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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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Nov 28, 2009

Pendulum swings back to life existing on Mars

Filed Under:

Fresh data from ALH 84001 rules out nonbiological origin for carbon

This story is far from over.  The latest analysis of the tiny specks of magnetite found deep inside the Martian meteorite ALH 84001 appear to have ruled out nonbiological explanations for their origin.  This on the heels of an August paper that showed that the rock had originally come from an area of Mars that was warm and bathed in liquid water.

What does all this mean?  Nothing conclusive.  The evidence is definitely tipped in the direction of life, though; for instance, there's methane on Mars, but no obvious geological mechanism that could produce it.  (Since methane can only survive for a few years under Martian conditions, it must be continuously replenished from some source.)  There's now known to be an enormous amount of water right under the surface in the Northern hemisphere, which increasingly looks like it was the location of an ocean at one time. And in the past couple of years we've seen direct photographic evidence of subsurface water in the form of fresh gulleys in crater walls.

All of this could have been learned in a matter of weeks or months, thirty years ago, had NASA gone to Mars after Apollo.  As it is, I may be dead and gone before this particular controversy is resolved.  But at least there's progress.

Aug 02, 2008

What has Phoenix found on Mars?

Filed Under:

Rumours are flying. But the truth may lead us to reexamine past missions

Aviation Week has created a shitstorm on the web by publishing this article.  They claim that the White House has been briefed about a forthcoming announcement from the Phoenix Mars lander team--something significant, apparently, that will blow the doors off the recent confirmation of water and even the revelation that Martian soil would be capable of growing Earth plant life.

On sites like Slashdot, people are lining up to speculate about what the news is.  Is it life?  Ideas range from the possibility that Phoenix's microscopes have spotted fossils, to actual confirmation of life.  NASA, however, was careful in its statement to state that no direct sign of life, past or present, has been found.

Many others are jumping in with sober reminders that Phoenix isn't even equipped to find life--just water and maybe organic substances.  The most likely scenario is, in fact, that Phoenix has discovered organics in the Martian soil.

This would be a big discovery, true; it would make an unequivocal statement that Mars is a habitable planet, only the second one in the universe known.  If our very next-door-neighbour is hospitable to life, then how much more likely is it that many other worlds also are?

...Of course, such a discovery isn't as world-shaking as it sounds.  After all, for a very long time now, we've known that there's no known reason why other planets wouldn't be habitable--Mars included.  This would just be confirming what we've already deduced from the available evidence:  that safe havens for life are abundant in the universe.

From this point of view, the Phoenix team briefing the White House is really just a piece of grandstanding--a last-ditch attempt to squeeze money from a science-hostile administration before the expected recession/depression gets the space program killed.

But there is one other possibility.

The recent discovery that the soil at the Phoenix lander site could support some earthly plants would appear to contradict the findings of the Viking landers from the 1970s.  Those craft deployed sophisticated experiments to determine whether life is present on Mars, yet the instruments returned ambiguous results.  There was a strong signal indicating life from some of the instruments, yet no evidence of biological material in the soil.  The official interpretation that has become orthodoxy as a result, is that the Martian soil is highly oxidizing, ie. that it contains compounds such as hydrogen peroxide that destroy biological materials.

But if Phoenix has found that you could grow earthly plants in the soil at its site, doesn't this cast serious doubt on that interpretation?

Here's the logic in its most direct form:

  1. The Viking experiments indicated the presence of metabolism, but did not find biological materials.  The failure to find organics was puzzling, and meant either that the instrument failed or there were no organics.  But the metabolism tests did indicate life.
  2. A strongly-oxydizing soil was the only consistent interpretation other than life+instrument failure to account for the test results.
  3. Phoenix has found water and soil that can apparently support plant growth.  This would appear to contradict the hypothesis of strongly oxydizing soil.  If Phoenix has found organics, or has at least found that there is little likelihood of a strongly oxydizing soil existing anywhere on Mars, we are then left with:
  4. The Viking landers detected life in 1976.  One of their instruments failed to do its job and did not correctly characterize the chemical makeup of the soil, leading to thirty years of muddied waters in the quest for life on Mars.

By this hypothesis, NASA is being coy by saying that Phoenix has not detected life.  It hasn't; what it's done is confirm that the Vikings already found it!

Now, NASA's not actually going to say this.  Scientists are (rightly) conservative with their pronouncements, and even vindication of the Viking experiments doesn't actually prove anything.  A Mars sample-return mission would have to be undertaken to do that.  But maybe that's the funding that NASA is looking to get here.

Because the fact remains that if you can grown vegetables in Martian soil, it can't be the kind of hostile chemical bleach that would be necessary to invalidate the Viking experiments.  Even without any data beyond what's already been released, the evidence now points to life on Mars, and fairly cries out for a follow-up investigation.  And that, I suspect, is what NASA is going to call for.


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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."