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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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Apr 10, 2008

Queen of Candesce up for Locus Award

Anyone can vote, but the deadline is April 15

I just found out that Book II of my Virga series, Queen of Candesce, is on the preliminary ballot for the 2008 Locus Award!  (I should have known this--aren't all the Locus Recommended Reading titles on the ballot?)  In any case, I'm quite proud of the company this puts Queen in, next to books by Brian Aldiss, William Gibson, Joe Haldeman, and Charlie Stross.  The downside to being on such a prestigious list is that my chances of winning are miniscule, but the ballot is of the Australian Rules type, where you can choose your top five works in order of preference.  (The ballots hold a kind of run-off election against each other that allows a candidate who's nobody's first choice, but everybody's second choice, to win.)  So, who knows, maybe Queen will be everybody's second-favourite book of last year!  (Venera would fall to the ground and gnash her teeth at that thought.)

One oddity of the ballot is that the web page makes it look like you have to be a Locus subscriber to vote.  You don't.  Anybody can vote, you just have to include some identifying contact information, which Locus will keep confidential.

There are a lot of categories for this award, including short story, novelette, best art book etc.  So zip on over and vote; it's painless and at the very least will let you settle in your own mind what your favourite works were last year.

Apr 05, 2008

The invisibility of advanced civilizations

Filed Under:

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, 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.

Mar 30, 2008

Cyclone Pancho... spiders the size of dinner plates... and a billion flies

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It's rained here for the first time in a couple of years--well, somewhat more recently for Kalbarri itself, but there's some locales on the drive up that hadn't seen anything in about that long.  Dust storms swirled about the car, kicked up by the distant but felt presence of Pancho.  We arrived in Kalbarri in time for rain and winds that bent the palm trees over.   Two days later, the wind is still nasty, but we're planning some flights over Shark Bay and elsewhere, optimistic that things will calm down by the weekend.

I'm writing--working away on The Sunless Countries plus a surprise easter egg that Tor dropped in my lap on friday (hint:  I'm not happy).  Janice and Paige are seeing the sights and just generally kicking back. 

Oh yeah, the spiders.  Haven't seen one quite that big yet, but I'm assured they do exist.  Huge golden orb spiders spin their webs in the evening and drop them down across porch awnings; places you were safe to walk an hour before suddenly have huge webs and bigger-than-thumb-sized spiders that go straight into your face.  That's fine, though; it's the flies that are driving us all crazy.

Australian flies are small, but they're insane.  They attack you in droves the instant you step outside and try to climb into your ears and nose.  Many locals here wear beekeeper hats just to walk down the street (no, I'm not kidding).  I'd be lying if I said you get used to them, but primal instincts come into play quite quickly, and you end up walking around waving your hand reflexively in front of your face.  Nobody notices.

Other than that, it's paradise--about 30 C right now and gorgeous air.

Rainbow jungle

One corner of Rainbow Jungle, where Janice and I were married in 2001.

Mar 28, 2008

Off to Kalbarri

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Janice and I got married in this sleepy little seaside resort town seven years ago.  It's only fitting that we should bring Paige there now to see what's changed, and visit the places from our wedding and honeymoon. 

Kalbarri's about an hour up the coast from Geraldton, WA.  It's surrounded on three sides by a conservation area, with the ocean on the other front.  During the summer it can be intolerably hot here--45 C--but right now, in the fall, it's beautiful.

Cliffs at Kalbarri

Being smack on the Indian Ocean, Kalbarri's got great vistas.  Above is just one of a number of points along the coast, just south of town, where you can stand and look out over the sea from high overhead. 

Kalbarri street

This is a view from the hotel we stayed at when we got married.  Just down the street is the bay, with a long sandbar that stretches out across it; you can walk out onto this and watch the sunset, which (since it rarely rains this time of year) pretty much always looks like this:

Kalbarri sunset

The Dutch used to come roaring along this lattitude looking for Jakarta, and regularly smacked into the Australian coast without warning; hence the whole area is crowded with shipwrecks.  Local museums (Geraldton has a fine one) are packed with shipwreck items, including chests and coins.

Zuytdorp cliffs

This is a view of the Zuytdorp Cliffs, named after one of those famous wrecks.  The cliffs go on for at least a hundred miles, with nothing but a couple of tiny sheep stations backing them up.  You can fly from Kalbarri along these cliffs, across the aptly named Shark Bay, and swim with the dolphins at a place called Monkey Mia.

Monkey Mia

Yeah... I'm having fun.  And the news that I've just sold audio rights to the Virga books makes me feel like I'm working, too!  (Actually, I am--I brought my laptop.)

That's all for now... more soon!

Mar 27, 2008

Audio versions of Virga books

Filed Under:

I've sold the first three, which make a complete trilogy; will there be more?

Tor just informed me that MacMillan has bought the audio rights to the first three Virga books:  Sun of Suns, Queen of Candesce, and Pirate Sun.  This is fantastic news!  I'm looking forward to listening to them myself, just to get a sense of how my words and sentences roll and what sort of music they have when read by someone else.

I hope they decide to pick up the fourth contracted book, The Sunless Countries; but the first three constitute one complete plot arc--a trilogy, if you will, although not all questions raised in them are answered--and TSC is more of a stand-alone.  We shall see.  Meanwhile, I couldn't be happier.

Interviewed for Aussie radio

Filed Under:

Everything happened at once, but I managed to get through it

Yesterday I was interviewed by Grant Stone, who does a nationally-syndicated radio show called Faster Than Light here in Australia.  We talked about my work, what it's like for an SF writer having a Mennonite background, and my connection to Australia (we got married there).  The interview was done over the phone, even as a local couple we hadn't seen for seven years was coming in the front door.  Embarrassingly, I had to hide in the bedroom to do the interview while Janice and her mother and aunt took care of the social essentials.

It all worked out, and yesterday Janice and Paige went to meet seals and penguins while I stayed at the hotel to catch up on my writing.  Today, we're in Geraldton and on our way to Kalbarri for a week.  Yay!  I'm really looking forward to that; Kalbarri is where we tied the knot, and it'll be great showing Paige all the places around there that we discovered together the first time. 

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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)

     “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."

    "...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."