Monday, August 08, 2005


Charles Stross's Accelerando reminded me of the TV shows Dallas or Dynasty. Set in an earlier epoch than his first two books, it follows a complex, future-shocked and dysfunctional family -- and one wise-cracking artificial cat -- as humanity goes through rapid change through the 21st century.

The central character is a idealistic cyberpunk named Manfred Macx who prides himself on being well ahead of the curve. He has several ideas before breakfast each day, files patents on them and then donates the patents to the "Free Infrastructure Foundation," an obvious direct decendant of the Free Software Foundation. The aim is to spread the wealth, make as many people rich as possible to help them over the economic upheaval Macx believes is just around the corner. The urgency increases when Macx gets an unusual request for asylum -- a group of lobsters uploaded to a computer, neuron by neuron, has achieved sentience and wants protection.

That leap in development, in which computers can host minds, begins a race against time as humanity makes more progress in 5 decades than it does in the previous 50,000 years. The resulting blurring of many lines, such as between our brains and computers, sentient and insentient beings and even time and place, brings up a stark choice: Do you cross the line and become more computer than human, or do you stay behind and retain your humanity, a Neaderthal in a modern world?

I found the book harder to grasp than Stross's first two. It was difficult to keep track of the forked copies of the main characters, and who was mother, father, grandfather or son in a universe where characters can grow old, die and then come back as youngsters. The family tree resembles brambles. This book is also built around a completely different universe than Stross's earlier work, with no shared history that I could see, but I'm looking forward to see if he continues on this track or extends the universe built in Singularity or Iron Sunrise. Accelerando seems to offer more possibilities.

[Updated to expand it a bit. I'm having trouble writing these in drips and drabs in internet cafes. I initially left out several things I wanted to say.]

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