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"Science fiction operates a little bit like science itself, in principle. You've got thousands of people exploring ideas, putting forth their own hypotheses. Most of them are dead wrong; a few stand the test of time; everything looks kind of quaint in hind"
- Peter Watts

Impact Suit  
  A body suit that is flexible, but upon a hard impact becomes rigid and impenetrable.  

How could a man fall from the sky and not be killed?

"It was my impact suit," Purple said. He took a step forward and thumped himself hard in the belly with this fist. His belly was big and soft, so the blow should have made him wince. It did not. I thought for a moment that Purple had become rigid as stone.

"My impact suit," he repeated. "Normally it flows like cloth, but under a sharp blow it becomes a single rigid unit. Lant, you remember that a boy threw a spear at me in your village."

"I remember. You were not hurt."

"The suit is skin tight. With the hood up it covers all of me but my eyes and mouth, and of course it holds my shape. It saved my life."

From The Flying Sorcerers, by David Gerrold (w/L, Niven).
Published by Ballantine in 1971
Additional resources -

Here's another description of how the impact suit works:

"When I realized I was falling, I pulled my hood up and curled into a ball. My impact suit saved me by holding my shape - much as water in a vase does not change shape when you set it down hard."

Here's another quote from Larry Niven's Ringworld Engineers:

...Louis ran along the fence toward the walkway. The soldiers were close... The roar was disconcerting, even terrifying. A slug slammmed into Louis's ankle; the suit went rigid, and he rolled like a tumbled statue, picked himself up, and ran again. As two soldiers threw themselves at him, he swung over the fence and dropped...

Louis landed flat on his face, in an impact suit gone rigid as steel. The form-fitting coffin supported him, but he ess still stunned...

Although Gerrold and Niven share authorship of the book, the impact suit is Niven's idea; see Flexible Armor Suit from The Soft Weapon, a short story published in 1967.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Flying Sorcerers
  More Ideas and Technology by David Gerrold (w/L, Niven)
  Tech news articles related to The Flying Sorcerers
  Tech news articles related to works by David Gerrold (w/L, Niven)

Impact Suit-related news articles:
  - d3o-based RibCap: Flexible-Rigid Beanie-Helmet For Snowsports
  - Skiers Get d3o-Based 'Impact Suits'
  - Spyder Olympic GS Suit With d3o

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