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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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The firebreaks

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A delicate balance must be established between interconnection and autonomy

Superconnected corporationsHere's an image that's gotten wide exposure in the past week or so: In their article The network of global corporate control, Vitali et al. mapped out the global network of ownership that constitutes what some would call the Oligarchy. This, in other words, is a chart of the famous 1% who control 50% of the world's wealth.  

It's an interesting chart, because it shows several different kinds of information. The size of the dots represents companies' operating revenue; colour indicates their influence on the network. The large red dots are the companies that run the world.

This might seem a little abstract, so here's a zoom-in that shows how the network works: 

Benetton group

Now what's interesting to me here is not the usual paranoid recognition that a very small number of entities control the world; 'control' implies they can actually steer the course of events, which is not the case. They have disproportionate influence, and that's not a good thing; but control? Nobody's actually in control.

No, what's interesting and disturbing to me is the level of interconnection itself. In my 2005 novel Lady of Mazes I introduced a future world where interconnections on all levels of the economy and society were carefully pruned by the all-powerful anecliptics. These non-human powers worked tirelessly to prevent critical states of interconnection, where a tiny event at one point in the network can suddenly cascade through the whole thing and realign everything.

(These are sometimes called sandpile models, because they reflect the same physics as sandpiles: you can drop grains of sand one at a time onto the pile, and most of the time, nothing will happen. The pile just grows. Then all of a sudden, you drop one grain and the whole pile collapses. Why does this happen? It has to do with self-organized criticality.)

When the 2008 economic meltdown happened I felt like Cassandra, because you could watch the collapse of the over-connected financial network in real-time. All kinds of causes have been advanced for the collapse, but really, any specific cause for the failure of a given node of the network is secondary to the fact that the failures propagated.  This is because the network was over-connected and had reached a critical state; the same thing is happening again.

So, my interest in this model is not because it shows that a small set of companies 'run the world;' it's because it shows that we live in what Brian Cantwell Smith calls a frictionless 'gearworld' where turning any gear, no matter how small, anywhere in the world, may cause everything else to revolve.

In Lady of Mazes networking limits called 'firebreaks' were used to prevent interconnections reaching a critical state, and influences from spreading too far. In a New Scientist article on the above-cited study, George Sugihara of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a complex systems expert, is said to have advised a tax on interconnectivity for corporations. That would be a kind of firebreak in the Lady of Mazes sense. We need something like this now, not just to prevent a consolidation of power  but to prevent the vulnerable collapse of a sandpile-model of the world economy.


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Distinguishing types of interconnection

Posted by Anonymous User at Nov 05, 2011 04:49 AM
The 2008 financial crash seemed more like a case where everyone had found a way to stretch one elastic band more and more around more and more hooks, but in the end there was still only one elastic band. It was less about where the weak spots were rather than just finally reaching the moment of catastrophic overstretch.

The problem with production networks under modern capitalism is that they are actually very vulnerable to minor shifts in end-consumers switching to alternative suppliers. Companies begin to haemorrhage money when this occurs even if the shift is only 1% or 2% of their customer base. This means companies have to aggressively seek dominance, and that mean they optimise to the point where it is better (up to a point) to own a supplier of prior factors in the chain. The consolidated network of 'control' in that article is just the numbers game of capitalism doing its thing. It would have happened under the circumstances without anyone conspiratorially seeking world emperor status. Now the issue is that even this model is obsolete, because the maturity of economies isn't supporting the rates of profit flow needed to sustain it.

In this case it isn't the interconnectivity per se that is the issue, but that the rules according to which it was constructed are not the same as those needed to sustain it. This was actually the underlying driver for the financial bubble generation between the dot com bust of ~2000 and the financial crash of 2008. A pile of financial 'engineering' took place to try and sustain an obsolete pattern.

The 2008 financial crash was more like a case where everyone had found a way to stretch one elastic band more and more around more and more hooks, but in the end there was still only one elastic band. It was less about where the weak spots were rather than just finally reaching the moment of catastrophic overstretch.

So there are two types of interconnection at work here, one bred to try and hold the other together. Trouble is the basis of the production network is no longer sound enough.
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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."