Monomolecular wire (or Monofilament) is a fictional wire, often used as a weapon, consisting of single strand of strongly bonded molecules, like carbon nanotubes. It has applications in cutting objects and severing adjacent molecules. A similar or identical concept may be called a microfilament wire or, as a weapon, a microfilament whip.
Use and variants in fiction
An early example of a substance similar to monomolecular wire is shigawire, as described in Frank Herbert's Dune novels. First making its appearance in Dune (1965), shigawire is a metallic extrusion produced naturally from a ground vine found on the planets Salusa Secundus and III Delta Kaising. It varies in diameter from approximately 1.5 cm down to monomolecular (micronic) diameters, and is notable for its incredible tensile and mechanical strength. Shigawire is able to cut through almost any material cleanly, possessing edges that are incredibly sharp. It is a weapon of choice for assassins, able to both garrote and decapitate in one swift motion. It finds widespread use in the Dune universe, not only as a weapon system, but as an information recording material: shigawire is able to accept magnetic fields imprinted along its length in the style of magnetic tape, giving rise to the wire projector, which displays holographic images and films whose data is imprinted on a shigawire reel (such a recording medium is necessary due to religious bans on solid state recording media stemming from the Butlerian Jihad). Minimic film is monomolecular shigawire which has been used to record data - great care is needed while handling this material, as carelessness will result in the film cutting through its canister, playback/recorder machine, and the hapless user if the film is moving at a velocity greater than 1 metre per second. Shigawire also has application in art, including that of mobile sculpture. A notable piece of the latter, called 'Being Unknown', was taken by Honored Matres during their invasion of the Old Empire, and retained at the captured palace of the Spider Queen on one of the Spacing Guild Junction Planets. The sculpture was a kinetic design of humanoid appearance, consisting of multiple flat panels suspended in a tensegrity structure, with fine shigawire holding the assembly together. The Spider Queen commented on how the wind's interaction with the sculpture produced multiple appearances within the work, where sometimes it would appear to be running as gracefully as a marathoner, and sometimes ugly twitching motions as though it were carrying weapons within its hands.
Among the first references in fiction to a monofilament is in John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar (1968), where hobby terrorists deploy this over-the-shelf General Technics product across roads to kill or injure the people passing there. According to Brunner, the monofilament will easily cut through glass, metal and flesh, but in any non-strained structure the molecules will immediately rebond. No harm is done if the cut object is not under mechanical stress.
Monomolecular Wire is a plot element in the short story "Johnny Mnemonic" by William Gibson. The assassin following the protagonist has a diamond spindle of monomolecular wire (or filament) implanted in his thumb, the idea being that diamond is also made of a single molecule and thus hard enough to not be cut by a monomolecular wire. The top of the thumb, attached to the other side of the wire, was used as a weight and the wire could be used as a whip-like weapon or a garotte. This idea was used in the film Johnny Mnemonic, which was based on the short story. One of the characters in another Gibson book, Count Zero, also uses a monomolecular filament to cross from one building to another.
Monomolecular wire is used as the basic building material of the space elevator in Arthur C. Clarke's novel The Fountains of Paradise.
In later series of Battle Angel Alita - Last Order, the monomolecular wire was identified to be capable of penetrating electro-magnetic shield, but was stopped by a stick made up of monomolecular material. Monomolecular wires are seen in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Cyber City Oedo 808, Hyperion Cantos, Robert J. Sawyer's Illegal Alien, the manga Battle Angel Alita, Naruto, Hellsing, Trinity Blood, My-Hime, Simon R. Green's Deathstalker series, as well as the roleplaying games Shadowrun, and Cyberpunk 2020. Monomolecular wires are also seen in Larry Niven's "Known Space" universe as human-produced "Sinclair Molecule Chain".
Various Imperial and alien technologies in the Warhammer 40,000 universe use monomolecular blades or wire offensively. Possibly the most notable example are Eldar Warp Spiders, whose Deathspinner weaponry traps targets in a mesh of such filaments or the Dark Eldar Shredder weapon which shoots meshes of it.
The game Chaos Overlords featured a weapon 'monom rod' which used this technology.
In the webcomic Schlock Mercenary by Howard Tayler a so-called "Dorothy System" is integrated into Captain Kaff Tagon's boots. He clicks his heels together and the wire comes out, between the boots' heels.
Sion Eltnam Atlasia wields a monofilament whip called the Etherlite in Melty Blood
In the 2000 film XChange, the main character acquires an Urban survival Kit which includes a monomolecular wire.
Monomolecular swords are used by some Kzin in Larry Niven's Known Space series. They are made of monomolecular wire held rigid by a stasis field and they have small bright balls on the end so the user can see where the sword is.
David Weber "March Upcountry", p744, " The ten-millimetre cylinder was fired at very low velocity, relatively speaking, but the instant it exited the barrel, it blossomed like some hideous flower to deploy its twenty-five depleted uranium beads in a beautiful geometric pattern like a high-tech spider's web. Strung with monomolecular wire."