19 Best Nanotechnology Science Fiction Books

© The Laboratory of Nanotechnology and Nanomedicine

© The Laboratory of Nanotechnology and Nanomedicine

Like all great advancements in technology, nanotechnology will eventually kill us all.

We’ll have vessel-repairing robots in our bloodstream, and drug-delivering bots in our synapses. Before long, we’ll be little more than fleshy carriers of nano-ecosystems. Actually, we’re already that for the bacteria in our gut, so maybe it won’t be so bad after all. Unless the nanobots and the bacteria have a war or something. That would suck.


by Karl Schroeder – 2001

Benign AIs called the Winds have terraformed the planet Ventus using nanotechnology, but have since fallen silent, which is freaking everyone out.

Our hero must discover why the Winds aren’t answered their phones, and whether a man named Jordan carries the seed of a long-dead rogue AI. If he is, the whole galaxy’s in trouble.

“Canadian Schroeder handles his large cast of characters with impressive dexterity. Fans of the high-tech foundation and grand world-building of Iain M. Banks and Ken MacLeod will feel right at home here, as will anyone else who appreciates a challenging, original story.”
— Publishers Weekly

by Michael Grant – 2013

In BZRK, the science is soft and the nanotechnology manipulates memories, hacks senses, and performs general brain-rewiring work.

A war between two ultra-secretive, competing ideologies—one championing free will, the other promising enforced happiness—is being fought “down in the meat,” and things get biologically icky pretty quick. Not for the squeamish.

“With simmering pots of sexual tension, near-nonstop action, and the threat of howling madness or brain-melting doom around every corpuscular corner, Grant’s new series is off to a breathless, bombastic start.”
– Booklist, starred review

The Stone Canal
by Ken MacLeod – 1996

Dee Model, a sexy, butt-kicking, love-slave android, mysteriously becomes self-aware. She eludes her owner, files for her own autonomy, and discovers she may have been nudged toward freedom by her dead husband, recently revived by the robot version of himself.

There’s also a wormhole next to Jupiter, a big war, a mysterious AI, and I haven’t even gotten to the weird stuff yet.

“It’s a pleasure and a challenge to read a book where human potential and human foibles are dealt with as thoroughly as is scientific advancement. Fans of William Gibson and of Iain Banks, in particular, will enjoy this visionary novel.”
– Publishers Weekly

The First Immortal: A Novel of the Future
by James L. Halperin – 1998

Ben Smith has a heart attack in 1988, but is lucky enough to get placed in a cryonic chamber, and is revived eight-eight years later. The world is less recognizable than Futurama, and in a lot more trouble.

It’s a good story with hard science, but unfortunately there is also bit of characters lecturing each other, i.e., the reader, about technology, instead of getting on with the plot.

Dead Girls, Dead Boys, Dead Things
by Richard Calder – 1998

The first book of the trilogy, Dead Girls, It was written by a Brit soon after he moved to Thailand. He lived in Nongkhai, a small town on the Mekong River, but made frequent trips to Bangkok, for reasons that Wikipedia does not spell out.

This trilogy isn’t for everyone.

The first book Dead Girls is about a virus that turns pubescent girls into vampiric gynoid dolls called Lilim, and the doomed love affair between 15-year-old Ignatz Zwakh and a Lilim assassin called Primavera.

Things get crazier and kinkier in the next two novels, Dead Boys and Dead Things.

“Calder is a writer of undeniable talent… Perhaps he’s writing for aficionados of both the Marquis de Sade and William Gibson or, conceivably, for those who prefer their Philip K. Dick mixed with a little J.K. Huysmans.
– Publishers Weekly

Since I had no idea who Huysmans was, I looked him up, expecting something mildly perverse. Nope: “Huysmans’ work is considered remarkable for its idiosyncratic use of the French language, large vocabulary, descriptions, satirical wit and far-ranging erudition.” – Wikipedia

The Nano Flower
by Peter F. Hamilton – 1995
Look at the cover. Jesus, it’s horrible.

The final book in the Greg Mandel trilogy, The Nano Flower is about a flower anonymously delivered to a billionaire. But this flower possesses genes millions of years in advance of any terrestrial DNA. Is it a cryptic alien message, or… what? One man might discover its origin—but Greg Mandel will not be alone in his desperate search. And, as they both now discover, simply being first in the race isn’t nearly good enough when the Nano Flower begins to bloom …

by William Gibson – 1997

Idoru is the second book in William Gibson’s Bridge trilogy (the others are Virtual Light and All Tomorrow’s Parties). Gibson fans will feel at home in its postmodern, dystopian, and cyberpunk future.

