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Karl Schroeder
Tor Books, 447 pages

Karl Schroeder
Karl Schroeder was born in 1962 in Brandon, Manitoba. He moved to Toronto in 1986 to further his writing career. In 1996, he was elected president of SF Canada. His awards include the Context '89 Short Story contest for his story "The Cold Convergence" (then titled "Live Wire") and "The Toy Mill" won the 1993 Aurora award for best short work in English.

Karl Schroeder Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Ventus
SF Site Review: Ventus

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Peter D. Tillman


"The discovery that made interstellar travel possible was made in 1997; but at the time no one recognized its significance..."
So opens Permanence, set in the 25th century, when humanity has settled dozens of extrasolar planets -- the so-called "lit worlds" -- and thousands of brown-dwarf colonies -- the halo worlds. All the colonies were linked by big, NAFAL 1 starships, each travelling a fixed circuit of worlds -- the cyclers 2. The cyclers never stop, as the energy cost to boost them to relativistic speeds is, well, astronomical. Ultra-light shuttles transfer passengers, crew and cargo at each port.

Permanence is a quasi-religious order set up to support the great starships, and to preserve human civilization for the indefinitely long future. It's a noble and admirable organization, which has been seriously disrupted by the recent discovery of FTL travel -- which, it turns out, will only work near a full-size star. FTL travel is much cheaper than the sub-light speed cyclers, so the halo worlds' economies, and the Cycler Compact, are near collapse. It gets worse -- the lit worlds are joining the new Earth-based Rights Economy, an aggressively-centralized property-rights setup that forbids any non-commercial transactions. Hmm... could this be socially-conscious Canada vs. the great, grasping Colossus of the South? (The halo worlds are cold, too...)

Meadow-Rue Rosebud Cassells lit out from Allemagne station when her bullying brother got to be too much. Enroute to Erythrion, Rue discovers, and files a claim on, a new comet. Her claim is denied -- her 'comet' is really a spaceship -- but then reinstated: it's not a human spaceship, and it doesn't answer calls, though the drive is still working. Rue must take physical control of the ghost ship to make good her claim, but Powerful Forces want the ship for themselves...

The framework of the novel is Rue's growth from scared kid to respected starship captain. I like bildungsromans, and this is a good one. But the real power of Permanence is the good old sense-of-wonder tech stuff:

"[The colonies] swarmed like insects around incandescent filaments hundreds of kilometers in length. Each filament was a fullerene cable that harvested electricity from Erythrion's magnetic field... The power running through the cables made them glow in exactly the same way that tungsten had glowed in light bulbs... on twentieth-century Earth."
I love this stuff. And it's even plausible.

At times, Permanence may remind you of Ken Macleod's political SF, though Karl Schroeder is much less in your face (which I prefer). You'll see nods to Pohl's Gateway, Norton's Forerunners, Brin's and Pellegrino's hostile-universe Fermi-paradox ideas... Schroeder's still looking for a distinctive voice, which is pretty standard for a writer's early books, and anyway he steals borrows from the best...

Schroeder's very good at delivering the short, sharp shock: Rue's poor, then she's rich! Oops, bad claim, poor again. Wait, she's rich after all! This 'Perils of Pauline' plot structure works pretty well for most of the book, but was wearing thin towards the end. Again, these are sophomore-book teething problems, easily forgivable within the terrific story (and backstory!) that Schroeder's got to tell. Which is: classic, wide-screen space-opera with a sharp hard-sf edge -- my favorite kind of SF! Folks, this is the good hard stuff, which is never in oversupply. So if you haven't yet tried Schroeder's brand of thinking-being's hard-sf adventure stories, Permanence is an excellent place to start. Then you can go back and pick up on last year's Ventus, which might even be better. They're both terrific books. Happy reading!

1 Not as Fast as Light, an Ursula K. Le Guin coinage. Or is it Nearly as Fast? And did you know that her ansibles are an anagram of lesbians?

2 The cyclers are the neatest part of the backstory -- see here for the details -- which are interesting of themselves (for spaceflight buffs like me, anyway) and spoiler-free. I was a bit disappointed that the cyclers had become obsolete by Permanence time -- well, sort of -- and I hope that Schroeder returns to earlier times in the future history of the Cycler Compact. And I wouldn't be surprised if Ventus turned out to be in Permanence's future...

Copyright © 2002 Peter D. Tillman

Pete Tillman has been reading SF for better than 40 years now. He reviews SF -- and other books -- for Usenet, "Under the Covers", Infinity-Plus, Dark Planet, and SF Site. He's a mineral exploration geologist based in Arizona. More of his reviews are posted at .

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