Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Review of Accelerando by Charles Stross

I find no better analogy for the fiction of Charles Stross than the pop and fizz of a champagne bottle being opened. Bubbling with ideas, and expressing them in the most exuberant prose, reading a Stross novel can leave the reader reeling, at a loss to assimilate the myriad concepts thrown their way.  A few days needed to recover, Accelerando (2005) may just be Stross’ most exemplary novel.

Hailed by many at the time as the new generation’s Neuromancer, Accelerando plots the imaginary course of Vernor Vinge’s singularity from near-future cyberpunk to post-human existence among the stars.  While there are perhaps too many post-human/A.I. antecedents to make a valid argument, Accelerando pushes ahead.  The tech boom of 90s paving the way for a new perspective on technology and humanity, Stross fully futurizes the new possibilities for language, gadgets, and social paradigms to a point impossible in sf 50 years ago.

The cover art is thus apt; the structure of the Accelerando—one novelette/novella building upon the previous—describes the transition toward singularity.  A plethora of futuristic tech and politics is employed.  Ranging from wild (e.g. sentient lobsters, alien 419 scams, etc.) to all too realistic (e.g. computerized glasses, auto-replicating corporations, and others), Stross sets a fast pace and turns on the turbo.

Following the fortunes of the Macx family, Accelerando opens with “Lobsters,” a buzzy story describing a bad couple of days in net-politico guru Manfred Macx’s life.  Possessing something of Bruce Sterling’s Ziggy Starlitz from Zeitgeist, Macx delights in re-writing the economic and political rulebook with technology as his pen.  Wheeling and dealing in a near-future business world abuzz with everything from marketing pumped directly into the eye sockets to netcorps that defy litigation for their complexity, Macx’s tech prowess is trumped only by a dominatrix n ex-girlfriend.  But it’s receiving a strange phone call from somebody claiming to be Russian intelligence that turns his reality upside down.

From “Lobsters” on through to the ninth and final novella/novelette in the book ”Survivor,” the reader learns just how important that phone call is.  Repercussions bouncing off one another, the pace of life, quantity of technology, and most importantly the quality of technology spin the lives of Macx and his offspring into new stratospheres of existence.  And through it all is the cat, Aineko.       

“…See, I’ve been telling Gianni for a whole while, we need a new legal concept of what it is to be a person.  One that can cope with sentient corporations, artifical stupidities, secessionists from group minds, and reincarnated uploads.  The religiously inclined are having lots of fun with identity issues right now—why aren’t we post-humanists thinking about these things?” (104-105)

Stross has boundless energy describing his future scenarios.  Christoper Priest called Stross an “internet puppy,” and in Accelerando he’s jumping on and licking the reader nearly every second.  The play of ideas certainly enjoyable, one must measure their time, however, lest they get worn out.

In the end, Accelerando is a lot of highly imaginative fun.  Stross reveling in the potentialities of a Singularity event, he places zero limits on the extent to which he envisions humanity’s evolution beyond its current, carbon-based state.  Like legos, mini-stories in novelette and novella form are used to build the overarching story of the Singularity. The undercurrent works itself steadily higher until—pop, like a champagne bottle, the fizz of nerddom pours into the reader’s brain.  Version 2.0 of Asimov and Clarke’s Silver Age creations, Stross’s future is post-human shiny but literally Walt Whitman “I Sing the Body Electric.”

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