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"I think we're still on that topic, still trying to figure out what computers are, how they change us, why we use them."
- Neal Stephenson

Stardrive  
  Propulsion method that quickly brings a ship's speed to nearly that of light.  

The first use of this term was apparently in Poul Anderson's 1948 story Genius; see the entry for star drive.

"We know a lot now, through our observation of their departure, about the speed of the Overlord ships. They leave the Solar System under such tremendous accelerations that they approach the velocity of light in less than an hour. That means that the Overlords must possess some kind of propulsive system that acts equally on every atom of their ships, so that anything aboard won't be crushed instantly. I wonder why they employ such colossal accelerations, when they've got all space to play with and could take their time picking up speed?

My theory is that they can somehow tap the energy fields round the stars, and so have to do their starting and stopping while they're fairly close to a sun. But that's all by the way....

"The important fact was that I knew how far they had to travel, and therefore how long the journey took. NGS 549672 is forty light-years from Earth. The Overlords ships reach more than ninety-nine per cent of the speed of light, so the trip must last forty years of our time. Our time: that's the crux of the matter.

"Now as you may have beard, strange things happen as one approaches the speed of light. Time itself begins to flow at a different rate-to pass more slowly, so that what would be months on Earth would be no more than days on the ships of the Overlords. The effect is quite fundamental: it was discovered by the great Einstein more than a hundred years ago.

"I have made calculations based on what we know about the Stardrive, and using the firmly-established results of Relativity theory. From the viewpoint of the passengers on one of the Overlord ships, the journey to NGS 549672 will last not more than two months-even though by Earth's reckoning forty years will have passed.

From Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke.
Published by Not Known in 1953
Additional resources -

Here's another great descriptive passage:

...half a million kilometers away, the Stardrive went on. Up from the heart of the spreading moon-glow a tiny spark began to climb towards the zenith.

At first its movement was so slow that it could hardly be perceived, but second by second it was gaining speed. As it climbed it increased in brilliance, then suddenly faded from sight. A moment later it had reappeared, gaining speed and brightness. Waxing and waning with a peculiar rhythm, it ascended ever more swiftly into the sky, drawing a fluctuating line of light across the stars. Even if one did not know its real distance, the impression of speed was breathtaking: when one knew that the departing ship was somewhere beyond the moon, the mind reeled at the speeds and energies involved.

It was an unimportant by-product of those energies, Jan knew, that he was seeing now. The ship itself was invisible, already far ahead of that ascending light. As a high-flying jet may leave a vapour trail behind it, so the outward-bound vessel of the Overlords left its own peculiar wake. The generally accepted theory-and there seemed little doubt of its truth- was that the immense accelerations of the Stardrive caused a local distortion of space. What Jan was seeing, he knew, was nothing less than the light of distant stars, collected and focused into his eye wherever conditions were favorable along the track of the ship. It was a visible proof of relativity-the bending of light in the presence of a colossal gravitational field.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Childhood's End
  More Ideas and Technology by Arthur C. Clarke
  Tech news articles related to Childhood's End
  Tech news articles related to works by Arthur C. Clarke

Stardrive-related news articles:
  - Will You Live To See EM Pulse Scattering By Ships Nearing Light Speed?

Articles related to Space Tech
Comercial Airlock 'Bishop' Now On ISS
Space Station Could Use Some Martian Sawgrass
Arches Of Chaos: Jovian Space Manifolds Create A Celestial Autobahn
ESA Space Claw To Grab Space Junk

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