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Nano
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
If you haven't read Nano by John Robert Marlow, I strongly encourage you to add it to your list-at the top. It is plausible, scientifically accurate, and timely.
While I certainly believe it will be the next blockbuster movie, more importantly this exceptional work is a wake-up call for those who do not yet understand the tremendous potential (good and bad) of advanced nanotech. Marlow understands both the science and the politics governing advanced technologies, and accurately depicts several near-future potentials of nanotechnology.
Where Michael Crichton uses extremely unlikely and largely debunked theories as the basis of his latest novel (Prey), Marlow uses simple extensions of known science. Nano is a plausible, fast-paced technothriller, and is destined to become one of the best of the best. While Crichton fans will love this book, don't mistake John Robert Marlow for Michael Crichton; Marlow employs cutting-edge technology in a believable manner, describing science within the bounds of the generally-accepted. While Nano is techno-fiction, it could one day be techno-fact. While simple, the characters are entirely believable, as is the characterization of the various government organizations.
Nano is crafted in such a way as to bring all the frightening potential of advanced nanotechnology to the mind's eye. I easily pictured the events as they transpired, and hung on every word and plot twist. Further, Marlow accurately details some of the ethics involved in the decisions we must begin making now, in order to minimize the potential downsides and maximize the benefits of nanotechnology.
Anyone who understands history will see that the politics he describes should be taken seriously. Anyone with even a modicum of understanding of nanoscale science and technology will rapidly come to the conclusion that this writer has done his homework. "Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I will move the earth," said Archimedes. Advanced nanotechnology is that lever, and Marlow's Nano describes the many ways in which it may be used.
From a "wake-up call" standpoint, this is the most important piece of fiction written to date.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Nano is meant to be a warning about the power and danger of nanotechnology. The author chose to use a thriller format to get his ideas and warnings across. Unfortunately I feel he failed in his mission by relying too much on imagery even when it doesn't match the facts.

The richest man in the world is assassinated just before he is to make a world-shaking announcement. A reporter is determined to find out why he was killed. The story quickly leads her to a scientist funded by the trillionaire. He has just crack the secret of nanotechnology. Others are also on his trail and a game of cat and mouse ensues wherein we get to see both the benefits and the horrors of nanotechnology.

While the thriller was pretty good, I couldn't help being put off by the misinformation and lack of crucial details. For instance, the nano assemblers can build things atom by atom like a kid building with blocks. We first see this with a tree. But the tree is not assembled, it is grown at super speed. The ground sinks as the tree grows. Unfortunately plants get most of their mass from the air, not the ground. Also, trees are mostly dead objects covered by a veneer of living cells. A rapid-growing tree would probably not "die" fast enough. Later we are given an example of how disassemblers work. The scientist pulls apart a molecular model and throws the pieces away. No mention of how the strong forces are overcome, or that atoms are not solid balls the same way the solar system isn't. No mention of what a nanite can be made of if it is small enough to get between atoms to pry them apart.

These are two simple examples but the book is full of even worse. For example, if nanites are so small, the distance between a person's hands and feet would be nearly astronomical. So how do nanites know when they first reach someone's feet, if that person is holding someone else's hand? What about energy? How long will it really take a nanite to crawl any macro distance? How much information can really be programmed into an individual nanite? If nanites disassemble pollution, the atoms are still there. Lead is still lead and mercury is still mercury. How do they get rid of it?

But still, if you don't care about the science or if it makes sense, then the pace of the book is sure to keep you going and wondering what is going to happen next. But otherwise you might want to stay away from this one. You choose.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book has a Vernor Vinge quote on the back cover and is about the coming technological Singularity (look it up using Google).

And Vinge is right in what he says; the book will make a spectacular movie.

But oh man is it painful to read. Not because of the story line. Even if a bit predictable it's ok for Matrix type violent adventure.

The problem is the "science," or rather what is supposed to pass for science.

Nanotechnology is not magic and most of my complaints are about gross violation of conservation of mass, thermodynamics, mass flows, doubling times and the like. But that's not all the places it will irritate you. On page 133 the good guys are trying to see who the bad guys are by analyzing a depleted uranium bullet. "We should have a signature on the uranium by the end of the day; from there we'll have the nation and reactor core of origin."

