nanite that’s trying to derive enough power from eating stuff to self-replicate as well as consume.

There are nanophage weapons, but they tend to require power from outside (usually in the form of pulsed microwave beams) to work; shut off the power, they stop immediately.  Other nanoweapons generally run to the limit of their stored power, and aren’t self-replicating.

Green goos – nanoplagues – are possible, because bio-life tends to contain a lot of energetic molecules, but really, they’re not much worse than regular bio-plagues, except for often having much worse fevers associated with them.  And there are plenty of industrial nanopastes that could in theory go golden goo on us, but since the vast majority of those work in sealed reactors or vats and depend on an external power source or feedstock, it’s not a terribly serious problem.

In short, it’s at least theoretically possible that some free-roaming antipollution nanite might cause some trouble one day, but it’s probably not going to be a worse problem than your average “red tide”. Which is by no means to say that it won’t be a problem, but it’s a manageable non-apocalyptic one.

Trope-a-Day: Kill It With Fire

Kill It With Fire: Played straight in both senses.  The Empire is certainly happy to use flamethrowers and other Fire Breathing Weapons, fire bombs, fire sheets, and other kinds of fire in war, not because it’s tremendously efficient (it’s not) or because things are Immune To Bullets (they aren’t) – but rather, just because while it’s possible to convince a lot of species to charge down the artillery, or even to charge down the machine guns, a good 95% of everybody is scared shitless of fire and just won’t charge down a wall of it.  Fire is terrifying, and the more you scare them, the less you actually have to kill them.  Of course, it works well enough for that, too.

(Actually, there is one thing they are really good at killing, which is another reason they’re kept on the active list – nanoweapons.  Remember, nanites in general are constrained by their ability to dump heat.  How do you add a lot of heat to a nanocloud quickly?  Yep, flamethrowers.  Big ones.)

They are not impressed by the “it’s inhumane” argument.  It’s war.  Of course it’s not bloody humane.  And the guy over on the other battlefield trying to stay conscious through the agony so he can keep holding his guts inside him with his fingers after being disemboweled by slugthrower fire is not having a significantly better a day than the one who got flamed, m’kay, because that’s not really possible.

In the other sense, yes, symbolically, fire cleanses and transforms.  It used to be used by some religions this way – it’s how the Somárans executed the seeress Merriéle back in the day, not that that went terribly well, and it’s also in this form, the fires of purification, still used by the judicial system for particularly abominable criminals, the ones who put a great deal of effort into demonstrating that they were corrupt right down to the soul – the serial killers and torturers and rapists and other absolute dross of society.

Of course, these days said fires are no longer a conventional pyre, good at making a point as those might have been, and is actually quite fast and humane.  They involve a sealed chamber containing a fusion torch, into which the criminal is placed – and then, shortly thereafter, it again contains only the fusion torch.

Dr. Kajen’s Famous Nanosalts

The crystals fizzed as they dissolved, salt lattices slipping apart into their ionic components, releasing tiny pockets of oils, aromatic compounds, and CO2 trapped within them.

Nanomachines, too, came free from encapsulation within the crystals. Their triggering conditions met – the latent heat released by the crystal’s dissolution and the presence of water molecules around them – they sprang to life, cilia driving them outward, sensors sniffing for the distinctive chemical gradient of their target. Identifying it, they swam towards its solid surface, and nanoscopic ”brushes” sprang into action, scrubbing it free of even the smallest particles of foreign matter, while other chemical armatures dissolved contamination, smoothed away damaged areas, and extended cleansing probes into its pores.

Aravé Múranios-ith-Murann lay back in her bath, sipped her wine, and savored the tingling sensation as the day’s sweat and dirt effortlessly melted away.

By Their Warnings Shall Ye Know Them

Structural Metallic Oxygen
Do not remove from cryogenic environment.

Not for use in reducing atmospheres or vacuum.

Defended Privacy Boundary
Do not transgress with active sensoria.

Please check biochemical compatibility coding before consuming or tasting.

Low Bandwidth Zone
Do not enter with ‘weave-routed cloud cognition, full-spectrum telepresence, or other high-quota services in effect.

Contains active nanodevices; do not break hermetic seal while blue status light is illuminated.

Spin Gravity
Gravity may vary with direction of motion.
Freely moving objects travel along curved paths.

Motivation hazard: Do not ingest if operating under a neurokinin/nociceptin addiction/tolerance regime.

No Ubiquitous Surveillance
Unmonitored hazards may exist within this zone.
Manual security and emergency response calls required.

Tangle channels utilize macroscale quantum systems; do not expose to potential sources of decoherence.

