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Stross' latest novel follows several generations of the Macx family through the rapidly transforming, Internet-enabled global economy of the early twenty-first century to the human and transhuman populated worlds of the outer solar system a half century later. The saga begins with Macx patriarch Manfred, a freelance "venture altruist," giving away patentable high-tech ideas in exchange for endless handouts while looking forward to the day when nanotech-programmed smart matter surpasses humanity in intelligence and productivity. Fifteen years later, his adolescent daughter Amber is an indentured astronaut trolling the orbit of Jupiter, and by 2070, Sirhan is Amber's permanently space-bound offspring, paying witness to the fruits of his grandfather's early innovations as something ominous and nonhuman is systematically dismantling the planets from Pluto to Earth.

390 pages, Hardcover

First published July 5, 2005

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About the author

Charles Stross

169 books5,550 followers
Charles David George "Charlie" Stross is a writer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. His works range from science fiction and Lovecraftian horror to fantasy.

Stross is sometimes regarded as being part of a new generation of British science fiction writers who specialise in hard science fiction and space opera. His contemporaries include Alastair Reynolds, Ken MacLeod, Liz Williams and Richard Morgan.

SF Encyclopedia: http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/...

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_...

Tor: http://us.macmillan.com/author/charle...

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,309 reviews
Profile Image for Scott.
267 reviews19 followers
July 23, 2010
OK, let's start with the fact that the book jacket compared Charles Stross's writing with William Gibson and Neal Stephenson at their best.

As a reader who has a serious crush on Stephenson's writing, I instantly had an expectation was set up in my mind, as you can imagine.

However, this novel was thoroughly disappointing. I like hard SF and cyberpunk that explores social mores and the impacts of technology and science upon society. And can do so with humor (or irony). The science was so outlandishly bad (e.g. generating sufficient power to run manufacturing plants on a satellite of Jupiter by wrapping conductors around the satellite, across the poles, to create a conducting loop to move through Jupiter's magnetic field), and the belief in the Singularity so without skepticism, that I stopped drinking the Kool-Aid at about page 220, and had to gut out the last half of the book without the necessary suspension of disbelief that is why I read science fiction in the first place. As the book proceeds use of science or IT concepts becomes increasingly absurd as the main characters (who are nearly impossible to feel any sympathy for) are rescued, Deus ex Machina style, from ridiculous crises with unexplored implications that abuse the reader's time and effort placed in attempting to understand what has been written.

The ability to dash out clever metaphors and create a story around a compelling idea (like the Singularity) does not guarantee that the story will be good. Stross has moments of true humor and irony, but the characters are leaden and locked in epoch-long neuroses that persist whether the character is in "meatspace" or has re-instantiated itself as an orangutan or a flock of passenger pigeons (I'm not making this up). There is also a level of omniscience and confidence in the main characters that suggests they know everything that has happened and will happen. While this may be a device to make the post-humans off-putting to us as human beings, part of the reason to write a book is to get humans to read it, and most real humans won't soldier through a book with know-it-all characters they cannot care about, who already have figured out everything that will happen to them, and seem unbelievably bored by anything except for their family squabbles.

The middle third (from around page 200 through 300) really lacks coherence and cannot be readily followed by any but the most careful reading. And, upon careful reading, you are not rewarded. This is not Pynchon or Faulkner; this is geek speak that does not connect with ideas that matter. At the point where the travellers encounter alien intelligences, the entire story completely falls apart and has to be rescued, again, from its own excesses.

I have spent too much time writing about this. If you read this review, you have been warned about what to expect in reading this book. I will not be picking up another Stross novel any time soon.
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
966 reviews6,850 followers
June 24, 2021
Widespread intelligence amplification doesn’t lead to widespread rational behavior.

In the show Party Down there is a character played by Martin Starr that loves to condescend everyone and insist ”I’m into Hard Sci-fi.” While reading Accelerando by Charles Stross, I kept thinking that it is the perfect book that he would be into. I mean, its undeniable this book is brilliant and conceptually it will blow your mind. Stross dares to depict the undepictable of a post-singularity humanity in a ultra-capitalist future where the quest for the meaning of life isn’t solved by immortality and everyone is straight up having a bad time. There are also a lot more sentient crustaceans than you might expect. This book is so overflowing with technological jargon and scientific examination it almost reads like a textbook—which is arguably awesome because I’m well aware Stross knows his shit enough to spit it—and this future that is fully couched in Cold War aesthetics comes to plausible life in ways that takes work to wrap your brain around. It’s incredible and visionary, yet I’d be hard pressed to name who I’d recommend it to in 2021 and had to slog through the writing hacking away at an overabundance of adjectives and wooden, overdramatic dialogue like I was clearing the first path through a dense forest. Accelerando is a genius novel of a bleak technological future that struggles to carry it’s own brilliance and though it succeeds at being mind bending the journey is so strenuously opaque and lackluster it is more a servitute to finishing than a fulfilling ride.

Starting this novel may feel a lot like dipping into some Neal Stephenson where the tech discourse is heavy, but instead of dropping into an engaging plot it just sort of remains there. Which is cool, because each chapter begins with a news-bulletin-like aside cuing you into what society is like at this given point in time and as a reader you experience some of what Alvin Toffler meanth by "future shock".
Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time. If you don't have a strategy, you're part of someone else's strategy.

This novel makes you feel technology surpassing you and even if you have the knowledge to adequately assess his terminology and visionary futures you still feel it as something you must chase and adapt to understand. It really embodies the idea that ‘age is a process of closing off opportunities,’ and with each jump in time (each chapter is written as a stand-alone short story with similar characters like a monster-of-the-week sci-fi show) Which is a really excellent concept, but once you are hip to the game he doesn’t relent and it gets rather exhausting and deflates the fun. It doesn’t help that by 2021 this book, not yet a decade old, feels incredibly dated. There is great stuff going on at the beginning that feels very much a Cold War-hangover with nation states legislating new tech and the UN trying to wrap their heads around what constitutes Rights for artificial intelligence, but so much of the post-human future seems weirdly antiquated in early 2000s perspectives. Which isn’t a complaint really, even solid Don DeLillo novels have some tech references that are sure to invoke an embarrassed giggle today.

