11: Accelerando by Charles Stross


Accelerando by Charles Stross is a collection of stories/mosaic novel showing the future through three generations of a family. It starts in a recognisable near future, but winds up going way beyond, through the singularity.

Manfred Macx, the protagonist of the first three stories, has dreams of making money obsolete – he travels the world, living on favours, giving away his ideas in order to make other people rich. He has bigger dreams, too: he sees the potential in the computerisation of the world, and even envisions one day the whole solar system being broken down and converted into computing power. And over the course of the novel, this future plays out: Manfred’s daughter, Amber, participates in the first efforts to turn the asteroids and moons around Jupiter into computers, and leads a group of uploaded minds off to discover alien intelligences. His grandson, Sirhan, lives in a world where the human race is obsolete, and the entire inner solar system is a series of nested Dyson spheres of computing power running god-like posthuman AIs.

The future Stross posits seems unreal, but there’s a certain level of plausibility behind most of it – enough to make some of the weirder elements a little concerning. The concept of corporate personhood is taken all the way, with the enfranchisement of artificially intelligent software corporations. The nervous systems of lobsters, recreated in a simulation one neuron at a time, awaken, escape to the internet and become independent, fully sentient AIs. Online memory storage means a mugger can leave you with amnesia as well as an empty wallet.

It’s a very meaty novel, lots of heavy material from the future of economics to AI to space travel. The characters have a tendency to reference things relating to these subjects that went over my head sometimes – “collapsing the false vacuum”, “the Beckenstein bound”, “Turing Oracles”, and so on.

To be honest I found the earliest section of the book the most enjoyable, most likely because it is the closest to reality, the least alien, and because I liked Manfred and Annette more than the other characters. On the other hand the final section, Singularity, seemed the weakest, particularly the last story in the book, “Survivor” – it serves as a kind of epilogue to the rest, and it felt like it lacked something; I found I was questioning why Stross had included certain elements in the way he did.

My thoughts are a little scattered on this one, really. I enjoyed the book, it was fascinating and entertaining, and makes me wonder about how different my life will be in 20, 40, 50 years. But it’s so very different from the books I usually read that it’s put me a little off-balance.

I still haven’t learned how to structure a review or end it neatly.

Next time: I’ll be catching up on the lost week, perhaps by posting about some other things I’ve read lately rather than a novel.

Words WordPress doesn’t know: Posthuman

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