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"It was [H.G. Wells'] adolescent fiction, his imaginative stories, that live forever - and yet are not acknowledged in literature classes as being great literature. So to hell with the academics!"
- Greg Bear

Smart Rope  
  Long 'rope' consisting of a variety of intertwined cables with different properties; controlled with special glove interface.  

...The cable weighed only a couple of kilos, but it felt bizarrely serpentine and supple, somehow dry and greasy at the same time. It was as thick as his little finger, and maybe twenty meters long. "What is this thing exactly?"

"Smart rope."

"What's smart about it?"

"Well, there's this chip in the battery box that understands knot topology... It's a kind of math about deforming the geometry of space... Anyway, that rope is braided from a lot of different cabling. Got sensor cable, power cable, and this is the tricky part electric reactive fiber. Okay? It'll stretch, it'll contract - hard and fast - it can bend and wiggle anywhere along the length. The damn thing can tie itself in knots..."

From Heavy Weather, by Bruce Sterling.
Published by Bantam in 1994
Additional resources -

Here's a description of the smart rope in use.

"Can you reach me that big-ass vise grip over there?"

Alex pulled the coil of smart rope from his shoulder, put his gloved hand on it. The thin black rope slid out instantly across the bubblepak flooring, reared like a cobra, seized the end of the vise grip in its metal-collared noose, and lifted the tool into the air. It then swayed across the floor, the vise grip dangling gently from the noose, and hung the tool in midair, within her easy reach.

Thanks to Bob for pointing this one out.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Heavy Weather
  More Ideas and Technology by Bruce Sterling
  Tech news articles related to Heavy Weather
  Tech news articles related to works by Bruce Sterling

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