Money is a symptom of poverty.

There is so much going right for a novel that just doesn’t register well. It is incredibly anti-capitalist featuring a protagonist that refuses to be beholden to anyone and won’t accept payment and has mind blowing concepts like sentient corporations of sentient 419 Scams embodied as giant turtles floating in space (you get used to this after awhile) and much of the book involves weird shell companies embodied as living beings as loophole escapes from bad situations. This lampoons corporate paperwork in the best way. There is even this amazing moment when they first make contact with alien civilization only for them to be preying on folks wowed by first contact in order to devour them. A lawyer gets it first like this group, the Munch, are a T-Rex eating him off a toilet in Jurassic Park. This shit is cool and should be fun, but Christ it is not fun to read. Alien battles, BDSM sex (SO much) and dialing a phone are all written with the same level of no-tension and mundanity that it's hard to get excited even when things are exploding on the page. No tone, no atmosphere, but the jargon is dope.

Which is a shame, really. It’s a real extreme version of telling and not showing. Like, ever. Very few descriptions of where you are and it always feels like regardless the situation you are in some 90s sitcom apartment. Which would be cool had that been intentional for a purpose but here it just feels off and awful. This feels like a draft the caustic kid in your computer course would hand you, because you are an English major, to read and it’s just...brilliant but nearly unbearable. And it’s hard to critique because any point about how he’d need to slim down descriptors and, even without easing it up on the jargon which is honestly pretty badass and impresses me, get to the fucking point will just be met with a retort that you didn’t “get it” enough. Which is fair. But reading all of it also felt like when a character ponders, if ‘this is the true hell and if it is not, how can I escape it?’ Had this not been for bookclub I doubt I would have finished, though ended up being one of the few that did and defended it against people that openly hated it. It’s not bad, but still. Do I fully comprehend his Matryoshka brain future where death is irrelevant and your uploaded memories aren’t reliable but, screw it, it’s what you’ve got so make the best of it: ….okay no, I’m a big foggy.
But was it enjoyable to read at least?
Also no.
Okay, but like, it blew your mind and you loved the concepts so that’s gotta count for something?
Ehhhh, I wont hate on it?
Good enough?
Good enough.

It makes me think of why I like Ursula K. Le Guin so much. With Stross, it's all why and how and then, despite being the intention of the book, very little of how that interacts with humanity other than broad strokes. With Le Guin its all what happens. Which is what I, personally, enjoy best (if this isn't you, by all means love this book, I'm happy as hell for you if you do). I don't really care why. Oh okay, it's a thing, cool. Now tell me what the implications of that being a thing means. That's what I'm all about. Fuck me up with some speculative fiction of stuff I can just asume is plausible because, fuck it, why not?

Civilization is for sale.

Yet still the bleak vision of the future is kind of great. It’s one where ‘identify is theft,: because nobody gives a flat fuck about you as an individual aside from being part of a consumable civilization turned into capitalist gears for profit production. Yet it also isn’t a society that values a society at large. Death has become meaningless as you can upload your consciousness into a flock of seagulls if you so choose (it happens, it’s weird) and dying is considered the most horrible of horrors (take that, mortal reader that will inevitably experience total finality, bwahahaha. It’s actually a really cool fuck you to...well YOU when reading it). The future here seems absolutely terrible even though technology is astonishingly awesome. Plus the villain ends up being a demonic cat, which rules though the super anti-climactic conclusion hinges of a small child having a surprise scythe for a third arm that has in no way been figured previously into the novel. But whatever, it was cool and it’s your book, Charles Stross, do whatever the hell you want.

I so badly want to like this. It’s undeniable brillant and it blew my mind and made me think of things in a cool way. But it’s also such a burden to read and hellishly unfun despite how completely fun it seems. If you are down with Hard Sci-fi I could see this being your thing, and I really hope it is because I want someone to love this. It deserves it, it’s made with love but I’m just not the partner for this torrid affair.


Profile Image for Adam.
558 reviews360 followers
September 17, 2008
Acclerando is Stross’s most frustrating, annoying, idea-packed, difficult, dense, and arguably best novel. Can feel like taking a crash course in astro-physics, computer science, economics, sociology, while reading a dozen blogs, Bruce Sterling’s “Deep Eddy Stories” and Shismatrix , and cliff notes of science fiction’s back pages. But once you get over the buzz of the overload it is a hauntingly odd story of a dysfunctional family in a world of increasingly weird technology and its implications. Spooky, funny, surreal, spastic and brain warping, and shifting between space opera, near-future post cyberpunk, and hard science, this book has enough material for hundreds of stories and essays. It is made of fix-up stories but holds up thanks to the third section pulling the threads together. May not be to most peoples taste and you should probably read the rest of his oeuvre before attempting this one ( I gave up a half dozen times). If you do respond to it, check out his earlier unpublished (available online) novel Scratch Monkey, which is more macabre take on similar material.
Profile Image for nostalgebraist.
Author 4 books456 followers
August 12, 2016
Can Hype Machines Think?

Stopped at p. 289. This book has been haunting me for months, and it isn't even that long. The idea of finishing it began to seem like a chore several weeks ago, and at some point I realized that at my steadily decelarating (ha!) reading pace it would haunt me for months more if I didn't just stop.

This is clearly supposed to be a fun, bubbly, readable book. What turned it into such an albatross?

I guess the problem is a fundamental difference between my worldview and the worldview assumed by the book. I don't know if the book's view is Charles Stross' own view, or whether he's just playing around with it -- this is fiction, after all -- but the difference grated on me, page by page, sentence by sentence, until it ultimately ground me down.

This is another science fiction book that depicts the singularity, something I've talked about on here before. In that review I talked about how the singularity was originally supposed to be something that was impossible to depict in fiction, and that I thought that when writers tried to do it anyway they often failed to sufficiently disorient the reader. If you're going to depict something that's supposed to be beyond our comprehension, you'd better not be too comprehensible!

