Aug 17, 2013
It's a busy one, though I'll only be there for Saturday and Sunday
Keeping in the spirit of dumping all kinds of news at once, here's my schedule for the 2013 World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, Texas, which is taking place over the Labour Day weekend. It's a whirlwind visit as I need to get back to Toronto to continue futuring for my new employer, Idea Couture. Luckily, I've got lots going on. If I'm lucky, I'll even get there early enough Friday night to take over the bathtub bar at the Tor party. We'll see. Meanwhile, here's my itinerary:
Reading: Karl Schroeder
Saturday 10:00 - 11:00
Ellen Datlow, Josh Rountree, Karl Schroeder, Lynne M. Thomas
Saturday 12:00 - 13:00
Ellen Datlow , Lynne M. Thomas , Josh Rountree , Karl Schroeder
Reality: Your Relationship to the World
Saturday 15:00 - 16:00
Google Glasses, augmented reality, kinetic gaming, tactile transmission systems. These and other new technologies are on the horizon to transmogrify sense and sensation. Google glasses are the first step to putting an overlay on the reality we see. This opens the door to hiding the ugly and changing what we see. When we do this socially it leads to possible consensual reality as in the works of Vinge, Schroeder and others. What will such capability mean in reality? Has science fiction explored the societal consequences?
Edie Stern (M), Yasser Bahjatt , Walter Jon Williams , Ben Bova , Karl Schroeder
Nancy Kress, Edward M. Lerner, Karl Schroeder
Saturday 17:00 - 18:00
Edward M. Lerner , Nancy Kress , Karl Schroeder
Sunday 10:00 - 13:00
We will do a quick analysis of the future, with the end product being four scenarios that highlight different possibilities. Come take your work to the future!
Have We Lost
Sunday 14:00 - 15:00
Where science fiction once looked to the future as the setting for speculation, nowadays the focus seems to be on alternate pasts, fantasy worlds, or consciously "retro" futures. We're no longer showing the way to what things might be like. We discuss whether this is connected to the general fear of decline and decay in the English-language world -- or has science fiction simply run out of ideas?
Karen Burnham (M), Brenda Cooper , Karl Schroeder , Willie Siros , Derek Kunsken
As You Know,
Sunday 15:00 - 16:00
Exposition is never easy. How can writers communicate the details of a setting, magical system or incredible scientific breakthrough without losing half their audience? What makes a readers eyes glaze over and how do you avoid it?
Michelle Sagara (M) , Tanya Huff , Karl Schroeder , Jack McDevitt , Walter Jon Williams
Without a Universal Translator
Sunday 17:00 - 18:00
How do we establish a common conceptual base to communicate with another species? Sure, we have numbers and the hydrogen atom in common, but how far would that get us in a world of beings who share none of our sensory apparatus?
Lawrence M. Schoen (M) , Paige E. Ewing , Karl Schroeder
By the way, if you want to plan your days, the entire schedule is or will shortly be online at http://www.lonestarcon3.org/guests/appearing.shtml.
That's it. See you all there!
Oct 18, 2012
There is at least one planet. Therefore, colonization is on the table
Yesterday it was announced that an earth-sized planet has been discovered circling the nearest star, Alpha-Centauri (around the smaller of its two main stars, actually, Alpha-Centauri B). The planet, Bb as it's currently called, has a six-day year and a surface temperature of 1500C. Not very hospitable, perhaps--but I'm about to argue that it's just fine. If we can get to this star system, we can settle it.
Let's look at two scenarios, a worst-case and a best-case, and see what's possible with each.
The Worst Case
This is a boiling hot planet. Actually, far hotter than boiling. At 1500 degrees, it's hot enough to melt rock. In a worst-case scenario, Bb has the kind of rotational resonance that Mercury does: it is not fixed with one face pointed forever at its star, like our Moon is to the Earth, but rotates so that the whole planet is regularly bathed in the blowtorch heat of the star. If there is an atmosphere, it's mostly composed of evaporated rock.
In this case, much or all of Bb's surface is a lava sea. Oh, and since this is a worst-case scenario, let's say that there are no other planets in the system, not even any asteroids. Bb is it.
