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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 Interview: Karl Schroeder
SF Site Review: Permanence
SF Site Review: Ventus
SF Site Review: Ventus

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Karl Schroeder's second solo novel (after the much-praised Ventus (2000)), Permanence, is at once exhilarating and frustrating. Exhilarating because it attacks a truly worthwhile larger SFnal theme in an original fashion, coming to original conclusions; and because it is packed with clever technological and scientific notions, and with some awe-inspiring vistas. Frustrating because much of the impact of this is dissipated by the unconvincing characters, and by an overwrought plot complete with sneering cardboard villains. The good outweighs the bad, I think: this book is fun to read and thoughtful, and its resolution is believable. But it falls short of its potential.

Permanence opens with the heroine, a young woman named Meadow-Rue Rosebud Cassels, escaping from her abusive brother and the only home she has ever known: a tiny habitat attached to a comet-like body. Rue makes the long solo trip to the nearest world: a "halo" world (planet of a brown dwarf) named Erythrion, on the way making a fortunate discovery: an unknown body, either a valuable rock for mining, or an even more valuable ship to be salvaged. But after arriving on Erythrion her fortunes undergo some further seesawing, as she encounters the rest of her rather dysfunctional family, makes a few friends, and learns a little bit about the politics of her new home. These politics, central to the book, concern two basic groups of worlds: the "halo" worlds, home to most of the earliest Earth colonies, and linked by a declining fleet of slower-than-light "cyclers", and the "lit" worlds, orbiting suns massive enough for fusion, and also massive enough that faster-than-light travel to them is possible (insert handwave here). The development of FTL travel has made the cyclers obsolete, leading to the slow abandonment of the non-FTL-accessible "halo" worlds. The FTL worlds are under the sway of a not well explained sneeringly villainous economic regimen called the Rights Economy.

When Rue's find turns out to be an alien object, its value increases enormously, and she finds herself barely able to maintain her claim. She is forced to assemble a last minute team to race out to the object and formally stake her claim.

The other viewpoint character is Michael Bequith, a scientist and Neo-Shinto monk. Michael's job has been to support the older scientist Laurent Herat in studying various alien races and alien ruins. In secret, he has also advanced the goals of his now illegal religion, by recording his mystical experiences of the "kami" of these alien worlds. Dr. Herat's career is nearly over, as he gives way to despair: all the aliens he has studied share a characteristic: they have no interest in any sort of communication or cooperation with humans. Dr. Herat's lifelong dream, the formation of an interstellar community of various species, seems dashed. All this is in pursuit of the goal of "Permanence": the formation of a culture with the prospect of permanent existence. Rue's discovery, of a hitherto completely unknown alien artifact, gives Dr. Herat (with Michael) a sort of last chance. The two of them join a Rights Economy military team and Rue's team in systematically studying the alien construct.

The eventual explanation of the nature of the artifact is very interesting. Furthermore, the conclusions reached about the prospects for true "Permanence", and about the differences between an STL culture and an FTL culture, are also nicely handled. In addition, there is a neat alien race, and a fair amount of very clever tech. Set against these positives is a set of villains who seem mostly motivated by the generalized desire to oppress and kill other people, the rather fuzzily described "Rights Economy", a not quite convincing or sufficiently involving love story, characters that don't quite come to life, a rather flabbily-structured plot, and some annoying woo-woo mysticism in the description of Michael Bequith's "kami". In other words -- Permanence has got many of the strengths of the best Hard SF, and many of the weaknesses as well. Which means, if you're a fan of Hard SF, this book is definitely for you. Schroeder is playing in Vernor Vinge's league, and if Vinge is still the champ, Schroeder is definitely a promising newcomer.

Copyright © 2002 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area. He writes a monthly short fiction review column for Locus. Stop by his website at

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