With Accelerando the problem is quite different. Stross is clearly working very hard to make his future continually disorienting. Barely a paragraph goes by without some new bit of gee-whiz terminology or the positing of some not-before-mentioned feat of engineering. The dialogue is filled with odd terms and assumptions and seems intended to make the reader think again and again, wait, you guys can do that? The intended impression is one of a future receding away from our comprehension at an accelerating rate.

But rather than steady accelerating future shock, my experience was more of a sudden, gigantic shock right at the beginning, followed by woozy indifference. The gigantic shock came from the fact that, even at the beginning, when Stross is merely showing us the day after tomorrow, his world seems fundamentally different from the one I live in. Specifically, it seems to be a world in which there are no truly difficult technical problems -- a world in which everyone talks in breezy, arrogant language full of colorful metaphors and vague, commingled ideas, and where this kind of talk somehow leads directly, as if by magic, to wonderful new technologies and a better world for everyone. Typical dialogue runs something like this:

It's the agalmic future. You're still locked into a pre-singularity economic model that thinks in terms of scarcity. Resource allocation isn't a problem anymore -- it's going to be over within a decade. The cosmos is flat in all directions, and we can borrow as much bandwidth as we need from the from the first universal bank of entropy!

That's from the first chapter. Granted, the character speaking here is supposed to be a bit of a wild-eyed singularity nut, and the fact that he ends up being right is supposed to be somewhat jarring, to the reader as much as to the other characters. But it's not just his specific ideas that are vindicated -- it's his whole way of thinking, or rather not quite thinking, but bouncing incoherently from one glitzy idea to the next like a Wired magazine writer on acid.

Stross' own prose sounds like this more and more as the book goes on, as do the other characters. A character is described as "a strange attractor within the chaotic phase-space of Italian politics," as though this meant something definite and readily comprehensible. Another "doesn't believe in scarcity or zero-sum games or competition -- his world is too fast and information dense to accommodate primate hierarchy games." Reference is incessantly made to the "state vectors" of people's brains, which appears to be nothing more than a way of making the word "state" sound more mathematical. This is how Stross describes the political environment of the mid-term future future: "globalism and tribalism have run to completion, diverging respectively into homogeneous interoperability and the Schwarzschild radius of insularity." At a later point he tells us, ominously, that "the human memesphere is coming alive."

The ultimate effect of all of this, compounded over hundreds of pages of dialogue and description, is the evocation of a world in which everything that matters can be discussed in these bullshit terms. Deliberately or not, Stross' book is fundamentally a kind of fantasy novel about the alternate universe conjured by breathless tech journalism and Silicon Valley hype. A world in which science gets done and technology gets made by people speaking this kind of language, and there is no deeper, more grounded level where the metaphors disappear and everything is hard data and math.

The core personality trait of virtually all the main characters -- and, really, of the book itself -- is a boundless confidence in their own hazy thinking, a complete lack of any tether to hard facts, to a wide harsh world outside this Wired magazine sci-fi headspace. The universe itself conforms to the contours of the characters' thought patterns, and the whole thing ends up feeling like some sort of Brave New World-like utopia/dystopia. Part and parcel of this is Stross' complete inability to write engaging human relationships: in this world whose fundamental metaphysics is made of buzzwords, it's hard to have subtle or uncertain shades of feeling that can't be captured in a tech metaphor or distilled into a snarky quip. (Fittingly enough, most of the sex in this buzzworld is BSDM, and pretty stunningly unsexy.)

I'll concede that Stross is relentlessly inventive, and that he appears to be pretty talented at this strange task he's set for himself. I've certainly never read anyone else like him. A friend on Facebook wrote that he'd "never read anything so gleefully wrapped up in its own cheerful balls-to-the-wall insanity," and I can easily imagine a slightly different version of myself finding that particular package very enjoyable. But to actual-me it was just grating -- page after page of fingernails on chalkboard, of annoying guy at party who won't shut up.

I guess it also makes me wonder about all the people who take the singularity seriously as a prediction about the real future. Do they find this book as grating as I do? A lot of the enthusiasm for the concept comes from people who work in the software industry; I've noticed a lot less of it among scientists, even though many of the important barriers between us and the singularity (e.g. understanding the brain better) are science challenges, not engineering challenges. Maybe the Accelerando mindset is simply the engineer's mindset taken beyond the limits of good sense -- a mindset formed by interacting with human creations that were made to be understood and combined. Metaphors (sometimes) work in that world because it was made by us, for us, and we're creatures of metaphor; they break on the more alien crags of the physical universe itself. Which might be one reason not to listen to people from the tech industry when they talk about the singularity, even when they sound really smart.

Well, I dunno. It's a thought.
Profile Image for Morgan McGuire.
Author 4 books19 followers
October 25, 2011
Many people recommended this highly to me. I found that the plot and ideas, as summarized on Wikipedia, were brilliant and mind-expanding.

The writing of the book was intolerable. I couldn't get past page 20. It was like reading Wired Magazine--Stross drops every current technology name and buzzword, apparently without a deep enough understanding to know which might have staying power 15 minutes into the future. When "slashdot", "open source", "bluetooth", "wimax", "state vector" and more terms all appeared on the same page, I felt like I was reading a Bruce Sterling novel. This guy's trying to impress or snow me with dumb vocabulary, rather than telling a story.

I hope he drops the silly vocabulary and trashy sci-fi sentence structure to expand his great ideas in the other books. More Arthur C. Clarke and less Bruce Sterling, please.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews807 followers
June 18, 2015
I finally understand why Charles Stross is so popular even though I often find his fiction borderline unreadable. I think he writes for a tech savvy readership and they love him for it. It's great when an author gives you credit for intelligence and understanding and never talk down to you. However, while I know my way around Windows and Android phones I don't consider myself tech savvy, certainly my understanding of programming is minimal. A lot of what Stross puts in his fiction goes right over my head.

This is my third Stross book, originally it was going to be the first as it is available as a free e-book under Creative Commons licence, Unfortunately on that first attempt I could not read more than 50 pages and had to give it up. I had better luck with his Singularity Sky which I quite enjoyed, not long after that I read The Atrocity Archives which I partially enjoyed, very much like my second attempt at Accelerando. I wanted to give Accelerando another try because it is a highly rated book among my friends at PrintSF online discussion group. While I don't rate the book quite so highly myself I kind of understand my peers' enthusiasm for it, there is a lot to admire in Accelerando even if the end result does not quite work for me.

