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I recall a story (or perhaps the memory is from a book?) where a spaceship accelerated by jettisoning human bodies at high speeds. I suppose they did not have any other reaction mass left. I think it was an ark ship using frozen bodies after making that heart-wrenching decision.

I think an approaching observer only realized what the trailing "string of pearls" was when they got close enough.

The story or novel is probably relatively recent (post-2000).

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    I also recall it, but it seems to have been the decision to jettison cryopods with "probably not revivable" people that reduced the payload mass of the ship. The other ships in the convoy did retain those almost-corpses and thus arrived later at the new colony.
    – o.m.
    Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 3:50
  • Yeah, vaguely familiar to me as well but I can't think of any names. IIRC there were several colonising sleeper ships all doing basically a 'land rush' to a newly opened planet . Unscrupulous captain and crew do the unthinkable and jettison all the cryo people to ensure they get there first . When the other colony ships arrive the bad guys have already staked a claim to the prime lands and resources
    – Danny Mc G
    Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 7:50
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    "Chasm City" by Alastair Reynolds has some generation ships racing to a planet, and one gets an advantage by jettisoning cryopods. Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 9:26
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    I immediately thought of Chasm City, but it has no mention of the jettisoned bodies being used as reaction mass or of them looking like string of pearls in space. Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 11:41
  • Yes "Chasm City" doesn't fit the original question very well, but it seems relevant to the comments of o.m. and DannyMcG. Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 11:59

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As I mentioned in the comments, when I read this question I (and some others) immediately thought of "Chasm City" by Alastair Reynolds. Some aspects do not fit well with the original question however, notably that in Chasm City the bodies were ejected to reduce the mass of the ship and assist its deceleration, while the question dealt with bodies being ejected to cause acceleration.

Reynolds wrote a short story entitled "Night Passage", also set in the Revelation Space universe, which has many features similar to the section described in Chasm City, but seems a better fit. In this story, a sleeper ship gets trapped midway through its interstellar trip by an unexplained phenomenon. The engines are put out of action, and so to escape they jettison cryopods (or "reefersleep caskets" as they are called) using a magnetic launcher. The caskets are visible from the ship, not quite as a "string of pearls" in the original question, but as "brief, bright scintillations":

The flashes continued. Now that I was attuned to their rhythm, I picked up an almost subliminal nudge in the fabric of the ship, happening at about the same frequency... Each nudge was the cargo launcher firing another casket away, the ship's motion reducing by a tiny value. It produced a negligibly small effect. But put several thousand negligibly small effects together and they can add up to something useful.

This was published in "The Year's Best Science Fiction: 35th Annual Collection" edited by Gardner Dozois, which may accord with one of the OP's comments.

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  • That's Reynolds levels of dark. Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 12:42
  • Technically speaking acceleration is just a change in velocity, and deceleration is a qualifier for acceleration opposite the direction of travel. Also, since motion in space is relative, each body jettisoned would technically by traveling slower than the previous in one direction or faster than the previous in the other. Without the perspective of direction of travel, someone might mistake it as accelerating away instead of decelerating towards... Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 21:34

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