"[Science fiction is] nightmares and visions, always outlined by the barely possible."
It seems clear that what Stephenson is describing here is a shear thickening fluid, also called "dilatant" fluid.
It turns out that others use this material as well:
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NAVER Labs Haptic Device 2.0 Robot vs. IKEA
'... the two pairs of waldoes in the screen followed in exact, simultaneous parallelism.'
Spaceships Should Last So Long
'THE SPACE VESSEL was traveling swiftly… For over five thousand years they had Voyaged on and on.’
Shine On, Portable Wind Turbine
'Sometimes a man has a windmill on his roof...'
Amazing Indoor Robotic Drones Mimic Dolphins and Whales
'They circled the vast audiences, dancing, twittering, chirping...'
Space Station Shutters
'The sun-quilt was a patchwork of colors and materials on the inward side, but silvered on the outward side...'
Tiny Mining - Extract Precious Industrial Minerals From Your Own Body
'Jim, I saw them reduce four of my doctors and nurses into those little cubes!'
MIT Proposes Space Bubbles To Combat Climate Change, Misses The Point Of Space Bubbles
'Fats Jordan was hanging in the center of the Big Glass Balloon, hugging his guitar to his massive black belly above his purple shorts..'
Tianjin Solar Vehicle From Hanergy (2022) Looking Like Heinlein's (1940)
'When confronted by hills, or rough terrain, it did not stop, but simply slowed until the task demanded equaled its steady power output.'
Study Reveals Effect Of Space Travel On The Brain
'... the brain is no longer subjected to the accustomed pull, and it expands slightly in all directions.'
Sky Cruise Nuclear Powered Flying Hotel Concept
'... the huge air-freighter Jupiter.'
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