Charles Stross has an immense imagination, he knows his science, and he has a sense of humour. In addition to all that his blogs and other online posts give the impression that he is a great guy, kind, friendly, modest, and enthusiastic about science and science fiction. The only snag is I find his prose style difficult to read. He employs a ton of technical jargon and neologism, most of which is never clarified I understand that he has numerous fans who do not have any problem comprehending his work, more power to them, I can only speak for myself.

Accelerando is a fix-up novel comprised of nine short stories about events shortly before the advent of the singularity, through the singularity and events post-singularity.There lies the weakness of the book as a novel for me, the nine stories do not bind together into one cohesive tale. The fix-up nature of the novel plays hell with the narrative rhythm, I find myself veering crazily back and forth between enjoying the book to feeling a bit bored and frustrated with it. The end result is on the positive side but not by a large margin. Practically every page is brimming with new ideas and concepts, sf readers who in this genre for the technological speculation is likely to have a field day. This is under the proviso that they are able to follow the author's technical expositions. I have to confess about 25% of these ideas flew right over my head, may be I just don't have enough bandwidth or storage space to cope with them. Be that as it may, the reading experience can be frustrating from time to time. Another complaint I have is with the characterization, most of the characters (except that weird cyber-cat) are of not worth caring about as Stross does not spend much time developing them, they just exist to drive the plot forward. I really do like the ideas that I was able to absorb though, especially those concerning posthumanism and Stross' speculation of what our race may eventually evolve or transcend into.

After being disappointed with The Atrocity Archives I kept telling myself that Charles Stross' sf books are just not for me, yet somehow his ideas always manage to entice me to pick up another one. I like Accelerando over all but I am also disappointed in it. The trouble is I am almost certain to read another one of his book in the near future and I probably won't enjoy it!

Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews664 followers
May 19, 2014
I am trying so hard, but I still haven't read a Charles Stross I like as much as I like his twitter feed, and that makes me frustrated. I want to fall in love with his books! This gets closer than the two I've previously read, but not quite there. It's a good book, but I'm still a little on the fence.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the recent changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Profile Image for Clouds.
228 reviews633 followers
December 8, 2013

Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.

On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.

While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).

2006 – Accelerando won the Locus Sci-Fi award, beating the Hugo winner, Spin .

Personally, I would have given the award to Simmons Olympus , the sequel to 2004’s winner, Ilium (one of my all-time favourite books). But I’m very glad the guys and gals voting for the Locus gave it to Accelerando – because that way it got onto my reading list.

After making the decision to read every Locus Sci-Fi winner, this is the book I started my quest with. It was recent, sounded interesting, was a new author for me, and was available from Amazon second hand for just 1p (plus delivery).

This book made me feel:

I would describe it as:
A charismatic geekazoid ideagasming into my optic nerves.

What I said at the time to my wife:
The main guy I was telling you about, well he’s now a flock of pigeons living in his grandson’s space habitat (orbiting Saturn) which is controlled by the AI who used to be an orangutan, his daughter’s ship and his cat.

It’s that kind of book. Like riding a rollercoaster through a technology museum then being quizzed about the exhibits.

It throws a lot of information at you, opens up a lot of different angles and doesn’t explain much. Then it lurches off down one of these angles into the future and does it again. While you’re trying to figure out what’s happening this time, you’re also trying to figure out which details were relevant from the last chapter to get you here. Then we lurch forward again and a pattern emerges – we’re trying to look at the present, then at the past for how the hell we got here, then to the future for where we’re going next. Each lurch gets more extreme, accelerating the profound post-singularity changes on individuals and society.

It’s a fascinating experience with a wonderful, free-wheeling spirit.

But it lacks heart. By surfing the wave of progress, the characters in Accelerando are moving further and further away from traditional norms, and as such the emotional hooks they exert upon the reader are increasingly abstract and tenuous. It’s a brilliant thought-experiment, but lacking in soul.

Delighted to give it 4 stars – but quite firm that it doesn’t deserve 5.

After this I read: Rainbows End
Profile Image for Lightreads.
641 reviews534 followers
December 15, 2009
Hard SF. Three generations of an entrepreneurial family invent and scheme and survive the singularity, the point where artificial intelligence power bypasses old-fashioned organic brains, and humans first augment themselves, then disassemble the planets to build a solar-system wide computer and become something else entirely.

What a disappointment. I can forgive unapproachable characters in hard SF, and frequently have. I tried hard to cut some slack, because the point of the book is the screamingly insane pace of progress and just how fast and how far we would change into something entirely different. But indeed, I did have the revelation, around the three-quarter mark, that not only didn't I care whether any of our protagonists permanently bit it or not, but the supposedly precarious fate of the entire human race also made me yawn copiously.

But when I forgive that failing in hard SF it's because the big ideas are awesome enough. And these ideas were big, sure, all intergalactic packet-switched router systems and AI cats and what all. But there was something so . . . smug? Self-involved? I can't really put my finger on it, except that a lot of this book was so in-jokey to such a specific stripe of internet-age scifi geekery that it tipped over from pleasing into masturbatory. Something like that.

Does Stross have anything better to offer?
Profile Image for Brainycat.
157 reviews65 followers
July 26, 2010
This book is fantastic hard SciFi in the emergent post-human genre. From what I can gather, this book has done for post-humanism what Neuromancer did for cyberpunk. It's a touch dry in some places and the characters are a bit clunky, but I feel Charles is most interested in describing the "singularity" rather than telling a traditional story.

Post-humanist writing is obsessed with the concept of "singularity" - a point at which the old ways of doing things (relying on grey matter and the associated sensory organs and limbic systems) is replaced by virtual people and artificial realities. I don't understand this fascination with the point of the eschaton. If humanity survives long enough to get to a point where we can spin off various copies of ourselves to process information in different, simultaneous timelines, wouldn't that mean that the beginning of the next phase of human development is marked by The Great Multiplicity?

