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"The science fiction method is dissection and reconstruction. You look at the world around you, and take it apart into its components. Then you take some of those components, throw them away, and plug in different ones, start it up and see what happens."
- Frederik Pohl

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 -

Brunner suggests that more could be done with the concept:

You could have real polyform furniture that changed not only its shape but its texture, like Karatands do, over a range from fur to stainless-steel slickness...

Also:

He pointed at a pile of baggage stacked in the corner. "Some of that is gear reclaimed from your own apt. Some of it's new. All the new stuff is trigger-rigid, like a Karatand. Make sure you're wearing some of the new clothing all the time over your vital organs. It's almost bullet-proof and an excellent insulator.

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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