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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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Apr 09, 2012

io9 talks military SF

--And references my work for the Canadian military

Over at io9, Andrew Liptak has written a well-considered article about the national differences in military-oriented science fiction--contrasting American SF with Canadian, British and other nations' takes on the future (or lack thereof) of war. He extensively references my 2005 short novel Crisis in Zefra, which I wrote for the Canadian military. Zefra has been widely read and commented on; it was even excerpted in Harper's magazine.  Liptak praises Zefra for presenting something different from the American perspective on war, by describing a multi-stakeholder peace-keeping mission without any of the 'winner takes all' characteristics of U.S. triumphalism.

To say that I'm ambivalent about war would be a huge understatement; I come from a Mennonite background, after all (you do the math). Nonetheless, while my attitudes definitely played into Zefra, the document is ultimately a reflection of Canadian military doctrine and forward thinking. 

Yes, we think differently up here; and we wage war differently, too.

Jan 30, 2012

Reviewing the never-before-reviewed

Filed Under:

Hey, somebody had to do it. Why not me?

If you head on over to, you'll find a review I've just posted of the Shell Energy Scenarios to 2050. A review of a foresight project? Hell, why not? Foresight exists as a kind of parallel world to science fiction--a realm of official futures and aspirational texts that plays off of SF tropes but also invents its own. There are a lot of foresight projects out there and their findings can be fascinating, illuminating and controversial (remember the Limits to Growth and all the ink that was generated around it?).

If people like this little review I'll be happy to write more. Should be interesting, because there's an obvious subtext to this first review: it's the question, is the science fiction readership actually interested in other visions of the future?

Let's see what happens. Should only take a day or two to find out.

Dec 28, 2011

If I had a Billion Dollars: Holiday Edition

My occasional game of speculation about how best to fund the future

I've played this game before--and I will again. I find it clears the mind wonderfully to wonder what you'd do for the world if you had a billion dollars to spend. Build a secret volcanic island lair? Check. Cure necrotizing phlombosis? Check. Oh, there's all kinds of stuff you could do. 

--There's one rule, though: whatever you spend your billion on, it has to be something nobody else is doing--and something that's worthwhile in a completely game-changing way.

After all, in today's market a billion dollars will get you a few miles of subway, or a new sports stadium. Yay. But it can get you so much more, as Elon Musk has demonstrated with his reinvention of the space launch business (and he hasn't spent more than a fifth of a billion on that). In fact, a billion is enough to solve more than one problem, if it's properly distributed. 

I play this game regularly because the world keeps changing, and what's important keeps changing. Some items remain from previous lists; some are new. Here's today's list:

  1. $200 million to studying and developing new systems of governance. --No, I don't mean e-voting, or even e-democracy. I'm talking about a systematic study of how humans govern themselves, and how our cognitive biases and interactions at different scales scuttle effective problem-solving among groups. Think this is fringe science? I happen to think it's the most important problem in the world, the only one that counts. Because if we reinvented governance (on the level of individual self-control and choice, on the level of small-group interactions, and all the way up to how millions of people make collective decisions) then every other problem facing us now would become tractable. So I'd be exploring cognitive science, promise theory, structured dialogic design and a lot else besides.  $200 is really far too little to spend on this, but it's a start.
  2. $200 million to develop efficient and economical carbon air capture and sequestration. Carbon air capture is the only potentially feasible method of returning Earth's atmospheric CO2 balance to pre-industrial levels in less than a hundred years. Emissions controls won't do it, neither will renewable energy, or even the complete disappearance of human civilization. The CO2's there. It has to actually be removed from the atmosphere. Currently, far less than $1 million is spent per year on how to do this. And that's just crazy.
  3. $200 million to develop a microwave space launch system. --Again, this sounds wacky. But the physical resources of the solar system are effectively infinite; and the world looks like a very different place if you play the game of imagining that access to space was really cheap. All sorts of currently impossible problems fall like dominoes if it costs as little to get to space as it does to fly across the Atlantic. And, in space development, there is only one problem, and that's the cost of going the first 100 miles. Literally every other issue becomes tractable if you solve that one. So let's stop dicking around with incredibly expensive launch systems and solve it.  (Why microwave launch and not laser launch? Because microwaves are more energy efficient, and can be done now; and because I think laser launch is a political non-starter, because accidental or deliberate straying of a laser launch beam could blind or fry anything in the sky, including airliners or other nations' satellites.)
  4. $200 million to finally realize the dream of nuclear fusion energy. We are that close. Most of the money would be divided up between the chronically-underfunded research projects that are getting close: IEC fusion, magnetized-target fusion, and several others. I'd fund General Fusion's steampunk pneumatic-fusion system, for instance. But I'd also fund one method that nobody's trying right now, but may be the best of all: levitating dipole fusion. 
  5. $200 million to prototype the business models, supply chains and build a first-generation Vertical Farm. Because sane governance, free energy, a solution to global warming and unlimited material resources aren't enough if half the planet's starving, which will be the case in forty years if we don't act now. This one seems like a no-brainer, if it can be properly optimized.