That rant aside, Accelerando was a great read, as I am a hardcore geek who believes math is entertaining and science tells the greatest stories of all, and I have a background in information technology. Without at least a cursory understanding of astrophysics, calculus and computing technology this book would quickly bog down into a lot of technobabble. Unlike some of the other classic SciFi books, Charles doesn't show how the technology works, he explains it then shows what it's like to live with it.

The story is engaging. There are three parts to the book, and each section has it's own conflicts and resolutions, and each could stand alone as a novella. The book follows the progression of a finite set of characters, who through copying themselves into different hardware each live out alternate timelines, and these copies occasionally intersect with themselves and other characters. This all takes place over the better part of a century, when the computing power of the human race explodes exponentially at ever shortening durations, causing a total phase shift in what it means to be human and how people view the universe and humanity's place in it.

Charle's ability to rationally explain how that could happen, and make the science work, is how this book gets five stars. I couldn't put this book down once the acceleration started; it was too fascinating to read his theories on how the post in post-humanism could come about.

The character-driven part of the story is the weakest part of the book. I would have liked to see the pressures and generational divides play out a more finesse. There is a lot of room for the human story to be told in this book, but it falls to the side for the sake of technologie's story.

I truly enjoyed this book, because I'm a hardcore nerd. I don't forsee their being a lot of attraction outside of nerdville for this book. If you like your scifi hard as nanospun diamond, however, I can't recommend this book enough.
229 reviews5 followers
April 12, 2012
In the future, all of Europe will speak English as if they were plucked straight from an episode of 'Allo 'Allo. The French are addicted to "mais oui". The Germans can't without basic errors of grammar related to their own language structure talk. And Russian cannot use definite or indefinite article or plural. Even AI. Hallo. My name Boris. It's like Stross had never met a real foreigner before writing Accelerando.

But aside from the grating dialog Stross paints a wonderful picture of a world stretching way into our future, past even the singularity. It's a world I'd like to live in, but it's insanely complicated. Unlike other authors dealing with similar subject material, like Richard Morgan, Stross eschews rules to imagine an anarchic future where anything goes. This leads to some bizarre and confusing story lines as we live through four generations of the same family, from freewheeling Manfred, to his great grandson, which is basically him reincarnated (and who meets himself). There's a god-cat tying the whole thing together. If that makes any sense.

It's fantastically imaginative. But Stross doesn't much help the reader to understand what the hell is going on in this glorious mess. At times it feels like he is deliberately trying to confuse the reader, like insisting on measuring time in seconds instead of days, weeks and years. With a world that stretches more centuries than even the author can seem to remember, it's tough keeping a chronological understanding of the world when it's referenced in gigaseconds.

If you are into strung out sci-fi that's as crazy as Douglas Adams but nowhere near as funny, and can ignore the awful dialog, then you could enjoy this book if you concentrate really hard. It's not light reading material by any means.
Profile Image for Robert.
817 reviews44 followers
July 21, 2013
This book starts off with a headache inducing deluge of acronyms and technogadgetideas, some of which are well known realities now. It's something that might be familiar to readers of some other Stross books, for instance the ones set in a near future Scotland e.g. Halting State. A geek-guru makes a living from freebies given by grateful companies he puts in touch with other grateful companies in order to realise whatever mad idea he's come up with next.

The future overtakes even him, though, and soon most people aren't actually people, they're computer simulations - but the simulated people are being made redundant by self aware financial products and corporations. Where next? The edge of the solar system - then beyond.

The latter two thirds of more traditional SF appealed to me much more than the first third of techno-mag geekery but that probably means I'm already future shocked, like the older characters in the book. There's some crazy extrapolation on display - technology, economics, interstellar travel and no-one else I know of is really doing this kind of thing at all, let alone as well. It's a step beyond cyber-punk, for people who were born playing with a mobile phone.

The ending of this book is a disappointment, but I can't explain why without a massive spoiler. Instead I like to remember that the first artificial intelligence was a bunch of lobsters' brains mapped and simulated and strapped together by a group of Russian techno-spies...
Profile Image for John.
282 reviews65 followers
May 17, 2009
This book will short circuit your geek meter: a kind of epic chronicling three generations of a pretty messed up family through humanity's advance from a near future not too much unlike our own to a totally post-human universe. Although I found the story and characters to be a little wanting at times, these elements often felt like mannequins anyway, putting human form on the tsunami of ideas Stross lays out. If that doesn't sound fascinating to you, this ain't the book for you - I think I added one or two more stars to my review simply because of the education I received reading it: after damn near every paragraph I would have to put the book down and look something up on wikipedia. A must for true geeks; not so much for everyone else....
Profile Image for Richard.
1,147 reviews1,043 followers
March 14, 2019
A 3 1/2 star book, downgraded to three because Stross ultimately doesn’t deliver much more than a caffeinated theme park ride of the singularity.

I doubt that Accelerando will ever be seen in quite the same way as the early cyberpunk books, but it is certainly similar in its hyperkinetic and chaotic creativity. Stross tosses in a billion and one tasty tidbits of near-future circum-singularity and presses the “Will it Blend?” button.

And, as one would predict, the result is a very intriguing if chunky mess.

For those that aren’t geek-positive, a crucial definition is in order:
A singularity is another name for a black hole: a stellar object so massive that its own gravity compresses it to such density that it, in some sense, “breaks” time and space. Like “infinity”, it is something about which we cannot know. The Technological Singularity (aka “Rapture of the Geeks”, cf. wikipedia) is a metaphorically similar event postulated to be in, perhaps, our somewhat near future. The idea is that we will eventually create artificial intelligence that is beyond our own capabilities, which will then create its own successor (or upgrade itself). Repeat this process, and the result is an exponentially accelerating (ergo, the title) intelligence that quickly grows beyond our control or even our ability to comprehend. We cannot predict anything about our future beyond the emergence of that intelligence: we may be pets or pests.
Accelerando is about the lives of a few individuals just before, during, and for some time after that event.

The nature of the drama means the book is more geeky than even most scifi. But if you can handle the technobabble (and much of it can be elided), this book does a good job of communicating how confusing such an event could easily be. Since these memes will inevitably leak into our nerd-friendly pop culture, it might be an good book for anyone that wants to keep up with the zeitgeist.

