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"I did more research, and realized I almost would rather be a biologist than a writer, because there was incredible stuff going on!"
- Greg Bear

Puff (Puff Balls)  
  Material that is used to help Skyrines dropped to the surface of Mars get rid of some of that excess velocity.  

Okay, you've arrived in orbit around Mars. What's a (fast) way to get to your destination on the surface?

We ride ten to a [aero] shield for a few minutes... we all roll off...

My drop pack spins out millions of threads like gossamer, almost invisibly thin. We call this puff. The threads expand to a lumpy ball fifty meters wide, which wobbles and snatches at Mars's thin, thin air - and then gloms onto other balls, other Skyrines enveloped in puff.

All around our jammed puffballs, curling thread tips burn away...

From War Dogs, by Greg Bear.
Published by Orbit in 2014
Additional resources -

Compare to the ablative heat shield from EE 'Doc' Smith's 1934 novel Triplanetary.

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