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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 invisibility of advanced civilizations

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100 billion Dyson spheres? You gotta be kidding...

There's some recent speculation on the web about the puzzling problem of why we can't seem to spot any alien civilizations.  The latest buzz surrounds the idea of spotting Dyson spheres in our galaxy or elsewhere.  Bruce Dorminey sparked the discussion with a piece on physicsworld.com, and others such as Paul Gilster over at Centauri Dreams have picked up on it.

I've written about the Fermi paradox before; in fact, my novel Permanence offered a new solution to the problem.  Astrophysicist Milan Cirkovic wrote a nice analysis of the ideas in that book for JBIS, and he and I have corresponded ever since. 

As part of our recent discussions, I wrote him a little note about the logic behind such monstrous engineering projects as the "Kardashev-II civilization," where a species decides to capture all the energy radiated by its sun, generally by building a giant Dyson sphere around it.  I think the idea's a perfect example of homocentrism, or more exactly the kind of techno-centrism that assumes that future civilizations will orient themselves around the same central issue as 20th century humanity (in this case energy use).  Here's my off-the-cuff comments to Milan about energy efficiency as it relates to the visibility of spacefaring civilizations:

Notes to Milan

I’ve been doing  a lot of consulting/writing about “green” technologies lately, and one idea that comes up a lot is the concept of ecosystem services.  An ecosystem service is something you get for free from nature, whose value can be directly calculated by estimating what it would cost for us to provide the service ourselves.  For instance, water treatment:  recently a greenbelt area was declared around Toronto, basically a crescent-shaped region where real estate and industrial development is banned.  A key reason for doing this was the discovery that these forested lands filter and treat the entire aquifer for the Toronto region.  If they were developed, much of the fresh water in the region would dry up.  We’d then have to import/produce fresh water ourselves, and the cost of doing that can be directly calculated, and compared to the financial benefits of developing the land.  It turns out that the land, left alone, provides a set of essential services more cheaply than we can provide them technologically.

Now in the realm of information processing, it turns out to be cheaper for many organisms to offload calculations into the natural world; cockroaches use a clever mechanism that’s directly tied in to air movement and shadow angle to directly cause leg movement (they scurry away when something swings at them).  This mechanism essentially bypasses the nervous system because that’s too slow.  A partial program is in general any algorithm where key steps in the algorithm are offloaded in this manner:  the classic example is (for Americans) how do you catch a pop-fly in baseball?  AI researchers used to think that it required a sophisticated internal model and some nasty differential equations solved by the nervous system; in fact, runners catch a ball by running backward while keeping the ball at a fixed angle with respect to the horizon.  This combination of factors substitutes successfully for the calculation.

 Combining these two ideas, of ecosystem services and partial programs, we can propose an economic argument for the invisibility of advanced civilizations.  A settlement that uses solely ecosystem services is called a ‘zero footprint’ settlement (another word for sustainable).  Zero-footprint means environmentally neutral; it also means invisible to the mechanisms we usually use to detect the presence of technological activity (because our means for doing so generally involve detecting the waste products of systems running against or in parallel to natural processes).  In addition, a civilization that offloads as much of its data processing as possible into natural processes in the physical world, through partial programs, is more energy-efficient than one that builds "computronium" to do its thinking, and probably calculates faster (because the energy required by an algorithmic process and the speed with which it's executed are related).  The more such processes are substituted by integration with the natural world, the harder it will be for us to see the operations of that civilization from interstellar distances.  In fact, I would argue that a civilization that integrates efficiently with its environment on these two levels will be invisible by definition. 

A corollary to this is that colonizing other planets means moving into environments that provide few or no ecosystem services.  This implies that a spacefaring civilization is visible only in those places that do not provide such services; between its worlds, in other words.  Such a civilization’s visibility is then tied to its ability to directly adapt itself to alien environments including the environment of outer space itself.

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Offloading

Posted by phil.gs at Apr 05, 2008 03:52 PM
This idea of a society off-loading computation into the environment reminded me of something I read recently about the brain off-loading computation to the body (similar to the pop-fly example you gave):

http://scienceblogs.com/[…]/why_the_brain_is_not_like_a_co.php

Difference #10.

Offloading

Posted by Karl Schroeder at Apr 06, 2008 12:55 AM
Excellent overview! I was just on panel on this subject at Swancon in Perth, and we covered a few of these points, but this may be the first time that I've seen all of them nailed down so concretely.

The answer is '42'.

Posted by ansible at Apr 13, 2008 05:03 AM
That's an interesting idea. I am reminded of Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

For the few people who are not fans of the famous SF series... the Earth was constructed as a planet-sized computer to calculate the Ultimate Question to life, the universe, and everything. It even incorporated living creatures as part of its computational matrix.

It does make you wonder just how much data and computational ability a hyperintelligence really would need or want. You could store a bunch of music that has been recorded by people over the years. But if you've got a program that create any possible music in any style (down to the level of selecting the drummer's age, home town, and type of tatoos), you could just create or re-create anything you'd want to listen to. Or, having the formulas, maybe you wouldn't bother listening to any music at all.

I got to thinking more like this after reading the Big List of RPG plots, and seeing similarities to not just RPGs, but to most adventure fiction:

http://www.io.com/~sjohn/plots.htm

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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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    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)


     “An 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. ”
    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."
    --SFRevu.com


    "...A rollicking good read... fun, bookish, and full of insane air battles"
    --io9.com


    "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."
    --Locus