Accelerando is a Hugo, A.C. Clarke and BSFA nominated novel by Charles Stross which I found to be an excellent read. A mesmerizing whirl of ideas. Stunning. Charles starts with classic Cyberpunk, and then takes the story and runs with it, accelerating all the time…
We find Manfred ‘Manni’ Mancx, a self proclaimed ‘born-again atheist’ in Amsterdam, on his usual mission to make someone rich with his ideas. All the people who profited from his ideas in turn fund his extraordinary jet-setting and money-free lifestyle.
Pamela, his ex-fiancée, works as a headhunter for the more-or-less defunct IRS for the more-or-less defunct US government. He describes her as a born-again post-conservative, a member of the first generation to grow up after the end of the American century.
Together (or, rather, when they’ve split up again) they have a daughter, Amber. Amber runs away from her mother as 13 year old (when her mother turns to a progressive Islamic fundamentalist liberal constructionist religion), into slavery to a construct of companies which she, in turns, will own when she comes of age; her slave duties making her queen of the ‘Ring Imperium’ in Jovian orbit; from where she sends out an uploaded copy of herself on a starwhisp (a coke can sized chunk of computronium running a VR environment) to the nearest router in the intergalactic wormhole network.
Still with me?
The story follows the Mancx dynasty over several generations, documenting the struggles between Manni and Pamela, Pamela and Amber, Amber and her son, and all permutations thereof; given that people can have several instances of themselves running in different environments, can ‘upload’ their personalities, and can ‘decant’ them back into ‘meatbodies’. All of this against the backdrop of humanity's spread from Earth into Cyberspace, Jupiter, the outer solar system, and beyond.
One of the key measures in this development is the ‘singularities’, which changes in Mannie’s definition from the moment when the computational power of new computers produced matches the computational power of the brains of all newborn humans in the same period to the total coputer based vs Human computational mass and power.
There are loads of new and/or interesting concepts in this book – here’s a brief selection of some that I found impressive:
- the current economic model which is still in evidence a the beginning of the book gets replaced by a highly co-operative and automated environment called ‘Economics 2.0’, run by machines and self-replicating financial instruments. On the way there we learn about a virus which is busy hijacking people’s bank accounts, sending ten percent of their assets to the previous victim, then mailing itself to everyone in the current mark’s address book: a self-propelled pyramid scheme in action. Oddly, nobody is complaining much.
- Matroshka Brain: a structure where all matter is transformed into “free-flying nano-computing processor nodes exchanging data via laser link, each layer running off the waste heat of the next one. Russian dolls Dyson spheres the size of solar systems.” And with no space for old-fashioned humans to exist…
- One of the big questions asked is ‘what makes us human? And how far can we develop within that definition?’ A number of humans can’t follow the accelerating rate of change, they end of on ‘the downslope of the fare side of the curve of accelerating progress. And even the most progressive humans have limits to how far they can adjust until they lose their humanity to be able to play in the arena of machines and technology.
- There exists a galaxy-wide network of routers, high bandwidth, connected through wormholes. I won’t tell you what they find on the other side of the first router, though. But the concepts they learn re-inforce the question of being human, of the limitations of having a human brain, of using inefficient human I/O channels and processing.
- An alien entity which they ‘decant’ into a ‘meatbody’ complains about the limitations of the ‘simulation environment’ and the slow communication devices – being an alien, self-replication pyramid scheme/419 scam type life-form mean that ‘reality’ has a completely different meaning…
This book starts as classic Cyberpunk, and the runs with it until it becomes plain Space Opera at the other end. The characters are unusual (especially Manni), but also very human in their reactions to the change around them, and in their way of handling their relationships with each other. An interesting point to observe are the levels of development in their adaptation to their new environment, and the leaps they take when they let go of their resistance to the required augmentations and technologies.
This is a great story, and excellent book. It’s hard to put down, it has loads of drive, and it asks a lot of questions that really should concern us these days, so it’s worth a re-read or two (a rare case indeed).
Is it worth getting? Err… what are you still doing reading this? Go shopping for a copy now!
More Charles Stross
Author: Charles Stross
Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net
Publisher URL: http://www.orbitbooks.co.uk
Publication Date: August 2005
Review Date: April 16, 2006