If your idea of habitability is finding a more or less exact copy of the Earth and settling down on it to farm, then things are looking kinda bleak. But, if we have the technology to get to Bb, then we have the technology to live and thrive there.
Not on the surface, of course. Not even in a nearby orbit. But even if Bb is uninhabitable, it is still a great source of building material. If we have the technology to get to it, we'll have the technology to mine it, if only by dangling a skyhook down from the L2 point (or from a heliostat) to dredge the magma ocean. Haul the magma up, render it in the terrible light of the star, and ship the refined goods to a higher orbit where the temperature's a bit better. There, we can build habitats--either O'Neill colonies or, if we can harvest enough material, the coronals I describe in my novel Lady of Mazes.
With unlimited energy and (nearly) unlimited building materials, we can construct a thriving civilization around Alpha Centauri B, even if all we have to work with is this one piece of melted rock. (In terms of details, it would be a bootstrapping operation, with an initial small seed of robot miners constructing more or bigger skyhooks, more miners, etc. until exponential growth sets in, by which time it's safe for the human colonists to show up.)
The Best Case
Even for the best case scenario, I'm going to assume that Bb is the only planet in the system. It's more likely than not that Bb actually will be tidally locked to its star--i.e., it has one face permanently aimed at its sun, and the other permanently in darkness. The point that's under a permanent noon (the 'solar pole') will indeed be a lava hell. What's interesting, though, is that some simulations show that the temperature in the twilight zone around the 'equator' and further into the night side could be quite cool. Cold, even, if you go far enough. If there's an atmosphere, there might be water and a zone of permanent rain around the mid-latitudes of the dark side, in a kind of hemisphere-wide hurricane with its eye at the anti-solar pole. And there, we might settle.
I doubt there'd be any oxygen to speak of, but we can generate that ourselves. What I find interesting, though, is that this 'dark side' is not really dark at all. Because Alpha Centauri is a binary star system, Centauri A will be visible in the 'night' sky of Bb during half its year. ...Which is only three days long. So A will cross the sky in about 75 hours, and then there'll be true night for 75 hours. This has been the pattern on Bb now for more than four billion years; it's pretty stable.
Centauri A appears very dim from Bb compared to our sun, but it's still too bright to look at and has a visible disk. It's dimmer than daylight, but much, much stronger than Earthly moonlight. Granted the luminosity range at which photosynthesis happens on Earth, I'd think plant life would do quite well on Bb's 'dark' side.
If the rain's not too bad, much of the 'dark' hemisphere might be settled. Remember that Earth is mostly covered with water; if there's no significant oceans on Bb, but enough water for rivers and lakes, then the habitable land area of Bb might be greater than Earth's. Gravity is the same as Earth's, and in fact the only major difference will be atmospheric composition/density, and the length of the day. And who knows? Maybe we can game those too, by geoengineering the atmosphere, and using a combination of distant orbital sunshades and orbiting mirrors to generate a 24-hour diurnal cycle. Ultimately, Bb could be very earth-like indeed.
The Happy Medium
I expect the reality of Bb's habitability lies somewhere in between the two extremes I've just described. In all likelihood, Bb is not alone; at the very least, there should be asteroids or planetoids of Ceres-size or larger. Bb itself might have a safe spot where industrial operations can be set up, even if it's not a place where you could live. It can export vast quantities of raw materials to colonists elsewhere in the Centauris.
All of which means one thing: Alpha Centauri is now a viable destination. If we can get there, we can live there. And knowing this makes real possibilities that, until yesterday, we could only dream about.
Jan 11, 2012
Possibly the most important word in the world right now
Slashdot. Ah, Slashdot! So much gets reported there, and so often is it mauled in the comment threads. Take this recent thread on the discovery of a way to increase the CO2 absorbent qualities of a particular plastic. I actually made this subject one of my projects at school, and have posted a tiny summary of our findings elsewhere on this site.