The story centers around people pursuing, Rei Toei, the beautiful, entirely virtual media star adored by all Japan (the idoru of the title).

“Dark and disturbing, this novel represents no new departure for Gibson, but a further accretion of the insights that have made him the most precise, and perhaps the most prescient, visionary working in SF today.”
– Publishers Weekly

Queen City Jazz
by Kathleen Ann Goonan – 1994

In an impressive first novel, author Goonan imagines an original futuristic dystopia where a world has undergone a plague of nanotech. Young Verity lives in a community that eschews technology, but her best friend is shot, and she must wrap him in a forbidden cocoon of nanotech to keep him alive. She takes him to the tech-strewn Cincinnati, where she gets more than she bargained for.

Highlights of the book include a scene in which Ernest Hemingway gets kicked off a baseball team because he’s not a “team player.”

“[A] pleasure… watching the intelligent heroine grapple with responsibility, passion and artistic creation. While overly dense in detail, Goonan’s work is powerful and richly textured.”
– Publishers Weekly

by Greg Egan – 1999

If you like hard science fiction, as in characters-are-talking-about-four-dimensional-topolgy-and-the-author-expects-me-to-get-it hard science fiction, then this book is for you.

It’s 2975, and humanity has driven down several different evolutionary paths. “Fleshers” are heavily genetically engineered human bodies, “gleisners” are human-shaped robots run by self-aware software, and the pure AI/human minds live in “polises.”

The orphan Yatima, a digital being grown from a mind seed, joins a group of citizens and flesher refugees in a search for the knowledge that will guarantee their safety—a search that puts them on the trail of the ancient and elusive Transmuters, who have the power to reshape subatomic particles, and to cross into the macrocosmos, where the universe we know is nothing but a speck in the higher-dimensional vacuum.

“[F]ans of hard SF that incorporates higher mathematics and provocative hypotheses about future evolution are sure to be fascinated by Egan’s speculations.”
– Publishers Weekly

Fantastic Voyage
by Isaac Asimov – 1966

Four men and a woman are reduced to a microscopic fraction of their original size and sent in a miniaturized atomic sub through a dying man’s carotid artery to destroy a blood clot in his brain. If they fail, the entire world will be doomed. Doomed!

Fantastic Voyage is a novelization of the movie, and Asimov deepened the characters and made the science a little more realistic. Still not satisfied with the result, he ended up writing Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain.

by Charles Stross – 2005

It is the era of the posthuman. Artificial intelligences have surpassed the limits of human intellect. Biotechnological beings have rendered people all but extinct. Molecular nanotechnology runs rampant, replicating and reprogramming at will. Contact with extraterrestrial life grows more imminent with each new day.

Struggling to survive and thrive in this accelerated world are three generations of the Macx clan: Manfred, an entrepreneur dealing in intelligence amplification technology whose mind is divided between his physical environment and the Internet; his daughter, Amber, on the run from her domineering mother and seeking her fortune in the outer system as an indentured astronaut; and Sirhan, Amber’s son, who finds his destiny linked to the fate of all humanity.

About the title: in Italian, accelerando means “speeding up” and is used as a tempo marking in musical notation. In Stross’s novel, it refers to the accelerating rate at which humanity in general, and/or the novel’s characters, head towards the technological singularity. The term was used earlier in this way by Kim Stanley Robinson in his 1985 novel The Memory of Whiteness and again in his Mars trilogy.

The Dervish House
by Ian McDonald – 2010

In 2027, Turkey is the largest, most populous, and most diverse nation in the EU. It’s a boom economy, the sweatshop of Europe, the bazaar of central Asia, the key to the immense gas wealth of Russia and central Asia, with a layer of practical nanotechnology infesting almost everything.

In three intertwined stories, The Dervish House follows the travails of a young man who suddenly sees djinn, an art dealer set on a mad quest for something even the buyer believes is a mere legend, and the greatest stock-market scheme ever imagined.

by Tony Daniel – 2001

The human race has extended itself into the far reaches of our solar system. The inner system—with its worlds connected by a vast living network of cables—is supported by the repression and enslavement of humanity’s progeny, nanotechnological artificial intelligences whom the tyrant Amés has declared non-human. But the longing for freedom cannot be denied.

