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"Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done and why. Then do it."
- Robert Heinlein

Flexible Stem  
  A long flexible tube that can expand and contract its length quickly.  

"At one of the religious festivals, a platform supported by a long flexible stem raises a priestess dressed in flower petals. Another similar platform raises a table supporting certain symbolic objects...The priestess performs rites while the stems twine about each other. I learned that the stems are built up of several dozen smaller tubes, each containing a magnetic slurry: iron powder in a viscous liquid. Reacting to fields from internal windings, these tubes selectively contract with great force. By proper circuitry any contortion of the tubes is posible. It seems to me that this system might be applied to the legs of the walking fort."
From The Killing Machine, by Jack Vance.
Published by Fantastic Fiction (?) in 1964
Additional resources -

Thanks to R. Probert for contributing this item.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Killing Machine
  More Ideas and Technology by Jack Vance
  Tech news articles related to The Killing Machine
  Tech news articles related to works by Jack Vance

Flexible Stem-related news articles:
  - FlowerBot Robotic Flower Follows And Grabs

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