The Race Is On: Cast Your Vote for the Top Ten Greatest Works of Materials Fiction
The Race Is On: Cast Your Vote for the Top Ten Greatest Works of Materials Fiction
When the JOM editorial team asked readers to submit nominations for the JOM Materials Fiction Countdown in September 2014, we were operating under a couple of assumptions: 1.) We would receive about half a dozen nominations and 2.) all the Boy, were we wrong. referenced minerals, metals, or materials science and engineering. Even more gratifying was the breadth of nominees-Shakespeare, Homer, children's stories, and romance novels This left us with a happy dilemma. The ultimate goal of the JOM Materials Fiction Countdown was to give readers the opportunity to vote for the Top Ten Greatest Works So, as is the way of TMS, we turned to our volunteers to make a good thing even better. In October, the TMS Board of Directors appointed an ad hoc committee to whittle the roster down to the 25 strongest candidates in terms of their connection to minerals, metals, and materials science and engineering. In addition to drawing from their own literary knowledge, the committee members carefully reviewed the written nominations, as well as resources and reviews that provided additional details and insight on the works. The task was easier said than done, particularly with so many written nominations making strong arguments for why a favorite book should be included. It was nice to see how many readers were really passionate about the books they nominated, said Thomas Battle, one of the committee members. With the key criteria that the work must prominently feature some aspect of minerals, metals or materials science and engineering guiding their way, the committee succeeded engineers are much more well-rounded than the engineer stereotype. All TMS members realize the importance of metals and materials, but this list shows that a wide variety of popular literature requires a discussion of materials in order for the stories to work, added Tom Battle. Sometimes, it's an assumed 'magical material,' while other times, how that material is made or disseminated is the core of the story. But as the author Robert Heinlein said, 'One man's magic is another man's engineering.' The real fun now begins as JOM nominations presented on the following pages in alphabetical order. Then, go to the JOM website at jom.tms.org to access the online ballot (see sidebar for additional information). possibilities of the materials world.
How, Where, and
When to Vote
Voting for the Top Ten Greatest Works of Materials Fiction opens on February 1
and will close on March 21. To access the online ballot, as well as additional details
about the nominees, visit the JOM website at jom.tms.org
and click on the JOM Materials Fiction Countdown icon at
the top. A voting kiosk will also be set up in the
Exhibit Hall at the TMS 2015 Annual Meeting
& Exhibition, March 1519, in Orlando Florida.
The winners of the countdown will be
announced in the July issue of JOM.
The JOM Materials Fiction Countdown
The Final 25
In a dystopian future, Dagney Taggert, vice president of
operations for Taggart Transcontinental, sets out on a quest
to repair her railroads deteriorating Rio Norte Line to
provide service to Colorado, the last great industrial center
in the world. She turns to Hank Rearden and his Rearden
Metal, a revolutionary, experimental alloy that is stronger
than conventional steel at a fraction of the weight and cost
to save her business, despite government interference and
conspiracy against industrial progress.
Materials Connections: Hank Rearden, a brilliant
metallurgist and engineer, is a hero for trying to stand up
to attempts to control production of his metal. In general,
Atlas Shrugs explores the potential impact of minerals,
metals, and materials science and engineering on the
economy and social order.
Felix Hoenikker, an eccentric scientist, secretly invents
ice-nine, a substance with the potential of solidifying all
the water on earth. Upon his death, his children divide the
ice-nine among themselves and use it for their own gain.
Materials Connections: The original purpose of ice-nine
was relatively benignto solidify mud in swamps so that
soldiers would be able to march through them more easily.
As the story unfolds, it demonstrates how profoundly
materials science can change the world and how abuse of
that power can have disastrous, unintended consequences.
an unknown location.
Materials Connections: A critical component of the
machine is an erbium dowel. Making the machine
purity. Contact was published in 1985, well before the
more recent advances in rare earth element production.
Two tons of erbium, at the time, exceeded the annual
the book is the process of extracting erbium from ore,
following the detailed instructions transmitted by the
The Cross-Time Engineer
Conrad Stargard is a Polish engineer from the 1980s who
is accidently transported to the year 1231. He realizes that
the Mongols are due to invade Poland in about ten years,
killing most of the population of Central Europe in their
wake. Stargard makes it his mission to use his modern
engineering knowledge to change history by establishing
Poland as an industrial and military powerhouse capable of
defeating the Mongol Horde.
Materials Connections: Introducing advancements in
extractive metallurgy and steel making are a few of the
materials-focused strategies that Stargard employs to
establish the industrial base that he envisions to support
his planned defense of Poland.
The Dark Knight Returns
Batman/Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement in this
landmark graphic novel to take on an ultra-violent gang
terrorizing Gotham City. Seeing Batman as a threat to
its authority, the corrupt government that now runs this
apocalyptic world dispatches Superman to kill him. While
Superman clearly has the edge over him physically,
Batman manages to defeat him by virtue of his cunning,
engineering genius, and indomitable will.