An odd set of priorities? But, what if they all worked? Simultaneous breakthroughs in energy, resource access including food, removal of the threat of global warming, remediation of the natural environment destroyed by intensive agrivulture and, most importantly, a Renaissance in collective problem-solving would literally mean the world to us. 

The point of all this should be clear. Even in a global recession, money's not the scarce commodity. Audacity is. 

What can you do with a billion dollars? 

You can build a new sports stadium.

Or, maybe, you can save the world.

Nov 09, 2011

Need something to do?

Filed Under:

Saving the world is going to require a lot of work. Here's a few places to start

I've been reading Global Risks 2011, the sixth edition of the World Economic Forum's Risk Response Network report. It reviews the various major issues that face the world--and there's a lot of them. Most interestingly, though, it also mentions, almost in passing, what some of the solutions might be. Many of them are things that are not being done, but that could be done, and could in fact be the basis of entire careers, business models, or academic careers.  So for instance, take the following:

  • For the potential problem of global governance failures, they say that "A counterbalance would be a well-informed and well-mobilized global public opinion sharing norms and values of global citizenship, but this is not yet fully developed." Okay, I sense a truly massive business opportunity here. CNN and Al Jazeera were just the beginning; what if we treated all news as local? We've been edging this way for decades, but we can automate things now we couldn't have imagined just a few years ago. So, I want an interactive map of the world that shows all of today's reported murders as red dots; and a weddings overlay as well; and... well, everything. I want to know what's going on. News reports themselves should just be the last level of drill-down in the process.
  • For resource security, the WEF advocates something they call sustainable consumption. Becoming an expert in this or getting in on the ground floor of this new business movement could make the next generation of billionaires. There's many opportunities here, eg., garbage design, which should have its own degree programs.
  • The WEF views potential retrenchment from globalization as a risk. I understand this position, but see my last post on the perils of interconnectedness; there's a space here in the early 21st century for building local resilience for food, water, energy, and other resources. Call it a new kind of insurance--not a step towards a "new medievalism" but part of a general strategy of keeping our civilization robust. DARPA's recent announcement that they want to put 1000 3d printers in U.S. schools points in this direction. Globalization is a strong trend, naturally; but the counter-trend is also strong and should be encouraged.

There's a lot of worry and hang-wringing today about the financial system and jobs. The fact is, though, that certain aspects of the future are very, very clear. Water will be an issue throughout the U.S. midwest. Some new measure of prosperity other than GDP will become the norm by which nations are compared. Economic growth, in the traditional sense, will have to slow, but something much more interesting could replace it. These things are crises only if you are desperately trying to hang on to old ways of doing this. For those willing to try something new, they're gigantic opportunities.

Oct 27, 2011

The firebreaks

Filed Under:

A delicate balance must be established between interconnection and autonomy

Superconnected corporationsHere's an image that's gotten wide exposure in the past week or so: In their article The network of global corporate control, Vitali et al. mapped out the global network of ownership that constitutes what some would call the Oligarchy. This, in other words, is a chart of the famous 1% who control 50% of the world's wealth.  

It's an interesting chart, because it shows several different kinds of information. The size of the dots represents companies' operating revenue; colour indicates their influence on the network. The large red dots are the companies that run the world.