I know what this story bit is imitating--Tom Clancy's "Sum of all Fears" where the origin of plutonium in a bomb is determined from impurities. But depleted uranium that's used for things like bullets never went near a reactor. It's "depleted" of the easy to fission isotope U235. This is the kind of error a knowledgeable editor should have caught.

The scenes with nanotechnology devices are every bit as bad. Toward the end of the book he has nano disassemblers eating away at a seaport city. In a short time they have created a hole where massive amounts of seawater is pouring in. So where did a fair fraction of a cubic mile of dirt go?

Early in the book the hero stops a car in seconds by growing a huge redwood tree in the middle of the street. Now, nanotechnology *can* grow redwoods a good deal faster than the natural way, but not *that* fast, not starting with a tenth of a cubic centimeter of nano machines. Eric Drexler makes a case for doubling in an energy- and material-rich environment of 20 minutes. Estimating a redwood at meter square by 100 meters tall, growing from a 0.1 cc is an expansion of a billion, 10 exp 9. Since 10 exp 3 is about 2 exp 10, we are talking 30 doublings, ten hours by Drexler's estimate.

And you don't even want to think about Marlow's understanding of thermodynamics. Someone told him that heat is a problem when making nano things fast. So he "solves" it thus:

"Thermal problems?" . . . . "If it becomes a problem you assemble water for evaporative cooling, then grab the atoms in the vapor and do it over again."

*Sigh.*

(Grabbing the vapor returns every bit of heat evaporation took away, and "assembling" water from atoms releases the searing heat of an oxy hydrogen flame.)

I am reminded of the first "chemistry" teacher I had in high school. First day he told us that boiling water was a chemical reaction that broke up the water into hydrogen and oxygen which was called "steam."

About half way into the first semester the FBI took him away. Fortunately for Mr. Marlow they don't do that for authors making such mistakes. <grin>

The shame is that with some advice on science and engineering the story could have been written so that it didn't violate physical laws and been just as exciting.

As Dr. Vinge says, it will make a spectacular movie. But if you know even a little about science or engineering reading the book will irritate the heck out of you.

Keith Henson

PS If you want an example of high adventure that does not violate physical laws try _The Revolution from Rosinante_ by Alexis A Gilliland. A bit dated (1981) but still it has an excellent treatment of computers that transcend humans and are starting to take care of humans the way humans take care of cats. Mr. Gilliland just gets science and engineering details *right.*
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
What led me to read this book was the the amazon review by Nanotechnology Now editor Rocky Rawstern, which calls it "plausible, scientifically accurate, and timely....the most important piece of fiction written to date." I figured, this guy knows his nanotech, and he's calling it better than Michael Crichton, so I'll give it a read. The book both scared the heck out of me and gave me enormous hope for humanity's future while taking me on a roller-coaster thrill ride I'll never forget. The author's website provides in-depth detail on nanotech, too! I want a sequel!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Nano is a book on nanotechnology. Many might read the title, relate it to nanotech, and then discourage themselves from reading this book.

Starting out somewhat slow, the book doesn't explain much about nanotech. However, after at least the first chapter, Marlow picks up the pace and takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride.

This book explains the pros and cons of nanotech to the reader through fictious writing. I found that Marlow tends to be influent in his writing when he writes about the technological aspects of Nanotech. Even with this minor point, the book is still worth reading.

The plot is very exciting and intriguing, I only took 3 days to read this book and borrowed it from the library. However, I'm not sure if this is a book worth buying, I believe that would be up to the reader. If the reader is thrilled about nanotechnology then this would be an excellent book; also if the reader is a sci-fi addict, again this would be a good book. However, if the reader doesn't like many technical details, then he should avoid this book, or at least borrow it from his local library before buying it.

Another minus on this book is the ending. The ending I feel should have ended with the reader wanting more instead of wanting to put the book away. I felt that the end was 'cheesy' to say the least, other than that the book was great. It had twisting plots and of course, there was a 'love story'. I will most definately see the movie if they make one (as some have been wanting to do).

