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"[Science fiction] is the one literary medium left in which we have a free hand. We can do any damn thing we please."
- Alfred Bester

Photonic Sail  
  A sail that uses light pressure for propulsion.  

Unique name for a more common concept, all the rage in the early Sixties.

"There will be time for the fun and games later. First, we have to get the work done. The photonic sails aren't picking up enough starlight to get us anywhere. The mainsail is ripped by a meteor. We can't repair it, not when it's twenty miles across. So we have to jury-rig the ship—that's the right old word."

"How does it work?" asked Veesey sadly, not much interested in her own question. The aches and pains of the long freeze were beginning to bedevil her.

Talatashar said, "It's simple. The sails are coated. We were put into orbit by rockets. The pressure of light is bigger on one side than on the other. With some pressure on one side and virtually no pressure on the other, the ship has to go somewhere. Interstellar matter is very fine and does not give us enough drag to slow us down. The sails pull away from the brightest source of light at any time. For the first eighty years it was the sun. Then we began trying to get both the sun and some bright patches of light behind it. Now we have more light coming at us than we want, and we will be pulled away from destination if we do not point the blind side of the sails at the goal and the pushing sides at the next best source.

From Think Blue, Count Two, by Cordwainer Smith.
Published by Galaxy Publishing in 1962
Additional resources -

Compare to the starlight sail from The Lady Who Sailed The Soul (1960) by Cordwainer Smith, the solar sail from Sail 25 (1962) by Jack Vance, which has a longer discussion of the topic. Don't miss the solar yacht from Arthur C. Clarke's 1963 short story Sunjammer.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Think Blue, Count Two
  More Ideas and Technology by Cordwainer Smith
  Tech news articles related to Think Blue, Count Two
  Tech news articles related to works by Cordwainer Smith

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