This might seem a little abstract, so here's a zoom-in that shows how the network works: 

Benetton group

Now what's interesting to me here is not the usual paranoid recognition that a very small number of entities control the world; 'control' implies they can actually steer the course of events, which is not the case. They have disproportionate influence, and that's not a good thing; but control? Nobody's actually in control.

No, what's interesting and disturbing to me is the level of interconnection itself. In my 2005 novel Lady of Mazes I introduced a future world where interconnections on all levels of the economy and society were carefully pruned by the all-powerful anecliptics. These non-human powers worked tirelessly to prevent critical states of interconnection, where a tiny event at one point in the network can suddenly cascade through the whole thing and realign everything.

(These are sometimes called sandpile models, because they reflect the same physics as sandpiles: you can drop grains of sand one at a time onto the pile, and most of the time, nothing will happen. The pile just grows. Then all of a sudden, you drop one grain and the whole pile collapses. Why does this happen? It has to do with self-organized criticality.)

When the 2008 economic meltdown happened I felt like Cassandra, because you could watch the collapse of the over-connected financial network in real-time. All kinds of causes have been advanced for the collapse, but really, any specific cause for the failure of a given node of the network is secondary to the fact that the failures propagated.  This is because the network was over-connected and had reached a critical state; the same thing is happening again.

So, my interest in this model is not because it shows that a small set of companies 'run the world;' it's because it shows that we live in what Brian Cantwell Smith calls a frictionless 'gearworld' where turning any gear, no matter how small, anywhere in the world, may cause everything else to revolve.

In Lady of Mazes networking limits called 'firebreaks' were used to prevent interconnections reaching a critical state, and influences from spreading too far. In a New Scientist article on the above-cited study, George Sugihara of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a complex systems expert, is said to have advised a tax on interconnectivity for corporations. That would be a kind of firebreak in the Lady of Mazes sense. We need something like this now, not just to prevent a consolidation of power  but to prevent the vulnerable collapse of a sandpile-model of the world economy.


Oct 24, 2011

The blackest of swans

Filed Under:

The future is a kaleidoscope. What we can see depends on where we are

Toronto was under siege by SARS when my daughter was born; in fact, it was in the hospital where we had Paige. As a result, we were quarantined a couple of days after bringing her home. This meant we all had to sleep in separate bedrooms, wear face-masks all day, and could not go out. Nobody could visit us, either, so we had a lonely week just when we should have had people pouring through the house.

I remembered this when digging through my foresight work from several years ago. Around 2005-2007, public worry about the future wasn't about the economy; it was about bird flu. If this strikes you as funny now, after one economic meltdown and as we balance on the edge of another, consider this: bird flu is back. It made a return in central Asia this summer, and may spread.

The future we imagine usually mirrors our concerns of the day. That's one reason we get blind-sided by events: we're looking one way and a crisis comes at us from another. This is why in foresight we look for what we call 'critical uncertainties,' which are trends or possible events whose occurrence or effects are highly uncertain, but whose importance would be high if they occurred. Right now, another global economic meltdown is not a critical uncertainty, because, well, it's highly likely and thus not uncertain at all. Lots of people are paying attention to it, and that means that foresighters (futurists? forecasters? still struggling with my terminology) don't have to.

No, in terms of near-future disruptions--particularly 'black swan' events--my money's on bird flu again. Don't forget, this is a disease with a 50% mortality rate, as high as Ebola's, but which is a hundred times more communicable than Ebola. If half your office comes down with bird flu, a quarter of your office-mates will be dead in a week. But we have no idea whether it'll break out the way SARS did, so it's one of our most critical uncertainties.

SARS was a lesson for me; I lived it and I know what a city under quarantine would look like. People dropped food baskets on our porch and then ran for their cars. On the other hand, disciplined efforts in Toronto, Ottawa and San Francisco eliminated the North American outbreak, and thus helped prevent a pandemic. 

It's good to feel prepared. The problem is, now that I know about this roving blindspot we all have towards the future, I find myself constantly wondering: what other critical issues have fallen off our radar because we've become distracted?

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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."