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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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Aug 01, 2011

After Prediction

Filed Under:

The Stross Entries #4

I've just spent two years working toward a Master's degree in Strategic Foresight and Innovation.

Because most people look at me blankly when I tell them this, I've developed two ways to describe what what I'm doing, and foresight is. The first is to say that foresight used to be called futurism, but that futurism has increasingly become associated with the idea of predicting the future. Foresight is not about predicting the future, it's about minimizing surprise. The second way I usually put it is that foresight is not about predicting the future; it's about designing the future.

Actually, I'll say it's just about anything, as long as it's understood that foresight is not about predicting the future.

The reason is that, frankly, I'm pretty tired of all those, "Dude, where's my flying car!" digs. There's always been a certain brand of futurist who's obsessed with getting it right: with racking up successful predictions like some modern-day Nostradamus. I'm sure you know who I'm talking about; some futurists play the prediction game very well, but in the end it is a game, and closer to charlatanism than it is to science. There's actually no method for seeing the future, and nobody's predictions are more reliable than anybody else's.

If actual prediction were possible, the insurance companies would be all over it. They don't try to predict how you're going to die, though, do they? They look at trends and probabilities, and try to minimize surprise for their investments. That's exactly how strategic foresight works--as a kind of institutional insurance policy against disruptive surprise. There's a whole raft of methodologies for this, ranging from Delphi polls to trends analysis and scenarios. For me, this way of looking at the future is complementary to my other way of looking, which is the more fun and disreputable wild-eyed prophet--that is, as a science fiction writer.

There are no limits on me when I write SF. In contrast, doing foresight is a disciplined activity. I like this combination; I'm finding that each way of looking forward influences and improves the other--as long as I don't get the two confused.

I'm still coming to grips with how these two years will affect my writing. One result of undertaken the programme is that I've developed a different attitude toward writing near-future SF. Most writers I know avoid at all costs writing about the near future, because nothing goes out of date quicker than next year. I've always tended to agree with this assessment and--because SF writers aren't in the job of predicting the future either--have tended to set my novels and short stories very, very far in the future. Thousands of years, usually.

I'm no longer satisfied with doing that. There's the little matter of my second way of describing what foresight is: not as prediction, but design. If you're afraid of being a poor predictor of the near future, you'll avoid writing about it. But what if you were never out to predict in the first place? What if you don't care if a story you set in 2012 gets immediately overtaken by events? What if you set the action there not to predict some event or outcome, but to encourage some action on the part of your readers?

In other words I have a new ambition for my own SF: not as prediction, and not cautionary, either--but aspirational.

The fact is that if I've learned one thing in two years of studying how we think about the future, it's that the one thing that's sorely lacking in the public imagination is positive ideas about where we should be going. We seem to do everything about our future except try to design it. It's a funny thing: nobody ever questions your credentials if you predict doom and destruction. But provide a rosy picture of the future, and people demand that you justify yourself. Increasingly, though, I believe that while warning people of dire possibilities is responsible, providing them with something to aspire to is even more important. The foresight programme has given me a lot of tools to do that in a justifiable way, so I might as well use them.

Now all I have to do is put my money where my mouth is. By, say, writing an optimistic, aspirational novel set in the near future and unflinchingly accurate to the possibilities, both positive and negative, of the next few years?

Yeah, okay. --At least, I'm going to try.

Addendum:  Head on over to Charlie's Diary to read the extensive comment thread around this entry.

If I had a Billion Dollars

Filed Under:

The Stross Entries #2

This is a game I like to play. It's a kind of sanity check on our priorities, and also provides good roadmaps to the future. What's interesting, of course, is the different choices you come up with on different occasions, and also what's different between your lists and other peoples'. You can play the game strictly on the philanthropic level, or in medicine, or political influence, etc.--and the choice of which areas you choose is also telling.