Diamondoid Surfaces
Slippery even when dry.

WARNING: This hyperlink references gnostic overlay templates that may affect your present personality, persona or consciousness. Are you sure you wish to proceed?

Dynamic Spacetime
Contraterragenesis reactor contains a synthetic spinning/charged gravitational singularity of mass 120,000,000 tons.  Take all appropriate precautions during servicing.

CAUTION: Palpable microwave pulsation power feeds in operation.

Legislative Boundary
The zone you are entering exercises private legislative privilege under the Conlegius Act.
By entering voluntarily you accede to compliance with applicable private law (see v-tag).


The smell was a warning, hot, organic and yeasty like fresh-baked bread, with an underlying tang of metal, blowing across my chemosensors as I crashed into the apartment; the characteristic effusions of an active nanosystem.  It was a useful warning, since this amateur nanohacker had ignored the procotols and the caution-warning channel was silent but for the emergency-in-progress tags I and building management had posted manually.

But it was also a redundant warning.  The bloom was already macroscopic, gaping gaps showing in the ceiling and wall paneling where nanites had harvested them for materials.  I punched through the hole-riddled remnant of the wall that separated the atrium from the apartment’s main room, spraying around me with abandon the chemical nanobinder semi-affectionately known as ‘phlegm’, and brought myself up short.  The center of the floor had collapsed into the utility space, and the remnants of a chair and a table that had probably once contained lab equipment had now mostly deliquesced into the domed pseudopuddle below.  All that remained of the chair’s occupant were the hard-to-digest fragments of a carbon-reinforced skeleton, still gleaming with the rainbow colors of machine-phase nano.  This was clearly the center of the outbreak.

A vector stack was still pinging from one side of the puddle, though, so I selected a justheart from my panniers and lofted it as close as I could to the stack’s location.  It shattered on impact, the liquid nitrogen pouring out already boiling and freezing the puddle medium.  Good.  Citizen Idiot should be back in time to to face the foot-high stack of lawsuits this venture had already bought him.

Spraying more phlegm, targeted now to coat and seal off the pseudopuddle, I moved in to sample and contain…

A Diamond Is… Really A Very Simple Molecular Structure

“The models you can see in this room,” said the guide, “represent some of the first models of carbon organizer.  Carbon organizers were the earliest and simplest form of dry nanotechnology, capable of building simple molecular structures from carbon and hydrogen atoms only.  While this may seem trivial, they formed the basis of the synthetic oil manufacturing industry that we’ll talk about later in our tour, and, of course, were responsible for the Diamond Crash.”

“Here, for scale,” he continued, crossing to one particular stand, “you can see the largest gem-quality diamond ever found in nature; the Heart of the Moon, which in its rough state weighed in at just under nineteen ounces.  In its cut state, as you see here, it still weighs twelve ounces, and in the pre-Crash days, was valued at over 124 million esteyn.  After the Diamond Crash, House Selequelios donated it to one of the Museum’s predecessors.”

“And now, gentlesophs, if you’d care to turn around…”

The curtain slid back.  Light blazed from the sixty-foot obelisk, and the tour group gasped as one.

This is our very own Monument to the Crash, or looked at another way, to the start of the Prosperity.  What you are looking at is a single internally perfect diamond crystal, weighing a little over 5,800,000 pounds.  It is, a few cases of diamond plating on structures aside, the single largest pure diamond crystal ever grown, a record that is unlikely to be broken, since few of its industrial and commercial – mostly low-end ornamentation – applications call for crystals quite this large, and since pure diamond is both brittle and quite flammable, its potential structural niches are for the most part filled by various adamant-type diamondoids, sapphireglass, and more advanced nanocomposites.”

“Of course, it’s rather less valuable than the Heart of the Moon was pre-crash; the value of raw diamond on today’s market is a little under one taltis per pound, which makes the whole Monument worth approximately 45,000 esteyn in total.”

“If you’ll follow me into the next room, you can see a carbon organizer in action, a simple model that extrudes bar diamond from ambient atmospheric gases.  This particular model is still on the market, because while there’s little demand for the product per se, many worlds find it useful on a larger scale for pulling excess carbon out of their atmospheres in an easy-to-store and readily releasable – by simple incineration – form.”

“We slice up the bars into half-foot sections for souvenirs, which you’ll see on the table to your left.  Please, help yourself to one, or two, or as many as you like to take home.  No charge.”  He coughed.  “Although I should perhaps mention that most jewelers, even the ones who don’t insist on an authenticated provenance, will check to ensure that there are at least some natural-looking flaws in the stones they buy, these days.”