And the zeitgeist is important to this book, especially in the early chapters: much of the melodrama is provided by the interactions of rock-star nerds. Stross was obviously conceptualizing the short stories this book came from during the Dot Com boom. The world he depicts is close enough to what seems to be on our horizon that you can almost taste it.

This is both strength and weakness. The opening chapters flirt so closely with plausibility that it pulls the reader in, giving credence to the world he is creating.

But a kind of Zeitgeistian Heisenberg principle is also at work here: the tighter he tries to nail the mood of the time, the more suspect is the trajectory out of that time. Nothing new: the cyberpunk novels of the mid- and late-80s are so infused with the excitement and anxieties of those times that they can be hard to swallow: samurai and keiretsu, gated communities, virtual reality and corporations supplanting governments — where are they now? Similarly, examine much of the scifi of the late sixties and early seventies and it’s all about sex, drugs and the man untrustworthy authority figures.

In twenty years folks will shake their heads at Accelerando and wonder at our obsession with computer technology. He even has his characters examining data from distant galaxies and wondering whether mega-lightyear-spanning civilizations (Kardashev level II or III) are attempting a side-channel timing attack on the virtual machine the universe is being “run” on. (I mean, c’mon: a timing attack? From inside the VM?) Okay, you don’t actually need to understand any of that jargon; it just means that in order to sustain his extraordinarily high throughput of geek-speak, Stross has to apply human-comprehensible attributes to entities that really should have grown beyond them. [Snide aside: if everyone prayed at once, would that be a DDoS attack on God?]

But ultimately what kicks this book from four stars down to three is that he doesn’t even sensibly apply his own posthuman cognitive technology.

By the middle of the book humans have the ability to instantiate copies of themselves as software to perform menial cognitive tasks, after which those “ghosts” are reintegrated. Shortly thereafter, people can upload themselves completely, leaving the body behind or letting it diverge as a separate individual.

Obviously, with that level of control, there would be no excuse for people to be blindsided by their own subconscious. Any intelligent person would have side-band agents monitoring their neurology (simulated or real); while they might still get irritated at others, for example, they should be able to be explicitly and consciously informed of that irritation before it even propagates to the autonomous nervous system. Losing one’s temper should become an astonishingly rare event among posthuman adults. Yet several of Stross’ central characters are members of a seriously dysfunctional family who are forever angry with one another. While it is easy to imagine posthumans still getting emotional, their AI-mediated self-awareness should dramatically change the experience and processing of affective state.

Accelerando is a good book, but not a great one. However, it does a decent job of illuminating the singularity, a concept that will probably continue to grow in cultural importance, and thus is recommended higher than its fundamental quality would indicate.
Profile Image for Rob.
Author 2 books382 followers
February 25, 2009
I tried reading the PDF (found at [http://www.accelerando.org/]) of this last year and didn't get very far. However, once I held the book in my hands, I seemed to fly through it. At first.

Stross seems to share some of the literary memenome as Stephenson and Doctorow. The prose style (especially early on in the text) felt a bit like Snow Crash ; those vivid bits of lurid ephemera, that nearly comic book pacing, every tawdry details competing for your attention right alongside the critical core. And like Cory Doctorow on crystal meth, every ten pages bombards you with some prosaically twisted huge new idea (i.e., what would Islamic scholars have to say about bacon built molecule-by-molecule by nanobots instead of cut from a pig?)

Accelerando takes us on a wild ride through a technologically force-fed, self-propelled post-evolutionary end-stage of humanity. And Stross isn't afraid to "go there" with any its implications. Overall, not the "wow!" novel I'd heard it would be but still an enjoyable piece of speculative fiction with some razor sharp wit.

Full version: [http://blog.founddrama.net/2007/09/ac...]
Profile Image for Robert.
101 reviews
January 14, 2015
I heard good things about this book, but I just could not finish it. The characters and plot are thin and the prose is loaded to the gills with jargon, much of it not even very good.

For instance, at a bar early in the book, the main character (of the first story), Manfred Macx, finds "...one of the hipper floaters has planted a contact bug on it, and the vCards of all the personal network owners who've have visited the bar in the past three hours are queuing up for attention. The air is full of ultrawideband chatter, WiMAX and 'tooth both, as he speed-scrolls through the dizzying list of cached keys in search of one particular name." (BTW, that's three technologies he's awkwardly name-dropped here: vCards, an electronic business card alternative which few seem to use in my experience; WiMAX, which became Sprint's sub-par version of 4G that's basically dying and never really went anywhere; and Bluetooth, which no one refers to as "tooth.")

With little context, he throws out sentences like this, "According to the more conservative cosmologists, an alien superpower - maybe a collective of Kardashev Type Three galaxy-spanning civilizations - is running a timing channel attack on the computational ultrastructure of space-time itself, trying to break through to whatever's underneath."

Or dialogue like this: "I've got a team of my guys doing some prototyping using FabLab hardware, and I think we can probably build it. The cargo-cult aspect puts a new spin on the old Lunar von Neumann factory idea, but Bingo and Marek say they think it should work until we can bootstrap all the way to a native nanolithography ecology: we run the whole thing from Earth as a training lab and ship up the parts that are too difficult to make on-site as we learn how to do it properly. We use FPGAs for all critical electronics and keep it parsimonious - you're right about it buying us the self-replicating factory a few years ahead of the robotics curve. But I'm wondering about on-site intelligence."

Not that those two examples are perfect (they're just what I had easily at hand), but I get the feeling that he's trying to baffle the reader with BS. His jargon-laden prose is decipherable, but not worth the effort to bother doing so. It in many ways reminds me of Grant Morrison in the worst possible way.

All of this is projected upon a universe that, frankly, I didn't really buy. Stross somehow has characters claim they're in a post-scarcity world in the near future (the "agalmic economy," where Macx is a "venture altruist"), despite the fact that he can't really justify it at all with what he's showing us. I never really bought that Macx wouldn't be a dead broke and homeless dreamer, much less someone who's constantly coming up with ideas so radically genius that he can choose to "make someone rich" at a whim.

