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"In 1970 I found little difficulty staying 30 years ahead of the man in the street, and now I find it difficult to stay 18 months ahead of the man on the street."
- Vernor Vinge

Asymptotic Drive  
  A propulsion drive that used a tiny black hole to generate energy.  

"D'you see that pipe? said the engineer. "The small red one?... That's the main hydrogen feed.. All of a hundred grams a second. Say eight tons a day, under full thrust.":

They were now hovering beside a massive - yet still surprisingly small - cylinder that might have been the barrel of a twentieth-century naval gun. So this was the reaction chamber of the Drive...

Near the middle of the five-meter-long tube a small section of the casing had been removed, like the door of some miniature bank vault, and replaced by a crystal window... a microscope... was aimed into the interior of the drive unit.

Duncan floated to the eyepiece and fastened himself rather clumsily in place.

"Look at the crossover at the exact center," said his guide.

Duncan obeyed... then he realized that a tiny bulge was creeping along the hairline as he tracked the microscope. It was as if he was looking at the reticule through a sheet of glass with one minute bubble or imperfection in it.

[It's] like a pinhead-sized lens. Without the grid, you'd never see it."

"Pinhead-sized! That's an exaggeration if ever I heard one. The node's smaller than an atomic nucleus. You're not actually seeing it, of course - only the distortion it produces."

"And yet there are thousands of tons of matter in there."

"It's made a dozen trips and is getting near saturation, so we'll soon have to install a new one. Of course it would go on absorbing hydrogen as long as we fed it, but we can't drag too much unnecessary mass around... Like the old seagoing ships - they used to get covered in barnacles, and slowed down if they weren't scraped clean every so often.

From Imperial Earth, by Arthur C. Clarke.
Published by Harcourt Brace in 1976
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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Imperial Earth
  More Ideas and Technology by Arthur C. Clarke
  Tech news articles related to Imperial Earth
  Tech news articles related to works by Arthur C. Clarke

Asymptotic Drive-related news articles:
  - Are Black Hole Starships Possible?

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