Reviews of Accelerando (2005)
Review by archren (2006-04-07)
Accelerando was originally published as a series of linked novellas and novelettes in the British SF magazine Interzone. Individually the stories were highly acclaimed and awarded; together they have already been nominated in the “Best Novel” category of the Hugo Awards. This is not a book for the beginning SF reader, and it certainly isn’t perfect (of which more later). It is, however one of the most idea-filled books in the genre.
The basic plot (to the extent that there is one) involves following the Mancx family for three generations and a bit over a hundred years as humanity evolves through a Singularity event. To ridiculously oversimplify: as more and more matter on Earth gains the capacity to think (our brains, computer chips, etc.), Stross postulates that computer intelligence will emerge from the increasingly complex systems, and human consciousness will evolve with the computer intelligence and become something wholly “other”, not comprehensible to humans of our generation.
Manfred Mancx is one of those helping to spur the revolution, and also is a vanguard of economic systems of the future, beyond capitalism. He and Pamela, and deeply disturbed IRS woman, have a child Amber. Amber grows up with full computer connectivity and is largely alien to both her parents. By the time she is an adolescent she gains independence, and physically hitches a ride out to Jupiter. Her physical self stays there and has a son Sirhan, while a copy of herself leads an interstellar expedition. When that copy comes back to Saturn, lots and lots of things have changed, not least the fact that the inner solar system has been dismantled and converted to “computronium” (thinking matter), and is running an incomprehensible post-Singularity society.
This is not an easy story by any stretch; I found it hard to read for long spells. I tended to read a bit, put it down and then come back to it. I spent a significant amount of time looking up references on the Internet (Wikipedia has a good companion article for the book at http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Accelerando_Technical_Companion) As mentioned before, “Accelerando” has some flaws: there's a lot more "telling" than "showing," although I liked those explication bits the best; some things are unnecessarily repeated since this was originally written as short stories published many months apart (you'd think they would've edited out the redundancies when making a book out of it but they didn't); the characters aren't terribly sympathetic, and some plot threads are built up and then simply dropped; and only at the end do you start to suspect the existence of an unreliable narrator, but even then you're not sure.
Taken as a whole though, it is an amazing book. The pettiness of some of the characters and the dropped plot threads could be an illustration of how messy life is and will continue to be, even in the post-human and post-Singularity future. Plus, the constraints he is working under are immense: in writing about a Singularity event, he has to deal with the fact that by definition, we should be incapable of understanding any being that has been through the Singularity (they'll be as advanced compared to us as we are compared to amoebas), so he has to have human characters roughly like us stay outside the Singularity and observe it instead of joining it. It's a little awkward, but he handles it as best he can.
In the end I'm not convinced that a Singularity will happen or will happen soon, but I was really impressed by Stross' vision of it.