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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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A sabot for the Verne gun

Further to the previous post: how to avoid 10,000 g's of acceleration

I have to admit I got a bit ahead of myself in the post below, in which I renamed the nuclear cannon the Verne gun and described some of what you could do with it.  As it stands, the idea would only work for cargoes that could withstand tens of thousands of g's of acceleration---which in practice would amount to fuel, raw iron and a few other simple items like that.  Still valuable to orbit, but a bit limiting.

So, here's a proposal to refine the idea a bit:  the sabot.  In this variation of the Verne gun, you don't try to reach escape velocity.  The blast that sends up the ship only needs to loft it about 100 kilometers---above the atmosphere, but not into orbit.  The bulk of the ship's mass is in fact acceleration padding--a sabot or shell around a more conventional rocket-powered craft.  After an initial acceleration (still on the order of hundreds of g's at least) the sabot separates from the cargo at 100 kilometers, lightening the load and permitting the contained rockets to fire.  This lighter craft then enters orbit under rocket power.

An alternative to rockets would be to catch the ship at the top of its trajectory using an orbiting tether (a huge one, if we're catching tens or hundreds of thousands of tonnes!).  In either case, the acceleration shielding for the initial launch falls back into the ocean and what enters space is pure cargo.

Using a sabot might allow us to launch more fragile cargoes than the straight shot version.  I now doubt that you could launch, for instance, solar power sats without a sabot, though sending up a space elevator would probably still work.

Toby Buckell informs me, by the way, that Niven and Pournelle used the idea of the nuclear cannon in their alien-invasion novel Footfall.  Let's get precedent straight here---as far as I know, they did it first in science fiction.

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Cannon Acceleration

Posted by Adam Crowl at Mar 07, 2009 05:16 AM
I've got to wonder just how you estimated 10,000 gees. And Brian seems a big vague on how long the cannon would be or exactly how the plasma is going to be coupled to the vehicle. Would a nuclear energised gas-gun be a better option, using hydrogen as a working fluid and given a super-heating by the nuclear charge?

A launch tube 2 km long would along an acceleration to 12 km/s at just (!) 3700 gee. A mass of nuclear energised hydrogen gas would do the job nicely - and be akin to Well's Martian Cannon from "War of the Worlds". Both would produce pretty spectacular plumes of hydrogen and we could invade Mars easily with ours.

Inspiringly crazy

Posted by Adam Crowl at Mar 07, 2009 05:23 AM
Forgive my typo in the comment above.

Brian has had a big brain wave on this one and the ethical equation - fallout versus coal dust - isn't so hard. So long as the Gun is used to end the rule of King Coal I'd be for it - and happy to shave off a few years of life expectancy for the sake of such. Because the fallout deaths are pretty indirect - increased cancer risk - but the coal deaths are blatantly direct and dire for many. Odds are, in a world given a new lease on life by a real Space Age, we'd develop better cancer treatments, whereas in a world choked by pollution what hope is there?

I'm hopeful of a breakthrough with fusion, but new ideas in solar power satellites are bringing them much, much closer too. Jump-starting the end of greenhouse pollution by a mass launch of industrial facilities into space - for fusion and solar power development - could be the short-cut the world needs.

The trolley problem

Posted by Karl Schroeder at Mar 07, 2009 10:11 AM
Mark Tovey pointed out to me that the reason people might object to Orion is that it presents a version of the trolley problem: deliberately sacrificing a few people to save many. Although you're right that the strict moral calculus is easy, people have an instinctive way of doing that calculation that will make many of them uneasy about this solution in the same way that they're uneasy about the simple reasoning of the trolley problem. Brian's attempt to minimize the fallout or reduce it to zero seems to reflect an understanding of this on his part.

You're right that he's on a roll; it's a lot of fun. I'm going to connect the dots once more from his latest post on the Mercury laser and see where that takes me.

My inumeracy

Posted by Karl Schroeder at Mar 07, 2009 10:13 AM
Well, you know I'm functionally inumerate; that's why I got 30% in math in Grade 11. But the figure of 3700 g's is interesting, and I like the gas cannon idea as well.

3700g is not really that much.

Posted by John Meacham at Jan 12, 2011 08:07 PM
For a reference point, military electronics that goes on missles is rated for 15,500g and shock resistant _mechanical_ watches have been made to withstand 5000g.

If an appropriately designed clockwork mechanism can easily withstand the g-force with room to spare, I don't think we will have any trouble sending up advanced electronic systems and tools in addition to raw supplies.

People would still be out of the question of course. But who wants to go to space in the cargo hold anyway? take a conventional rocket up and meet it in orbit.


Posted by Charles Choi at Mar 07, 2009 10:47 AM
Why not use a mass driver instead? There was some interesting research about using circular accelerators for space launch. The advantage of circular over linear is that you can accelerate objects to escape velocity over a couple of hours instead of a few seconds -- easier on the payload, and easier to build the accelerator. You'd place objects in magnetic sleds, and could use sabot designs as well. They started off modestly with microsatellites, but you could ramp it up to larger objects if you threw enough cash at it.[…]url-objects-into-orbit.html
(Full disclosure: I wrote this brief, although they trimmed the hell out of it. You can look up LaunchPoint yourself to read their original papers.)

Or you could go for an old standby, laser space launch.
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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."