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I've made my first novel, Ventus, available as a free download, as well as excerpts from two of the Virga books.  I am looking forward to putting up a number of short stories in the near future.

Complete novel:  Ventus


To celebrate the August, 2007 publication of Queen of Candesce, I decided to re-release my first novel as an eBook. You can download it from this page. Ventus was first published by Tor Books in 2000, and and you can still buy it; to everyone who would just like to sample my work, I hope you enjoy this version.

I've released this book under a Creative Commons license, which means you can read it and distribute it freely, but not make derivative works or sell it.

Book Excerpts:  Sun of Suns and Pirate Sun

I've made large tracts of these two Virga books available.  If you want to find out what the Virga universe is all about, you can check it out here:

Major Foresight Project:  Crisis in Zefra

In spring 2005, the Directorate of Land Strategic Concepts of National Defense Canada (that is to say, the army) hired me to write a dramatized future military scenario.  The book-length work, Crisis in Zefra, was set in a mythical African city-state, about 20 years in the future, and concerned a group of Canadian peacekeepers who are trying to ready the city for its first democratic vote while fighting an insurgency.  The project ran to 27,000 words and was published by the army as a bound paperback book.

If you'd like to read Crisis in Zefra, you can download it in PDF form.

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Review: Floating to Space by John M. Powell

Filed Under:

The airship to orbit program in detail--but with some flaws

John M. Powell is the sort of visionary who gets locked up as a madman.  But, like the best creative madmen, his ideas resonate with a wild kind of sense that nags constantly at you once you've heard them, until you start asking yourself:  what if he's right?

Powell's idea, and the subject of the new Apogee book Floating to Space:  The Airship to Orbit Program, is simplicity itself.  If zeppelins and balloons can take us to the upper atmosphere--140,000 feet and beyond--why can't they take us further?  Namely, all the way to orbit?Floating to space 

The first time you hear this idea you laugh--just the way you no doubt laughed the first time you heard of the space elevator.  Yet Powell's logic, when you hear it, is equally simple.  Why did the Mir space station reenter and burn up in Earth's atmosphere?  Why, because its orbit decayed.  But orbits don't 'decay'--not by themselves.  No, the actual reason why Mir and other satellites have crashed into the Earth is wind resistance.  There is a headwind even three hundred miles above the Earth; the space shuttle feels it when it's orbiting.  And if you fired a bullet at a high enough velocity, it could orbit the Earth four feet off the ground, except for that same pesky headwind (and a few obstacles).

Not only is there air in space, there's enough air that a big enough wing would create lift.  Powell describes that wing--a classic 'flying wing' in fact--in detail in Floating to Space.  Combining the technologies of high-altitude ballooning with ion drive engines and hypersonic airfoils, he proposes a mile-long hydrogen-filled wing, so diaphanous it would be torn apart by the slightest breeze at sea level.  But launched from a 'black sky station' at 140,000 feet, this orbital ascender can surf the upper atmosphere, gradually building both altitude and velocity over the space of several days, until it's in orbit.  There, it can play with the tenuous headwind to ascend some more, keep station, or descend as gracefully as it rose.

This isn't just literal pie-in-the-sky hand-waving.  Powell's company, JP Aerospace, has actually built many of the components of his vision, some under US military contract.  He's pursuing a slow but steady experimental program that is intended to pay for itself at every step.  His vision is rational and even economically plausible.  Financially, I'd be more inclined to invest in it than in the elevator, because even if the final ascender doesn't work, technologies like the black sky station could be huge money-makers.

All this is cool.  Unfortunately, as a document Floating to Space needs to be convincing, and it falls short in several key respects.  It's well packaged by Apogee, but was apparently never edited:  the text is rife with typos, grammatical errors and just plain bad writing.  These issues severely weaken the sense of authority that a book proposing something so radical needs to project.  I won't fault Powell for this, but I'm definitely slamming Apogee for doing a piss-poor job here.

 Also, although Powell does a pretty good job of describing the technologies and solutions that would make his vision possible, he glosses over some potential show-stoppers.  For instance, it takes some digging to find out that current supersonic models indicate that his orbital ascender would face impossible levels of drag, rendering the idea dead in the water (or air).  This may be a deficiency of the models rather than reality--but Powell needed to address this issue head-on, and give some idea of how big a risk this places on the whole program.  His failure to come clean on this one issue makes me suspicious of all the rest of his claims, and therefore creates a serious credibility problem.

I love Powell's ideas, but I can't evaluate their feasibility.  I recognize that to some extent he can't either; actual experiments are needed.  But if I had a hundred million lying around to invest in something, this book wouldn't make me want to invest it in JP Aerospace.  --Neither does the website, incidentally, which looks amateurish.  All of which is a shame, because I do think these ideas need to be explored, because at the very least the black sky station--a stable city sitting atop the atmosphere, where the sky is permanently black--is a stunning concept that could become a lucrative tourist and research destination.  It deserves investment, and Powell's other ideas deserve some investigation.

Floating to Space deserves to be bought and read, too.  It deserves, in fact, better than it's likely to get.

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About Me

I'm a member of the Association of Professional Futurists with my own consultancy, and am also currently Chair of the Canadian node of the Millennium Project, a private/public foresight consultancy active in 50 nations. As well, I am an award-winning author with ten published novels translated into as many languages. I write, give talks, and conduct workshops on numerous topics related to the future, including:

  • Future of government
  • Bitcoin and digital currencies
  • The workplace in 2030
  • The Internet of Things
  • Augmented cognition

For a complete bio, go here. To contact me, email karl at kschroeder dot com

Example: The Future of Governance

I use Science Fiction to communicate the results of actual futures studies. Some of my recent research relates to how we'll govern ourselves in the future. I've worked with a few clients on this and published some results.

Here are two examples--and you can read the first for free:

The Canadian army commissioned me to write Crisis in Urlia, a fictionalized study of the future of military command-and-control. You can download a PDF of the book here:

Crisis in Urlia

For the "optimistic Science Fiction" anthology Hieroglyph, I wrote "Degrees of Freedom," set in Haida Gwaii. "Degrees of Freedom" is about an attempt to develop new governing systems by Canadian First Nations people.

I'm continuing to research this exciting area and would be happy to share my findings.


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    Coming on June 18, 2019

    "Science fiction at its best."

    --Kim Stanley Robinson

    A Young Adult Scifi Saga

    "Lean and hugely engaging ... and highly recommended."

    --Open Letters Monthly, an Arts and Literature Review

    Sheer Fun: The Virga Series

    (Sun of Suns and Queen of Candesce are combined in Cities of the Air)

     β€œAn adventure-filled tale of sword fights and naval battles... the real fun of this coming-of-age tale includes a pirate treasure hunt and grand scale naval invasions set in the cold, far reaches of space. ”
    β€”Kirkus Reviews (listed in top 10 SF novels for 2006)

    "With Queen of Candesce, [Schroeder] has achieved a clockwork balance of deftly paced adventure and humour, set against an intriguing and unique vision of humanity's far future.
    --The Globe and Mail

    "[Pirate Sun] is fun in the same league as the best SF ever has had to offer, fully as exciting and full of cool science as work from the golden age of SF, but with characterization and plot layering equal to the scrutiny of critical appraisers."

    "...A rollicking good read... fun, bookish, and full of insane air battles"

    "A grand flying-pirate-ship-chases-and-escapes-and-meetings-with-monsters adventure, and it ends not with a debate or a seminar but with a gigantic zero-gee battle around Candesce, a climactic unmasking and showdown, just desserts, and other satisfying stuff."