Book Review: Accelerando (2005)

Accelerando will make your brain hurt — but in a good sort of way.

Actually a unified collection of nine previously published novelettes, Charles Stross may very well have written a seminal work in science fiction. Seminal not only in exploring where humanity may be going in the next several decades but in making a reader think about the societal implications of the growing connection between human life and technology. If you have any doubt about that connection and its importance, imagine today’s society trying to survive a day without internet access. Now think about where that may lead us over the next 90 years.

But this is not a Luddite exploration of man and machine. Rather, Accelerando is predicated on a concept called the Singularity. The Singularity is a predicted point in the future where technological progress and societal change accelerate beyond the ability of present-day humans to fully comprehend or predict. Stross follows three generations of a dysfunctional family through this stage of human development.

Manfred Macx is a venture altruist in the first third of the 21st Century. He basically comes up with and gives away ideas that tend to revolutionize technological and business development. His daughter Amber starts out on a mining expedition near Jupiter but eventually she and others have their “brain states” uploaded to a “Coke-can-sized slab of nanocomputers” sent off in search of an alien router and hopes of connecting humanity to a universe-wide computing network. His grandson Sirhan is involved in terraforming Saturn and the efforts of posthumans to deal with threats posed to them by the radical changes this family had no small role in creating.

Some of the ideas Stross throws out are difficult and, thus, some of the language used to attempt to describe them can be difficult at times. That can also cause the book to drag a bit. And while I suppose anyone should be concerned about a book that leads others to create a technical companion to help explain some of the terms and concepts, this truly is top-notch science fiction. This is in part because, while mind-boggling, many of Stross’s ideas are plausible. Moreover, Stross raises and attempts to address some of the innumerable societal implications of the future he envisions. Your brain hurts largely because there are so many wild and wonderful concepts and implications to try and wrap your mind around.

I know the 2005 Hugo Awards were just announced a couple weeks ago. Still, somebody is going to have to write one helluva book to convince me Accelerando doesn’t deserve the 2006 Hugo for best novel.

Help! I’m trapped in the real universe!

“Amber Macx” in Charles Stross’s Accelerando

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