by Charles Stross
Review by Jim Mann
A number of people have tried to portray the accelerating rate of technology as humanity approaches the Vingean singularity and the absolute strangeness of such a society. None have done it better than Charlie Stross in Accelerando.
Accelerando is a fix-up novel based on a series of short works by Stross, several of which have been Hugo nominees. It manages using both style and detail to capture the growing strangeness of the next few hundred years, but in the same time drawing you into those situations, making you feel at least somewhat at home amidst the bizarreness.
The story starts not very far into the future. Computer connectivity is everywhere, and some people are in constant connection with the world-wide network. The main character in the first part of the novel, Manfred Macx, is one such person. He lives in a world of constant connectivity, one in which he has unheard of amounts of information at his fingertips. But he is also an heir to the open source movement. He wanders the world, coming up with brilliant ideas and giving them away. He makes no money, but has given away so many ideas that have made others rich, that he never needs anything. What money he has is no good anywhere; he can get anything he needs for the asking.
The novel as a whole follows Manny and his extended family; Pamela, his first lover, then wife and now ex-wife; his daughter Amber in several versions (humans can download and fork extra versions of themselves), his lover Annette, his grandson Sirhan, and his artificial cat (soon to become a metahuman intelligence) Aineko. Humanity destroys Mercury, Venus, and Mars to make computronium (intelligent nanocomputers) and with each passing chapter, the world is torn asunder and new, strange things happen.
The characters - particularly Manny and Amber - are well done and interesting. The plot moves along quickly yet is highly detailed. Stross invokes our sense of wonder and fits an incredible amount of story into what might have taken other writers a series of books.
And, of course, since the novel is by Stross, it has moments of geeky humor. This ranges from terminology (group minds are called "borganisms") to method, as when historical simulations are resurrected and given a FAQ to read to explain their situation. This FAQ is several pages long and is perhaps the funniest part of the novel. My favorite quote is: "Note that fictional resimulation is strictly forbidden. If you have reason to believe you may be a fictional character, you must contact the city immediately." He also has an invention that I want, now. At a time when humans are wearing many connections to computers such that computers can have some control over how they perceive reality, people can add people at parties, etc. into their kill file, so that if the look at that person they just see a blur and don't hear anything they say. The killfiled person is effectively no longer there. Imagine how useful this would be at, say, some parties.
This is a great novel, and I think it is going to be remembered as one of the great, original novels of the last five or ten years. It's currently number one on my Hugo nominations list.
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