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"In WWII, they had a saying that there are no atheists in foxholes. I think the modern equivalent of that is that there are no jaded, bored people in the high-tech industry, in the land of really good hardcore geeks."
- Neal Stephenson

Magnetic Control of Nebulae  
  Controlling the structure and shape of nebulae using magnetic fields.  

This is one of those big picture concepts; in the novel, an enormous space cloud - a nebula - is seen coming toward the solar system.

"I imagine that the beast orders the material of the cloud magnetically, that by means of magnetic fields he can move materials wherever he wants inside the cloud."
From The Black Cloud, by Fred Hoyle.
Published by Harper and Row in 1957
Additional resources -

Here's a quote from the cloud:

[I]t is most unusual to find animals with technical skills inhabiting planets, which are in the nature of extreme outposts of life... Living on the surface of a solid body, you are exposed to a strong gravitational force. This greatly limits the size to which your animals can grow and hence limits the scope of your neurological activity. It forces you to possess muscular structures to promote movements, and ... to carry protective armour ...

[Y]our very largest animals have been mostly bone and muscle with very little brain... By and large, one only expects intelligent life to exist in a diffuse gaseous medium... The second unfavourable factor is your extreme lack of basic chemical foods. For the building of chemical foods on a large scale starlight is necessary. Your planet, however, absorbs only a very minute fraction of the light from the Sun. At the moment, I myself am building basic chemicals at about 10,000,000,000 times the rate at which building is occurring on the whole ... surface of your planet.

Be sure to read about the recent discovery of magnetic fields in planetary nebulae.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Black Cloud
  More Ideas and Technology by Fred Hoyle
  Tech news articles related to The Black Cloud
  Tech news articles related to works by Fred Hoyle

Magnetic Control of Nebulae-related news articles:
  - Magnetic Fields Found To Shape Planetary Nebulae
  - We Live In A Space Cloud
  - Precursor To Life Found In Space Cloud
  - Should SETI Talk To Molecular Cloud Barnard 68?

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