Every time I came back to the book, I didn't find myself interested in the plot so much as annoyed. It just wasn't working for me.

That said, a lot of people clearly have felt otherwise (62% of the reviews on Amazon are positive). What I'd recommend is to check out the author's site, where he offers the book legally for free. See what you think of it. If you like it and/or want it in print, consider supporting the author by buying the book.
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,684 reviews347 followers
July 9, 2019
Very cool book, highly recommended for Stross and hard-SF fans. Stands up pretty well to reread -- some of the early, dopier Manfred Macx stuff drags a bit. Available as a FREE ebook from the author, http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-...

Here are Stross's story notes, from 2013, "roughly the year in which Accelerando was set, when I began writing "Lobsters" on a rainy day in 1998." SPOILER WARNING: you probably shouldn't read these notes before you read the book.
"Accelerando" as a whole doesn't seem to be coming true, and a good thing too. In the background of what looks like a Panglossian techno-optimist novel, horrible things are happening. Most of humanity is wiped out, then arbitrarily resurrected in mutilated form by the Vile Offspring. Capitalism eats everything, then the logic of competition pushes it so far that merely human entities can no longer compete: we're a fat, slow-moving, tasty resource -- like the dodo. Our narrative perspective, Aineko, is not a talking cat: it's a vastly superintelligent AI, coolly calculating, that has worked out that human beings are more easily manipulated if they think they're dealing with a furry toy. The cat body is a sock puppet wielded by an abusive monster. ..." http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-...

Required reading for Accelerando fans.

[edited from a 2006 USENET post]
I'll comment on some aspects of Adam Roberts' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Ro... interesting but remarkably obtuse review of Accelerando, http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/nonfict...

"...the baseline aesthetic question as to whether the reader finds passages such as the following bearable or unbearable:

'Rita flicks a location-cached idea at him and he takes it cautiously, spawning a couple of specialized Turing Oracles to check it for halting states. It seems to be some kind of optic lobe hack that accesses a collaborative database of eigenfaces, with some sort of side interface to Broca's region.'

The problem here is not that these sentences don't parse (they do, with a bit of work); and not that they wholly lack tone (theirs is a rather nerdy and constipated tone, but nonetheless). The problem is just that they strike me as really *ugly*..."

Heh. The English professor confronts the nerd! Speaking as a nerd, in a novel by, for and about nerds, it would be surprising, and counterproductive, for the characters to speak like English professors.

But I have to admire the cut direct: "a rather nerdy and constipated tone."

Roberts goes on to criticize "A spastic lurchiness to the overall narrative arc." I love it. Speaking as one who enjoys reading both Roberts and Stross, it's clear that Roberts has little or no clue to the inner workings of geek culture.
Profile Image for Gary Ballard.
Author 21 books59 followers
January 22, 2011
Charles Stross is more intelligent than me.

His intelligence oozes through the book on every page, but unfortunately intelligence is not the only quality needed to make a book entertaining. I won't rehash the plot as it's available above. Suffice it to say that this is Stross' concept of humanity's movements from a post-cyberpunk, connected reality through transhumanism into post-humanism, and our stumbling attempts to connect with alien intelligences as well as deal with the increasing hostility between transhumans and posthumans. The meta narrative, a accelerating rush towards the 'singularity' of humanity transcending its fleshy bonds into a pure intelligence, is an intriguing one, especially when that rush runs headlong into alien intelligences that have evolved along similar paths.

Unfortunately, the narrative lacks that most important of human qualities, characters the reader can actually care about. The most interesting character is the first we meet, Manfred Macx, and he spends half the book out of frame. The characters that are left, from his domineering ex-wife, to the daughter he has hardly ever seen in the flesh, to various copies of that daughter's intelligence along with other consciousness astronauts, are all either boring, one-dimensional or flatly annoying. I could forgive the lack of interesting characters if the meta narrative itself took center stage, but it is often lost.

SPOILER: The final chapter is especially disappointing in terms of this meta narrative. Finding out that the entire arc has been manipulated by the artificial cat cum artificial intelligence Aineko leaves the meta narrative about meeting post-singularity alien intelligences dangling in space. Were it a story about interesting characters, this ending might not have galled me so much. But with such uninteresting characters, the ending feels not only anticlimactic, it's downright irritating.

Finally, Stross' writing style grates. I feel he too often wanders into meandering discussions about posthumanism, chock full of buzzwords lacking context and overwrought terms that left me frankly confused. His continual use of such words as "gigaseconds" instead of months or days or years threw me right out of the narrative. I wanted to like it, and I certainly wanted more out of the story. It's not a terrible book, but not one I can recommend.
Profile Image for Sara Mazzoni.
422 reviews117 followers
June 24, 2018
Fantascienza post del 2005: post cyberpunk e post umana; ha tutto: il viaggio spaziale, il cyberspazio, la realtà aumentata; il transumano e gli innesti cyborg; e ancora: le mutazioni sociali, l’upload delle menti nella rete, l’immortalità; e poi: la singolarità tecnologica, i postumani e gli alieni. Ci sono pure le aragoste digitalizzate in fuga dal sistema solare e una diabolica A.I. felina, che ricorda il Gatto del Cheshire. Nonostante l’ironia, non è una fantascienza umoristica: il divertimento è sempre presente, ma non con intenti parodistici.

Le unità narrative sono una via di mezzo tra veri e propri capitoli e racconti autoconclusivi che portano avanti anche una narrazione orizzontale. Inizialmente i singoli capitoli furono pubblicati a puntate su Asimov’s Science Fiction tra il 2001 e il 2004, e sviluppati in romanzo in un secondo momento.

Accelerando si trova dalle parti della fantascienza hard, soprattutto in virtù di un linguaggio ardito e sperimentale, che può dare filo da torcere al lettore. La scrittura di Charles Stross è spericolata, fuori da certi standard di immediatezza piatta a cui il romanzo di genere spesso si appella – a volte anche con risultati buoni. Lo stile esagerato e funambolico di Stross riproduce l’overdose d’informazione vissuta dai suoi personaggi, proiettando il lettore nell’universo del libro. Ogni tanto oltrepassa la misura e si sbrodola nel technobabble. Qualche capitolo stempera la tensione, e nel complesso non mi sarebbe dispiaciuto se il libro avesse avuto un centinaio di pagine in meno.