“[A] complex, mind-stretching future in his third SF novel, a cross between Bruce Sterling and Doc Smith that teems with vivid characters and surprising action.”
– Publishers Weekly

by Wil McCarthy – 1998

Bloom is set in the year 2106, in a world where self-replicating nanomachines called “Mycora” have consumed Earth and other planets of the inner solar system, forcing humankind to eke out a bleak living in the asteroids and Galilean moons.

In a ship specially designed to penetrate the deadly Mycosystem, seven human astronauts embark on mankind’s boldest venture yet—the perilous journey home to infected Earth.

“Readers who can plug into the prose and navigate its dense circuity, however, will find themselves rewarded with a wallop of a finale that satisfies high expectations for high-concept SF.”
– Publishers Weekly

Assemblers of Infinity
by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason – 1993

In this Nebula Award Nominee, the crew of Moonbase Columbus discovers a massive alien structure is erecting itself on the far side of the moon. Built by microscopically small, intelligent, and unstoppable machines, they consume everything they touch. The mysterious structure begins to expand and take shape, and its creators begin to multiply.

Is this the first strike in an alien invasion from the stars? Or has human nanotechnology experimentation gone awry, triggering an unexpected infestation? As riots rage across a panicked Earth, scientists scramble to learn the truth before humanity is engulfed by the voracious machines.

The Invincible
by Stanislaw Lem – 1964

The interstellar cruiser Invincible lands on an uninhabited planet to investigate the loss of sister ship, Condor. The crew discovers a form of quasi-life born through evolution of autonomous, self-replicating machines. Individually or in small groups they are harmless and capable of only simple behavior, but when bothered, they form huge swarms displaying complex, often destructive behavior. Some members of the crew suffer complete memory erasure as a consequence. The angered crew attempts to fight the nanotech enemy, but eventually recognize the meaninglessness of their efforts in the most direct sense of the word.

A rather common theme in Lem’s writing is that alien life is most likely to be fundamentally incomprehensible to human minds, and any interaction is destined to end badly.

“Anybody who likes a tight, increasingly tense plot-line rising to a scene of dramatic violence will be satisfied. Anybody who likes a mystery will find it here — and its solution.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin

Blood Music
by Greg Bear – 1985

An amazing breakthrough in genetic engineering made by a scientist is considered too dangerous for further research, but rather than destroy his work, he injects himself with his creation and walks out of his lab, unaware of just how his actions will change the world.

Author Bear is married to Astrid Anderson, daughter of science fiction great Poul Anderson.

Altered Carbon
by Richard K. Morgan – 2002

Not since Isaac Asimov has anyone combined SF and mystery so well. A very rich man dies unexpectedly, and when his backup copy is animated, he hires Takeshi Kovacs to find out why.

Morgan creates a gritty, noir tale that will please Raymond Chandler fans, an impressive accomplishment in any genre.

The Diamond Age
by Neal Stephenson – 1995

Set in twenty-first century Shanghai where nanotechnology affects all aspects of life, The Diamond Age is the story of what happens when a state-of-the-art interactive device falls in the hands of a street urchin named Nell. Her life—and the entire future of humanity—is about to be decoded and reprogrammed.

The Diamond Age is the only steampunk book on this list: a certain group in it has re-adopted Victorian values and morals, along with top hats, airships, and velocipedes.

“Building steadily to a wholly earned and intriguing climax, this long novel, which presents its sometimes difficult technical concepts in accessible ways, should appeal to readers other than habitual SF users.”
– Publishers Weekly

(Note that Michael Chriton’s famous book Prey is not on this list. I usually really like his books, except for the endings. The ending of Prey ticked me off so much I dropped it from this list.)


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3 thoughts on “19 Best Nanotechnology Science Fiction Books

  1. “The Bohr Maker” by Linda Nagata should be on this list. It won a Locus Award for best new novel and is a thought provoking story about the impact technology has on our culture and what it means to be human.

  2. “Prey” by Michael Crichton (2002)

    In the Nevada desert, an experiment has gone horribly wrong. A cloud of nanoparticles—micro-robots—has escaped from the laboratory. This cloud is self-sustaining and self-reproducing. It is intelligent and learns from experience. For all practical purposes, it is alive.

    It has been programmed as a predator. It is evolving swiftly, becoming more deadly with each passing hour.

    Every attempt to destroy it has failed.

    And we are the prey.

  3. Sorry, I didn’t read the article to the end 🙂
    Now I see notes about “Prey”.

    Thanks for the great list of books to to read. Something I already know. I think that “The Invincible” by Stanislaw Lem is the greatest one. Love it and can read it endlessly.

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