Today, in late July 2011, this is how I might spend $1 billion, specifically into areas that I think are currently underfunded:

  • $100 million to build a working prototype vertical farm.
  • Another $100 million on self-replicating 3d printers and a business ecosystem for distributed manufacturing and design.
  • $200 million into several nuclear fusion efforts, including General Fusion's pneumatic-ram driven steampunk reactor, the PolywellFocus fusion and fusion-catalyzed subcritical thorium fission.
  • $100 million into a demonstration laser launch system capable of launching at least a soft drink can's worth of mass into orbit. Actually, a lot of that would probably go into magbeamsand tether-driven 'second stage' technologies.
  • $100 million into studying terra pretairon fertilization, and carbon air capture. 'Cause even if you don't believe that all that CO2 in the air is causing climate change, ocean acidification is still a huge problem.
  • $100 million on magnetic shielding technology (and magsails) for space travel.
  • $200 million to buy and launch one of Bigelow's BA330 orbital stations to use as a variable-gravity research module and Mars cycler.
  • $100 million for an underground volcanic island lair (and lots of yellow jumpsuits). Just because I can.

...Well, that's what happens with this exercise--your choices veer all over the map. The rationale for these particular ones can be summed up in one of my credos, "Live on Earth as though you were colonizing Mars." The same technologies that will allow us to live on other worlds will allow us to live sustainably on this one; I don't distinguish the idea of space development from the idea of sustainability, the one necessitates the other.

What's really interesting is that though the above is the sort of list I might have seriously compiled a few years ago, after having gone through the Masters in Strategic Foresight programme at OCADU, my priorities have shifted. If I were to really get serious, I'd be investing in things like stakeholder management systems and in building structured dialogic design protocols into social media--essentially, making the internet into a global decision-making system. But to explain that line of thinking... would take a novel. Hmmm... What a good idea...

Addendum:  for the comment thread on this entry, head on over to Charlie's Blog.

Lunch with the Astronaut

Filed Under:

The Stross Entries #1

A couple of years ago I sat down to lunch with a prominent astronaut, a Shuttle commander and space station veteran. We talked about space development and alternative paths to what NASA has actually done since 1970. I told him that what I'd been waiting for ever since Skylab was a variable-gravity research station, because it hadn't taken us long to accumulate lots of evidence that lack of gravity is bad for the human body, and because lower gravity was the only physiological variable for the Moon, Mars and other possible destinations that we couldn't currently test for. It's also one of the most important; a variable-gravity station could tell us whether unaltered humans could live long-term on Mars, for instance. The astronaut asked me how I would be build this station, and I said, "Rotate two booster modules, one habitable, linked by tethers." Much like Skylab, and very simple to construct.
He shook his head. "Tethers in space," he said, "break."
I blinked at him. "Well, if they break, you build 'em stronger, make 'em out of something else, or you use a number of them." I didn't quite say, "This isn't rocket science," but really, it's basic engineering.
He shook his head even more vehemently. "Tethers in space," he snapped past gritted teeth, "break."
I had no reply. I had been watching him; he became visibly tense every time the conversation moved away from strict NASA doctrine. This made me realize something:

Not only had the combination of Space Shuttle (most expensive yet most useless spacecraft ever constructed, a monstrous money-pit that cost $200 billion to develop, $1.5 billion for every launch, demanded a ground crew of over 3000 and had nowhere to go--and International Space Station (also fantastically expensive and in the wrong orbit to do any meaningful research) sucked all the oxygen out of space exploration for the average Joe; not only have most of my readers never witnessed a human being go beyond Earth orbit; but NASA's Darwinian selection process for its astronaut corps has, for thirty years now, guaranteed that only men and women who agree to toe the party line will get into space. In order to become an astronaut, you have to accept, in a Winston Smith sort of way, that real space travel is barred to us. --That somehow, Apollo never happened or was some sort of fluke, and that the best that humanity can do now is clamber to the edge of that vastness we once soared through, and blink at it nervously. Because the Shuttle and ISS are both emperors without clothes, and if anybody involved in the projects actually admitted it, we all might collectively wake up, and demand something better.
All of which is why I'm heaving a vast sigh of relief that thirty years of mediocrity is finally ending this week. Farewell, Space Shuttle. I'm not going to miss you.
As to the astronaut, fortune continues to smile on him. He's got a future mission to the ISS. I suppose that's better than nothing. But I feel sad for him because, believing what he believes, will he ever really see where it is he's gotten to? If even he has abandoned the dreams Apollo made possible, then what, now, can we dream about?

Addendum: for the comment thread to this entry, visit Charlie's Blog.

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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)


     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."
    --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