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Thursday, August 25, 2005

accelerando

Title: Accelerando
Author: Charles Stross
Publisher: Orbit



Accelerando started life as a series of short stories, each one expanding on the life of the Macx family as the world entered singularity and accelerated culture. The material covers a period from 1999 to 2004, and represents some of author Charles Stross's best work, being collected as novel called Accelerando. Accelerando currently available in UK and US versions - not something that can be said about all of his work - while also being available for people to download and read for free at http://www.accelerando.org

The novel is split into three parts, each comprised of three chapters. Section one is the Slow Takeoff, where we meet Manfred Macx, who for me is the most memorable character in Accelerando. Manfred is a genius entrepreneur, who gives away million dollar ideas while travelling the world. As a result, Manfred is so widely respected that he has no need for money, all his flights, hotels, food and drink are paid by admirers and in return for favours. Giving him all the more time to remain a good number of steps ahead of the curve. Through Slow Takeoff we are introduced to Manfred (Lobsters), follow him as he becomes increasingly involved in politics and shaping the new future (Troubadour) and his brain expands to new and distributed levels of processing power (Tourist). Along the way we meet Pamela and Annette, the two women in his life. Pamela a fierce dominatrix and tax inspector, who feels that by not paying taxes Manfred is ripping off America and the future.

Annette has more influence in part 2, Point Of Inflection. Where we meet the next generation of Macx, Amber, Manfred's daughter by Pamela. The couple have split, and Pamela has given birth to the stored child after Manfred's departure. Without Manfred to dominate, Pamela has turned on Amber. Amber is desperate to get out, but is legally prevented from seeing her father to be able to ask for his help. So instead an escape is facilitated by Annette, and Manfred's robot cat. Which sees Amber's flight into space, aboard a manned flight to Jupiter. But Pamela is not content to let her daughter go. In Halo we meet Amber and fly to Jupiter, where Amber is forced to display that Macx ability. In Router alien signals have been received from space, and Amber assembles a crew to go and explore. While in Nightfall Amber deals with what she discovers out there, while the world she left behind is entirely transformed.

Part 3 equals Singularity. Amber returns from space, Manfred is a flock of pigeons, and the copy she has left behind has had a son. Enter the third generation of Macx, Sirhan. With each page of Accelerando the sphere of human affairs is nudged on another step beyond what we recognise. With Singularity being the coming to terms with the post-human, post-scarcity reality - where those who cling to flesh (however far removed from what we recognise as human) are backwards looking, as machines and post-economic systems vie for resources. Curator introduces us to Sirhan and its plans to preserve human history. Elector sees the Macx family and their fellow humans attempt to deal with the singularity and all its glory. While Survivor brings us through the other side, offering us that which remains.

Accelerando is perhaps one of the most convincing science fiction novels to have been written that covers a period of 100s of years and a period of mind boggling change. Starting us off with something we can recognise, the slow formation of now culture to tomorrow culture, in a manner that recalls the Good Old Fashioned Future/Holy Fire period work of Bruce Sterling, with a dose of respect culture/edge fashion ala Cory Doctorow. In this way Stross sinks his claws into the reader, and drags them screaming into a dizzying journey across time. In this process we have elements of Ken MacLeod's Space and Freedom politics, the threats of AI singularities. Edging towards a total overdose on dense Greg Egan headfucking post-humanity, while retaining the same easy going respect edge fashion that he started with.

Accelerando is an event novel. The kind of book that gets people talking and for good reason. The fact that much of the material has been out there in short form, and has been an introduction to the work of Charles Stross certainly helps. Though, it does cause problems in that the rest of his work running up to Accelerando is going to pale by comparison. And it isn't a work without flaws of its own - Stross still learning to become a better writer over the course of the work. While also following into the danger of cross generation fiction, in that Sirhan isn't as strong a character as Amber, who isn't as strong a character as Manfred. Though thankfully Sirhan is a reasonably minor character really, and Amber and Manfred's influence is present throughout.

To a degree Accelerando is likely to be, and should be, a huge influence on the genre - Stross's ability to tackle the subject matter, with such density, while remaining a personable and enjoyable read has to raise the bar. The result could go either way - either Accelerando will be noted and remembered in decades to come, or it will quickly be buried by books that try to meet the challenge. Regardless, and for now, Accelerando is one of this year's must read science fiction novels.

Comments:
Great review. I've been holding out for the third in the current trilogy, but this should fill the gap. Although I like Doctorow's writing better, from a technical standpoint, I like Stross' stories better.
 
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