Materials Connections: Batman has always been about
the gadgets, but never more so than in this tale, as he
is compelled to compensate for his aging body and
diminished physical prowess. Advanced materials play a
key role in his victory, from his futuristic suit of armor,
Kryptonite that he has created in his laboratory.
Days of Future Past
Chris Claremont and John Byrne
Published in 1981, this graphic novel paints a bleak
portrait of the year 2013, in which cruel discrimination
against humans with mutant superpowers is enforced
by technologically advanced robots called Sentinels.
A nuclear strike is being planned on North America to
prevent the Sentinels from conquering the world. The few
mutant heroes known as X-Men who have survived the
Sentinel invasion send the consciousness of one of their
ownKitty Prydeback in time to avert the incident
potentially change the future.
Materials Connections: Many of the X-Men in this
storyline have materials-enabled superpowers. They
include Wolverine (near-indestructible adamantium
into steel at will), and Magneto (power over magnetic
The Diamond Age
Set in a future world where nanotechnology dominates all
aspects of life, the story follows a poor, uneducated girl
named Nell as she learns to think for herself with the aid
of an illegal, interactive primer.
Materials Connections: The books title refers to a new
material age of human progress, in which technology
makes it possible to produce a solid diamond at will. The
Diamond Age is rich in technical details about a society
dependent on bottom-up nanotechnology and
Drexleresque assemblers that harness materials atom-by-atom
Robert L. Forward
Presented as a set for voting consideration, Dragons Egg
and its sequel, Starquake, describe the evolution of an
alien technology and civilization that exist on a neutron
Materials Connections: Cheela, the intelligent beings
the size of a sesame seed who live on the star, create
fantastic machines from an array of novel materials such
as monopole magnets. Also in this world, neutronium, a
theoretical state of matter, can and does exist.
psychohistory to mathematically predict the downfall of
civilization and a subsequent dark age of 30,000 years.
Hoping to cut short this approaching epoch of barbarism,
Seldon works to create the Foundation of artisans and
engineers as a means of preserving and expanding on
humanitys collective knowledge.
Materials Connections: As with any advanced society,
materials play an important role in the development of
the Foundation. Examples of this can be found in such
devices as individual atomic shields and a transmuter that
turns iron into gold.
Game of Thrones
(Song of Ice and Fire series)
George R.R. Martin
A dizzying array of characters gives life to the medieval
land of Westeros as warring dynasties try to lay claim to
the ultimate seat of power, the Iron Throne.
Materials Connections: One of the gods worshiped by
much of Westeros is the Smith, who represents creation,
craftsmanship, and strength. This is indicative of the
practical and symbolic importance of metalworking in
Westeros society, with the lost art of forging Valyrian
steel (very reminiscent of Damascus steel) considered the
apex achievement in this regard. The maesters, the order
of scholars and scientists that advise Westeros nobility,
study added to a chain around their necks. Obsidian is
fashioned into a weapon to kill a supernatural enemy, and
the characteristics of swords, helms, and shields are used
course, theres that Iron Throne.
rage, and uncontrolled grief through the story of Achilles,
the greatest warrior in the Greek army.
Materials Connections: Armor is much more than a
protective covering in the Illiad, with many key plot
points turning on the suitability of the armor to the soldier
wearing it. This is especially true of the divine armor and
shield forged by the god Hephaestus for Achilles that
enable him to defeat and slay Hector outside the gates of
Troy. Numerous descriptions of cruel bronze weaponry
are also featured throughout, as well passages devoted to
describing how those weapons are made.
The Iron Giant
In this childrens book written by a British poet laureate,
a mysterious being constructed entirely of metal appears
out of nowhere in the English countryside, ingesting
farm equipment and scrap metal to sustain himself.
He eventually becomes an accepted member of the
community and ultimately saves the world. The book was
Materials Connections: Aside from the idea that the
main character is made out of (and eats) metal, the key
material moment in the story occurs when the metal
giant wagers that he can withstand the heat of burning
petroleum longer than an invading alien can endure the
heat of the sun. They then duel to their respective melting
to Finnish history and culture. Rune IX is devoted to
telling the Origin of Iron, describing in detail the raw
materials needed for iron making, the process itself,
potential problems or challenges in making iron, and
three different types of possible products (dark and
ductile iron or malleable steel; iron lighter-colored
or hardenable steel, and red and brittle iron or white
cast iron). In addition, a pivotal, recurring element
throughout the work is the Sampo, a magical artifact
forged by the blacksmith god Seppo Ilmarinen, the
a Hobbit, embarks on a treacherous quest to destroy the
One Ring, an ancient weapon forged by the Dark Lord
Sauron to conquer the world.
Materials Connections: Much of the metal and
metalworking in Lord of the Rings yields magical
properties, with many of these artifacts playing a key
role in advancing the action of the story. Mithril, mined
by Dwarves in the mountains of Moria and fashioned
into armor, is described as being light, but harder than
tempered steel. Swords and knives forged by Elves glow
blue in the presence of Orcs, a race of evil, humanoid
creatures, while other blades have been enchanted to
Ring itself is made of a mystical material that can only
where it was forged.
