Charts & Graphs

Doomsday Devices

World-destroying technology in literature.

Seven book covers with illustrations above them  
Technology Sales pitch Fatal error
Warwick Collins
Computer One
Computer One, an international civil network of computers with “no boundaries but knowledge itself” The all-encompassing central grid ensures total transparency from nations and corporations. It has come to control everything from the climate to its own maintenance. Zoology professor Enzo Yakuda realizes that the network has deemed humanity a threat to be eliminated. While he races to build a virus that can defeat it, a Computer One–controlled “re- versed evolution” begins to destroy Earth’s biodiversity.
Stephen Baxter
Moonseed 1998
Moonseed, a mysterious nanotechnological substance from space Though of unknown function, the alien matter “is endeavoring to construct something...It moves atomic particles, sometimes molecules, to build structures from the subatomic level up.” After Venus mysteriously explodes, a sample of silvery moonseed dust escapes from a NASA lab and infects Earth, digesting the planet’s crust and burying the globe in volcanic eruptions as it reproduces itself.
Karel Čapek
R.U.R. 1920
Rossum’s Universal Robots, the first sustainable form of artificial life The discovery of a protoplasmic substance with the ability to function like living matter leads to labor far cheaper than any humans can offer. The robots begin to develop sentience and plot to annihilate the human race, which they deem “superfluous.”
Stephen Vincent Benét
“Nightmare Number Three” 1935
Everyday machines of modern society, including concrete mixers, printers, telephones, and cars Labor-saving devices “built to be better than humankind” save humans time, energy, and money. After years of secret planning, the machines rebel. Printers in the U.S. Senate print out propaganda for the wrong candidates, while vehicles mow down pedestrians on Madison Avenue.
Kurt Vonnegut
Cat’s Cradle 1963
Ice-nine, a lab-developed form of water that solidifies anything it touches at room temperature Originally developed as a possible military weapon by a co-creator of the atomic bomb, the substance becomes sought after as a painless method of suicide. The corpse of a dictator who swallowed ice-nine rather than die from cancer falls into the sea, instantly solidifying all of Earth’s water and killing most humans.
Margaret Atwood
Oryx and Crake
BlyssPluss, a drug developed by one of a handful of megacorporations that have come to dominate the world The drug promises to prolong youth while providing “an unlimited supply of libido and sexual prowess, coupled with a generalized sense of energy and well-being.” Unbeknownst to the billions of Blyss­Pluss users, the drug contains a deadly virus secretly engineered by a scientist in order to wipe out humanity so that civilization can begin again.
Ernest Cline
Ready Player One 2011
OASIS, a virtual reality game in which participants play as better versions of their offline selves In a bleak dystopian future, the game serves as “an escape hatch into a better reality…a magical place where anything was possible.” Increasing numbers of players become unable to distinguish between the game and reality. OASIS becomes “a self-imposed prison for humanity” as the real world languishes.