Charles Stross. Accelerando. USA: Ace: NewYork, 2005. Pp. 400. ISBN 0441012841. $24.95 / UK: Orbit: London. Pp. 448. ISBN 1841493902. £16.99.

Reviewed by Djibril

This novel is a strange combinaton of apocalyptic cyberpunk future-shock, and a classic multi-generational epic across time and space. The generations, of course, criss-cross and turn back on themselves as eigen-parents and alternative selves meet in simulations within informational worlds; and the future is less de Garis-style apocalyptic than no-less-shocking speculative revelation. By the last third of this nine-chapter work (which appeared in as many instalments in Asimov's SF Magazine between 2001 and 2004), the reader should be prepared for more dizzying twists and vertiginous scene changes, but this reviewer was disoriented every time. In some cases it took longer to learn to empathise with a new generation, than it took to move on to yet another again, which made some chapters less successful than they might have been.

The dynasty begins (and, inevitably, but in a most peculiar way, ends) with Manfred Macx, an early twenty-first century visionary thinker who registers half a dozen patents before breakfast (most of them signed over to the Free Infrastructure Foundation) and whose business is inventing technologies and business models that make other people rich. Although he has almost no money or property to his name, Macx lives on the combination of his clients' gratitude and his reputation and Credibility Rating. This last is much to the distress of his fiancée and dominatrix Pamela, who works for the IRS and believes that he is cheating the government in millions of tax dollars by refusing to make money himself. While Manfred extends his consciousness through a metacortex of software agents, most of which are outside of his body, Pamela is a hyperconservative, family values, religious, meatbody human. This is to be a marriage made in hell, and Pamela is probably the most perfect villain ever devised in literature, especially terrifying because the hero finds her so irresistible. But it is not Manfred but their daughter Amber (cryogenically frozen shortly after fertilisation and born years later) who is to suffer the most from Pamela's obsessions and abusive need for absolute control.

This is not the first book Stross has written about the concept of a rapidly approaching singularity, in this case the point in time when the critical mass of available processing power overtakes the combined human brain and changes the world forever from a human-controlled to a digitally inhabited one. There are several such singularities in this novel, points of no return, encounters with both human-created and alien intelligences and economies that immeasurably surpass ourselves. Possibly the most ambitious book I have read, when it occasionally does fall short of excellence, it fails magnificently.

Accelerando, like other novels we have reviewed recently, is simultaneously published in print by a major publisher, and released online under a Creative Commons license (by-nc-nd 2.5). Stross is well-versed in emergent technologies and the Open Source movement, and the developments in this novel are true "Hard SF", the computing and physics alike starting with scientific principles that are only a historic instant away from being achievable, and extending them in plausible, well-thought out, but wildly speculative directions.

Whatever its flaws and however esoteric the references and jokes might become, this is a book that should be read by anybody who thinks they know what the future will be like. It may just make you think again.

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