Slashdot's usual pundits reacted to this little news item with derision and bewilderment. However, if this simple plastic both absorbs and releases its CO2 rapidly, and if it can withstand more than a few hundred cycles of doing it before deteriorating, it could literally save the planet. There's really nothing else out there you could say the same about.
It's like this: if you chase the references at the bottom of my page on carbon air capture, you'll discover that no amount of emissions reductions nor geoengineering of global temperature will prevent climate disaster at this stage. Even if we stopped putting new carbon dioxide into the atmosphere overnight, what's already there will continue to acidify the oceans and alter the climate for centuries. We are already on an irreversible course to mass extinction.
...Unless it somehow became feasible to remove the CO2 that's already in the air. Some of the Slashdot commentators naively suggested planting trees, but that's not actually a viable solution (especially as we are cutting trees down far faster than we can reforest, and the climate will kill forests faster than we can replant them anyway). What's needed is an industrial-scale solution. People like David Keith and Klaus Lackner have experimentally proven that it can be done, and even Keith's system, which uses off-the-shelf chemicals and processes, is economically viable provided there's a high price on carbon. However, if the polyethylenimine results hold up, they'll represent an orders-of-magnitude reduction in the difficulty of capturing atmospheric carbon. This translates to commercial viability at a credible carbon price.
In other words, we don't have to either bury our heads in the sand or accept the inevitability of mass desertification, mass extinction, ocean anoxia and economic catastrophe. When combined with actual emissions reductions, carbon air capture technology has the potential of returning the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels of CO2 within our lifetimes. It is the only measure that can actually reverse climate change.
So remember the word polyethylenimine. This unassuming plastic might just save the world.
Jul 14, 2011
Long time no see. And yes, I am
Aside from the usual financial/social roller-coaster that is the writer's life, I've been doing a lot lately. I took my first official vacation in years in June--a 2500 kilometer road trip across the Canadian prairies that included stops at the Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, and my first helicopter ride--and have been trying to slow down and enjoy the summer a bit. But foresight work on the 2020 Media Futures project and work on my Masters thesis (actually called a Major Project since OCAD is a design school) keep dragging me back to my desk.
...Where I'm working through the copy-edit of Ashes of Candesce, and drafting a new novel and an even more Sekret Project. --Oh, and reviewing the pages for the upcoming graphic novel version of Sun of Suns.
And, because I'm such an inconsistent and occasional blogger, Charlie Stross has asked me to contribute to his weblog for a few weeks this summer. That's going to be fun, and hopefully will get me back into the swing of regular blogging.
Which, you know, I'm just sooo good at.
Jan 30, 2010
You might have noticed something about my site has changed
On January 29, 2010, Amazon.com removed all my books from sale on their online store. I wasn't singled out for persecution; all of my peers who publish at Tor Books, and indeed all authors associated with MacMillan Publishing, had their Amazon.com pages killed. (You can still see the pages, but you can't buy anything.)
Up until yesterday, I linked from this website to Amazon, as a matter of convenience for fans who might want to buy my books after browsing these pages. Granted the sheer arbitrariness, pettiness, and anticompetitive nature of the sudden price war between Amazon and MacMillan, I have removed all purchasing links to Amazon from my site, and will not be re-linking even if they restore the frozen pages.
This type of action holds authors and readers hostage to a commercial war between publishing giants. It puts a lie to the idea that we can choose where to buy books in a free marketplace, because this kind of strong-arm tactic is likely just the beginning. Things are turning nasty in the book world, and it's authors and readers who stand to lose the most.
Oct 25, 2009
Warning: there is no such book
I just got the following promotional e-mail from Amazon.ca:
Dear Amazon.ca Customer,
As someone who has purchased or rated books by Karl Schroeder, you might like to know that Nature's Heir will be released on November 1, 2009. You can pre-order yours by following the link below.
Release Date: November 1, 2009
This book does not exist!
Nature's Heir was the original title to the third Virga book, which is now, of course, Pirate Sun. There is no such book as Nature's Heir, and I don't know where your money is going to go if you pre-order it. I'm in touch with my publisher and distributor to try to sort this mess out, but in the meantime, spread the news, and don't order the book.