The advent of ultraintense laser pulses generated by the technique of chirped pulse amplification (CPA) along with the development of high-fluence laser materials has opened up an entirely new field of optics. The electromagnetic field intensities produced by these techniques, in excess of 1018W/cm2 , lead to relativistic electron motion in the laser field. The CPA method is reviewed and the future growth of laser technique is discussed, including the prospect of generating the ultimate power of a zettawatt. A number of consequences of relativistic-strength optical fields are surveyed. In contrast to the nonrelativistic regime, these laser fields are capable of moving matter more effectively, including motion in the direction of laser propagation. One of the consequences of this is wakefield generation, a relativistic version of optical rectification, in which longitudinal field effects could be as large as the transverse ones. In addition to this, other effects may occur, including relativistic focusing, relativistic transparency, nonlinear modulation and multiple harmonic generation, and strong coupling to matter and other fields (such as high-frequency radiation). A proper utilization of these phenomena and effects leads to the new technology of relativistic engineering, in which light-matter interactions in the relativistic regime drives the development of laser-driven accelerator science. A number of significant applications are reviewed, including the fast ignition of an inertially confined fusion target by short-pulsed laser energy and potential sources of energetic particles (electrons, protons, other ions, positrons, pions, etc.). The coupling of an intense laser field to matter also has implications for the study of the highest energies in astrophysics, such as ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays, with energies in excess of 1020eV . The laser fields can be so intense as to make the accelerating field large enough for general relativistic effects (via the equivalence principle) to be examined in the laboratory. It will also enable one to access the nonlinear regime of quantum electrodynamics, where the effects of radiative damping are no longer negligible. Furthermore, when the fields are close to the Schwinger value, the vacuum can behave like a nonlinear medium in much the same way as ordinary dielectric matter expanded to laser radiation in the early days of laser research.