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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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Mar 04, 2009

The Verne Gun

Kickstarting the REAL space age

The Verne GunRecently I talked about one of my favourite blogs, Brian Wang's Next Big Future.  He and his team are a veritable fountain of ideas, and this week they've outdone themselves with a series of pieces on Project Orion and its offshoots.  Now, I freely admit that they've done all the heavy lifting here (so to speak) but I'm going to take one of their ideas and run with it anyway.

A couple of the salient posts on Project Orion are The Nuclear Orion Home Run Shot, and Pieces of a True Nuclear Cannon.  Now, Orion was the 1950s-era American project to build a nuclear-bomb powered spacecraft.  Three facts stand out about the project:

  1. It could have worked, and would have put unlimited amounts of mass into space for less than $1 a kilo.
  2. The biggest vessel contemplated by the Orion team would have weighed 8 million tonnes, and would have been bigger than the Great Pyramid.
  3. The sucker wouldn't have incinerated, flattened, and irradiated nearly as much real estate as you might think.

Still, for some reason the project was canceled around 1964.

In contemplating the glory that almost was, it's tempting to imagine what could have been accomplished with Orion.  One thought I had was that, well, maybe you could just use it once:  do the full-out 8-million tonne monster and use it to launch, in one shot, enough solar satellite infrastructure to obsolete every North American coal plant overnight.  According to a rational moral calculus, if Orion works it should be used in such a way, because the number of people who would die worldwide from the beast's fallout would be trivial compared to the number saved by reductions in air pollution from coal.  (Three million people die from air pollution each year; what they point out over at Next Big Future is that Orion could be calibrated to limit its fallout deaths to no more than a few dozen per launch, even for the biggest ship).

Still, there would be some place on Earth that would suffer from such a launch, and one thing we've learned is there is no truly "empty" land.  Even if our moral calculus could be extended to other species that would be saved by greening our power, it would be better if there were some way to launch such huge masses without exposing the biosphere to nuclear explosions and fallout at all.

There is.  I call it the Verne gun because frankly, a name like THE ATOMIC CANNON would just not go over well in certain circles.  In any case, the principle is the same as Verne's original idea, but using modern technology:  you set off a nuclear charge underground where the blast, heat, radiation and fallout can all be contained, and use Orion-type technology to direct its energy into orbiting a very big, very heavy spacecraft.  This vessel would experience hundreds to thousands of g's of acceleration--you couldn't put humans in it.  But Wang calculates that a 10 megaton bomb could put 280,000 tons into orbit with zero radiation escape into the biosphere.  Since dozens of bombs were exploded in exactly this way from the 50's to the 70's, we know this can be done.  And Orion's researchers proved nearly every one of their theories about Orion.  What they couldn't test at the time can now be simulated accurately by today's supercomputers, without the need for a test program.

Such an orbital gun could be used multiple times.  Here's what you could do if you could put 280,000 tons into orbit in one shot:

  • Put 1.5 terawatts of clean solar power into orbit with less than ten launches.  Obsolete coal and petroleum power production with green baseline power, using less than a 10th the number of solar cells as you'd have to install on Earth to capture the same amount of sunlight.
  • Orbit an entire space elevator with one launch.  Set it up, retire the gun, and get on with a clean space age.
  • Do the same thing with an orbiting greenhouse infrastructure.  Drop solar-powered mass drivers on the moon to feed a continual stream of building material to the building sites.
  • Orbit fuel depots to drop the price of conventional rocketry to orbit through the floor.  One shot and access to space for NASA becomes 10 times cheaper.
  • Send up a telescope so big that it can image the continents of planets circling other stars.
  • Put up one or more of those cool gigantic orbiting space station wheels that are showcased so dramatically in the movie 2001:  A Space Odyssey.
  • Send an entire colony's worth of material to the moon or Mars.  With a second shot, put up an interplanetary cycler ring, tether launch system or other permanent mechanism for shuttling people to and from the colonies.
  • Toss a couple hundred thousand tons of nuclear waste into the sun, where it won't bother us anymore.  (Trust me, the sun won't notice.)
  • Launch an empty Orion ship, send its fuel up the safer space elevator, and send an expedition to Saturn, or a probe to the next star.

I'm not going to suggest orbiting a sunshade to head off global warming, because that's no solution for problems like ocean acidification.  --In any case, you can certainly think up other cool stuff we could do; and notice that some of these options, like orbiting fuel depots or a space elevator, can easily bootstrap us out of having to use the gun more than once or twice.

Oh, and of course, there's one more thing you could do with it, but since you'd need to get signoff from all the members of the nuclear club to use it at all, this one's a bit less likely:

  • Orbit a huge frikkin death star platform with ATOMIC LASERS and MISSILE RACKS and RAIL GUNS and aim them at anybody you don't like.


Dec 08, 2008

Rick Berry proposes cover art

The "New Tunisian retro dog"

So Irene Gallo, Rick Berry and I have been talking art lately, possibly with an eye to doing something on the website.  Rick wants to do some cover art for me, and has actually been working up samples:

 New Tunisian retro dog

Rick explains that this image is the height of cutting-edge sci-fi illustration and has graciously allowed me to present it to the world.  "Karl, the 'New Tunisian Retro Dog' is fine for your blog. Of course you'll have to explain that the "dogs" of New Tunisia are in fact cultured mollusks but just as friendly as the real thing. Mucus can be a bit of problem though."

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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."