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"The germinal societies like Singapore and communist Hong Kong may give us a mutant capitalism that is both virulent and efficient. This is a significant cultural danger."
- Gregory Benford

Karatand  
  A special glove made of impact-sensitive plastic.  

This glove is made of a material that is described in the book as "trigger-rigid."

...a Karatand... It was in effect a palmless glove made of impact-sensitive plastic about a quarter-inch thick. Pressed, pinched, drawn on or off the hand, it remained flexible and nearly as soft as good leather. Struck against a resistant surface, its behavior changed magically, and while the interior stayed soft to act as a cushion against bruising, its outer layers became as rigid as metal.

He thrust his fingers into it and spun around, slamming his fist at the wall. There was a solid thud, and the muscles of his upper arm and shoulder complained, but the Karatand reacted as designed. It was several seconds before he could straighten his fingers against the resistance of the relaxing plastic.

From Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner.
Published by Del Rey in 1968
Additional resources -

Karatands are available now - they're made of substances like d3o. Here's a picture of a modern-day Karatand:

See the article on d3o-based RibCap: Flexible-Rigid Beanie-Helmet For Snowsports to learn about modern-day shear-thickening fluids used in clothing and sportswear.

Compare this item to the flexible armor suit from Larry Niven's 1967 work Neutron Star.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Stand on Zanzibar
  More Ideas and Technology by John Brunner
  Tech news articles related to Stand on Zanzibar
  Tech news articles related to works by John Brunner

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