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"The SF approach: an awareness that things could have been different, that this is one of many possible worlds, that if you came to this world from some other planet, this would be a science fiction world."
- Neal Stephenson

Reaction-Motors  
  A spacecraft engine that works by firing matter out at high speed.  

This idea makes use of conventional physics.

For three days Captain Grant had kept his great space-liner… ahead of the questing disintegrator rays of the Black Hawk only by burning his full battery of reaction-motors at their maximum power.
From Twelve Hours To Live, by Jack Williamson.
Published by Wonder Stories in 1931
Additional resources -

Here's what the drive looked like in operation:

…Grant saw a vague pink glow come into being in the jet, star-sprinkled sky behind…

The glow, he knew, was a fluorescent, electronic discharge in the radioactive gases jetting from the rockets of the racing ship...

The idea behind a reaction-motor is Newton's Third Law of Motion, which decrees that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For a spacecraft to move forward, you must throw matter out the other end.

Compare to the reactionless drive idea, which encompasses the various hyperdrives that allow a ship to move from one point to another in space, without traversing the space in between. See the inertialess drive from 'Doc' Smith's 1934 novel Triplanetary.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Twelve Hours To Live
  More Ideas and Technology by Jack Williamson
  Tech news articles related to Twelve Hours To Live
  Tech news articles related to works by Jack Williamson

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