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Downloads

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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The Verne Gun

Kickstarting the REAL space age

The Verne GunRecently I talked about one of my favourite blogs, Brian Wang's Next Big Future.  He and his team are a veritable fountain of ideas, and this week they've outdone themselves with a series of pieces on Project Orion and its offshoots.  Now, I freely admit that they've done all the heavy lifting here (so to speak) but I'm going to take one of their ideas and run with it anyway.

A couple of the salient posts on Project Orion are The Nuclear Orion Home Run Shot, and Pieces of a True Nuclear Cannon.  Now, Orion was the 1950s-era American project to build a nuclear-bomb powered spacecraft.  Three facts stand out about the project:

  1. It could have worked, and would have put unlimited amounts of mass into space for less than $1 a kilo.
  2. The biggest vessel contemplated by the Orion team would have weighed 8 million tonnes, and would have been bigger than the Great Pyramid.
  3. The sucker wouldn't have incinerated, flattened, and irradiated nearly as much real estate as you might think.

Still, for some reason the project was canceled around 1964.

In contemplating the glory that almost was, it's tempting to imagine what could have been accomplished with Orion.  One thought I had was that, well, maybe you could just use it once:  do the full-out 8-million tonne monster and use it to launch, in one shot, enough solar satellite infrastructure to obsolete every North American coal plant overnight.  According to a rational moral calculus, if Orion works it should be used in such a way, because the number of people who would die worldwide from the beast's fallout would be trivial compared to the number saved by reductions in air pollution from coal.  (Three million people die from air pollution each year; what they point out over at Next Big Future is that Orion could be calibrated to limit its fallout deaths to no more than a few dozen per launch, even for the biggest ship).

Still, there would be some place on Earth that would suffer from such a launch, and one thing we've learned is there is no truly "empty" land.  Even if our moral calculus could be extended to other species that would be saved by greening our power, it would be better if there were some way to launch such huge masses without exposing the biosphere to nuclear explosions and fallout at all.

There is.  I call it the Verne gun because frankly, a name like THE ATOMIC CANNON would just not go over well in certain circles.  In any case, the principle is the same as Verne's original idea, but using modern technology:  you set off a nuclear charge underground where the blast, heat, radiation and fallout can all be contained, and use Orion-type technology to direct its energy into orbiting a very big, very heavy spacecraft.  This vessel would experience hundreds to thousands of g's of acceleration--you couldn't put humans in it.  But Wang calculates that a 10 megaton bomb could put 280,000 tons into orbit with zero radiation escape into the biosphere.  Since dozens of bombs were exploded in exactly this way from the 50's to the 70's, we know this can be done.  And Orion's researchers proved nearly every one of their theories about Orion.  What they couldn't test at the time can now be simulated accurately by today's supercomputers, without the need for a test program.

Such an orbital gun could be used multiple times.  Here's what you could do if you could put 280,000 tons into orbit in one shot:

  • Put 1.5 terawatts of clean solar power into orbit with less than ten launches.  Obsolete coal and petroleum power production with green baseline power, using less than a 10th the number of solar cells as you'd have to install on Earth to capture the same amount of sunlight.
  • Orbit an entire space elevator with one launch.  Set it up, retire the gun, and get on with a clean space age.
  • Do the same thing with an orbiting greenhouse infrastructure.  Drop solar-powered mass drivers on the moon to feed a continual stream of building material to the building sites.
  • Orbit fuel depots to drop the price of conventional rocketry to orbit through the floor.  One shot and access to space for NASA becomes 10 times cheaper.
  • Send up a telescope so big that it can image the continents of planets circling other stars.
  • Put up one or more of those cool gigantic orbiting space station wheels that are showcased so dramatically in the movie 2001:  A Space Odyssey.
  • Send an entire colony's worth of material to the moon or Mars.  With a second shot, put up an interplanetary cycler ring, tether launch system or other permanent mechanism for shuttling people to and from the colonies.
  • Toss a couple hundred thousand tons of nuclear waste into the sun, where it won't bother us anymore.  (Trust me, the sun won't notice.)
  • Launch an empty Orion ship, send its fuel up the safer space elevator, and send an expedition to Saturn, or a probe to the next star.

I'm not going to suggest orbiting a sunshade to head off global warming, because that's no solution for problems like ocean acidification.  --In any case, you can certainly think up other cool stuff we could do; and notice that some of these options, like orbiting fuel depots or a space elevator, can easily bootstrap us out of having to use the gun more than once or twice.

Oh, and of course, there's one more thing you could do with it, but since you'd need to get signoff from all the members of the nuclear club to use it at all, this one's a bit less likely:

  • Orbit a huge frikkin death star platform with ATOMIC LASERS and MISSILE RACKS and RAIL GUNS and aim them at anybody you don't like.

 

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Atomic lasers

Posted by Adam Crowl at Mar 07, 2009 05:42 AM
Ed Teller thought X-ray lasers (i.e. atomic lasers) would end the Cold War - until they did a few underground tests with X-ray lasers and discovered it wasn't as hot an idea as they'd hoped. Surrounding a nuke with X-ray channeling metal rods and using the X-ray burst from the detonation to zap missiles sounded like a game changer on paper, so while the results are still classified, the conclusion was that the danged things were a failure. Real world physics trumped paper analysis.

Currently lasers have the liability of too much heat for not enough 'zap'. Heat on Earth is easier to dump than heat in space, where huge radiators glowing in NIR make nice fat targets for interceptor ASATs.

Missiles work pretty well - don't even need warheads if they strike at near orbital speed. Rapid re-entry vehicle designs exist that allow an orbital weapon to achieve good enough accuracy for nukes. But putting such warheads in space is considered anti-social.

Rail-guns aren't so good because of the recoil. A big fat battlestation can probably afford to fire-off rounds in opposing directions to correct for the recoil, but it would definitely be inconvenient in a battle situation. Rail-guns do have heating issues and the like, but should work better in a vacuum than in the inconvenient medium down here.

Atomic lasers

Posted by Winchell Chung at Apr 01, 2009 09:55 PM
I have a few details about bomb-pumped x-ray lasers on my website, here:
http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/rocket3x.html#submunition

Verne Gun: what goes up...

Posted by Mikkel R HAAHEIM at Nov 18, 2010 09:17 AM
It seems to me a reasonably good suggestion to use a verne gun to launch materiel into space. However, to truly establish a stable orbit, it seems to me that one would need a second impulse to keep the mass from eventually returning to earth (at least, without the assistance of an appropriate gravitational tug from another massive body).
This might be workable, but it should not be overlooked.
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The Virga Series

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



Available in Trade paperback May 5, 2012:


 
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    “The most thought-provoking and interesting work of hard SF that I've read in the past year."
    —Charles Stross

    "With paradigm shifts one inside another like a set of Russian dolls, this splendid novel propagates into a demolition derby of Big Ideas. Required post-human reading.”
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    “An astonishing saga. One helluva read!”
    —Charles Harness

    “Karl Schroeder has always had a knack for intelligent and provocative thought experiments disguised as space opera. Now he ups the ante with a fascinating riff on consensual [and conflicting] realities. Lady of Mazes contains more cool ideas than Ventus and Permanence combined.”
    —Peter Watts