In the end, I would recommend this book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
What a rush!
Nano will have your mind pulling 10 Gs... careful, or you'll black out!
An awesome, highly thought provoking 1st novel by John Robert Marlow. Just finished reading it... and this absolutely HAS to be a movie! It vaporizes (disassembles?) Crichton's 'Prey'... technically, emotionally, and intellectually. No contest!
To finally see in story form, some of the overwhelmingly profound concepts that have filled my mind for years... moved me to tears. For years I have struggled to share exactly these concepts with people, but failed to capture their attention. NANO brilliantly illuminates these concepts, and the movie will create epiphanies for millions. The NANO movie may be the vehicle to finally inject the Nanotechnology meme into the mass consciousness!
Most of the story surrounds the use of self-replicating nanobots, and a sentient AI that exists on the global net. The illustration of the AI's thought process and 'dawn of sentience' was great... I loved it! I want that upgrade... 8^)
Bottom line... this story is an excellent 1st step to grasping the concepts contingent on Nanotech: arbitrary manipulation of matter, enhanced intelligence, immortality, sentient AI, and even the Singularity! What a rush!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
A fast-moving tech thriller on a huge scale. From the opening murder of the world's richest man to the globe-threatening finish, this book delivers a great story. The tech is understandable and believable, and includes not just nanotechnology but other cool stuff like ECHELON, near-invisible aircraft, high-level artificial intelligence, Singularity, and of course nuclear weapons. The hero is not the standard he-man lead but a scientist who develops nanotechnology to make the world a better place. He soon finds himself along with a tech journalist heroine (naturally a beauty) on the run from outlaw elements of the U.S. government bent on world domination through nanoweaponry. Along the way, the book manages to explore many aspects of nanotechnology, good and bad, and makes the troubling point that this technology cannot be stopped, and will almost certainly prove to be Mankind's savior or his destruction. Because of the nature of nanotechnology, there can be no in-between. The book ends with a nonfiction afterword and appendix. A must-read for anyone into nanotechnology or technothrillers, or those who'd like to know more.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
It's no coincidence this book won the Editor's Choice Award from Nanotechnology Now, or that its author was nominated for the Foresight Institute Prize in Communication (for excellence in nanotechnology journalism) for his online Nanoveau column and other efforts.

As fiction, this book rocks. It's also, in the words of Nanotechnology Now editor Rocky Rawstern (who knows a heck of a lot more about nanotech than the folks writing some of these reviews) "plausible, scientifically accurate, and timely...the most important piece of fiction written to date."

I've read every nanotech-related novel I could get my hands on, and NANO is by far the best; it beats Crichton's PREY hands-down, and I can't wait to see it on the big screen.

Buy it, borrow it, steal it--but read it. This is the future.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2004
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book has some exciting action sequences and, as other reviewers have pointed out, will probably make for a fun movie. But it has two big problems that kept annoying me throughout. The first is that it's uncertain of its audience. It makes far too many references to earlier nanotech and science-fiction books, often without particularly explaining them. As a longtime follower of nanotech, I was familiar with most of them, but if the book is aimed at people who're already up on nanotech, it could have dispensed with a lot of the elementary introduction to the field. It was jarring to see repeated instances of basic explanations followed by obscure references that no newcomer could hope to get.
The second problem is more structural: this book has no real climax. It builds to an entertaining full head of steam early on, then repeats the "bad guys have the heroes right where they want them, but heroes wave a magic wand and the problem is solved in a way that'll look great on a movie screen" formula several times, each one no more suspenseful than the last.
Not an awful book by any stretch, but I think it'll work better on screen than it does in print.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback
What a serious world we live in these days. Have people forgotten the ability to simply switch one's brain to pure "enjoyment" mode? Judging by most of the reviews below, I think so. Has anyone here heard the term 'suspension of disbelief'? Try it people, you might find you get more from your books rather than moaning about how or why something couldn't feasibly exist or occur in reality. "Nano" is pure (however cinematic) fun - an E-ticket, summer blockbuster, popcorn book sure - but it is also conceptually exhilarating and well written too. Yes, that's right, I said well written. I haven't mainlined sheer entertainment in book form like this for a good while and if you enjoy a good tech-yarn with plenty of eye-popping ILM-style FX and the odd concept that makes your brain itch with possibilities then you can't go past "Nano". In fact, this was such cool fun, it has prompted me to write my very first Amazon review simply and because I felt the other reviews did not do the book justice. I look forward to John Robert Marlow's next with anticipation!
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