The Magic Engineer
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
An installment in Modesitts Saga of Recluse series,
The Magic Engineer follows the story of Dorin, a young
magician who has been exiled for his interest in using
forbidden knowledge to invent dangerous machines.
Materials Connections: Dorin is a blacksmith with
knowledge, even when it violates the rules. He generally
infuses his iron working with magical qualities as he
designs and builds his machines and weapons.
advances that these experiences spawn, while Earth
slowly succumbs to ecological disaster.
Materials Connections: In particular, Red Mars, the
sublimation and evaporation, processes that are used
regularly in real-world materials science and engineering.
Merchant of Venice
Portia is a beautiful, virtuous, wealthy woman being
wooed by numerous suitors. Her fathers will stipulates
she must marry the man who chooses a casket containing
her picture from a set of three.
Materials Connections: The three caskets are
made from gold, silver, and lead. Each casket also
its respective material. (The inscription on the gold
casket, for instance, is Who chooseth me shall gain
what many men desire.) The inscriptions and material
characteristics of the caskets are the only clues that the
suitors are given to win Portias hand.
Five prisoners of war escape captivity during the
American Civil War in a hot air balloon, only to crash
on an uncharted island. Fortunately, one member of
the party is an engineer who is largely responsible
for their survival. They are also aided by a reclusive
Captain Nemo who now lives on the island following his
adventures in the Verne novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues
Under the Sea.
Materials Connections: The brilliant engineer, Cyrus
Smith, is the hero of the book as he cleverly deploys
the materials available to him to make pottery, bricks,
nitroglycerin, iron, a simple electric telegraph, and a
seaworthy ship, among other things.
Rutland Reindeer. Much of the book focuses
on how he tries to convince the world the Reindeer be
Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler
An evil millionaire plots to seize a secret prototype
attack submarine to sell on the black market. He is also
bent on monopolizing most of the worlds rare earth
mining operations since the secret weapons that he plans
to steal rely on rare earth elements.
Materials Connections: The technical details related
to rare earth elements are generally rooted in reality.
The Mountain Pass rare earth mine in California and
Mount Weld mine site in Australia are both accurately
described, along with the extraction process. Ames
National Laboratory gets a mention, too, as the
new weapons systems.
the sports heroes of the day, with spectators paying to
watch them compete at solving engineering problems in
an arena setting.
Materials Connection: The protagonist of this short
story, George Platen, attends the Metallurgy Olympics to
watch his best friend, Trevelyan compete. Trevelyan is
categorized as a Metallurgist, Non-Ferrous. His Olympic
dreams are brought to an end, unfortunately, when he
performs poorly on a new device called the Beeman
This tale of political intrigue, war, and romance in
ancient Egypt is told from the viewpoint of Taita, a
multi-talented slave who is highly adept at replicating
and improving upon the design of weapons and
Materials Connection: Many of the issues that Taita
and other characters encounter in designing superior
chariot wheels and more lethal bows are focused on the
materials, with detailed descriptions of how to overcome
save those in danger.
Materials Connections: Sinclairs superpower is his
ability to transform himself into different materials that
can address a particular peril. For instance, he changes
into steel to mend a broken train track and turns himself
into a powerful magnet to free a trapped dog.
Marvin Khorbin, a brilliant young scientist, is murdered
and the case goes unsolved. A New York Times reporter,
Jim Schaap, decides to investigate it as the subject of a
book, compelling him to dig deeply into the culture of
Materials Connections: Khorbin has pioneered the
development of a fractional sublimation process that can
be used for the separation of volatile metal chlorides. As
suggested in the book, his research can potentially be used
as the basis for a low-cost means of uranium enrichment.
The novel is also replete with descriptions based on actual
projects and technical advancements in minerals and
The Vanished Diamond: Star of the South
Victor Cyprien, a French mining engineer living in
to chemistry to pursue a theory that diamonds can be
synthesized in the laboratory.
Materials Connection: The books title refers to the
243 carat blue diamond that Cyprien manages to create
through a process that combines high temperature and
If you think its tough trying to choose a favorite work of materials
fiction among 25 strong contenders, imagine the challenge that
the ad hoc committee faced in working through a list of 62. What
follows is their advice, based on experience, on coming up with
your final selections:
Garry Warren, Committee Chair
Professor Emeritus, University of Alabama
Consider the metallurgical content of the selection. For example,
I would love to have selected the Treasure of the Sierra Madre
for the final list, but that is more about gold fever than the
metallurgy of gold. A plotline that does justice to the engineering
is impressive, and gives recruiting ammunition to the profession.
Senior Metallurgist, Midrex Technologies
Better start reading nowA few of these books would be perfect
for long waits at airports or watching the snow fall while you sit in
front of a fire. Although some of these books have very detailed
online discussions, I dont think youll truly get the feel for them
without reading them.
Scientist, Los Alamos National Laboratory
I would suggest focusing on nominations that address how
materials can impact the world. And, share this list with others.
This countdown is a great way to engage readers and
introduce them to materials science and engineering.