Oltre alle visioni fantascientifiche, è molto interessante la costruzione della rete di rapporti familiari inventata da Stross, con la sua famiglia disfunzionale galattica e aumentata. Ogni personaggio è amabile e al tempo stesso caratterizzato dalle sue nevrosi, e i rapporti tra parenti sono affettuosi e frustranti come solo la miglior letteratura sa raccontare.

Stross è un bravo scrittore, è un peccato che siano così pochi i suoi romanzi tradotti nella nostra lingua. Curiosità: la parola italiana “accelerando” – riferita alla singolarità, ma anche al superamento del capitalismo attraverso la tecnologia – è il titolo originale di questo libro.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,233 reviews1,046 followers
November 30, 2011
"From the book itself:

"An old-fashioned book, covering 3 generations, living through interesting times... A work of postmodern history, the incoherent school at that - how do you document people who fork their identities at random, spend years dead before reappearing on the stage, and have arguments with their own relativistically preserved other copy? ... I thought that perhaps as a narrative hook I'd make the offstage viewpoint that of the family's robot cat."

Yep. That about sums it up.
(That quote is not from the blurb, btw, but from within the text.)

It's an ambitious book - but, overall, an annoying one. It's so self-consciously uber-hip, saturated with today's geek-speak. Although it aims to be a sort of "accelerated future-history," it already feels dated. The story - such as it is - really takes a back seat to the concepts - which could be OK, except that the concepts are really quite unbelievable, to the point of being uninteresting.
Profile Image for Brent.
355 reviews147 followers
February 6, 2021
The The Fractal Prince meets The Ware Tetralogy. There is a lot going on in these pages.

Everyone's mileage is going to vary but for me, BDSM is a deal-breaker. This story would have succeeded just fine without it and it limits the recommendation I can give for the book.

Which is sad because this is the first Stross book I didn't absolutely love.
Profile Image for Tama Wise.
Author 2 books8 followers
September 13, 2007
Not a good sign of things really. I was doing so well at sticking to books when I didn't work in a library. Now that I do, I see so many other interesting books.

Finishing this book was hampered in a great part by the language of this book. I'd consider this a 'modern cyberpunk', in that it takes into account things like wireless network and the like. However, the story and characters were so buried in technobable and politico-socio speak that for the most part I was lost in skimming.

The same sort of language is true for Gibson, but in this book I just found it a bit smarmy and offputting. I never truely lost myself in the world that might be of this book.

So, not finished.
Profile Image for Andreas.
482 reviews139 followers
March 1, 2017
A book full of futuristic ideas which superpose content and characters. Sometimes, it reads more like a non-fiction book than a story. The author's staccato of futuristic terms will probably be hard for most readers, a Bruce Sterling on crack, similar in style to Hannu Rajaniemi.
I found the concept of exponentially accelerating development very convincing: The novel was published 10 years ago. In that decade, technologies developed and spread out that nobody really believed in then: Natural language processing, machine learning autonomous cars, robotics, just to name a few. That kind of acceleration is visible right now. People in general can only extrapolate linearly, they don't grog an exponential development; The Second Machine Age : Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies names that acceleration as "living in the second half of the chess-board".
Yes, the time-frame of the novel seems a little rough - uploading minds or reaching singularity within only a couple of years from now on seems as unbelievable as converting the planets of our solar system into a single computronium within a hundred years. In this, the author succeeds: exponential acceleration taken to extremes, invoking scepticism.

Sadly, the story really went flat in the last third of the novel, the ending in the style of a framing story returning to the novel's start was a bit uninteresting.
In summary, read this if you like concepts and cats.
Profile Image for Buck.
606 reviews31 followers
January 13, 2016
Accelerando is a non-linear narration, a stream of consciousness that flows like a flooded river filled with debris in which we are stuck. The detritus bobs and swirls, shifts and changes as we go. There is no plot that I was able to discern, not even an intelligible story line. The characters are hardly characters, but names that float amongst the flotsam in various forms - human, AI, digital constructs, ghosts, lobsters, you-name-it.

Cyberpunk devotees may enjoy Stross's tongue-in-cheekiness, but most of it went over my head, along with tons of other unidentifiable wreckage. It is like the cyber dream of a sentient non-organic being (S.N.O.B.) with a financial element. There are frequent references to Economics 2.0. At one point, I grabbed desperately for a branch, a life ring, anything to get me out of here, but then I realized that I was pretty far along, so I might as well coast to the end to see if anything ever happens. Nothing does.

I hadn't read Charles Stross before. Unlikely to read him again soon.
Profile Image for Consuelo.
564 reviews68 followers
April 16, 2020
Una ciencia ficción un tanto especial, diría yo, pero llena de sentido de la maravilla, de ideas que te hacen explotar la cabeza y todo tratado con un sentido del humor muy sutil. Es el primer libro que leo de Stross y no será el último.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,954 reviews1,292 followers
July 19, 2013
We’ve just entered the tail end of 2013, fast approaching the middle of decade the second of the twenty-first century. Few of the changes Charles Stross lays out in this book have come to pass, which isn’t surprising. Many of them are still possible within our lifetime, though, which is interesting.

I’ve felt rather burnt out when it comes to posthuman SF ever since my last foray into the subgenre. Postsingular just left me feeling quite cynical about the potential for such stories. I had an epiphany that I swore, in my hubris, I would never experience. Others wiser than me in the ways of posthumanism have written about it before, and I should have listened. But I was too enchanted by the siren song of nanotechnology, mind uploads, and strong AI. I had been lucky, in that I had read several great posthuman stories and very few poor ones. As I read more widely, I began to understand the conundrum that many science-fiction writers face.

Stross addresses this problem in an essay that, I believe, made it into the afterword of my edition of Scratch Monkey (I don’t have my copy at the moment, so I can’t double-check, and I don’t know if it’s available online somewhere). He remarks that, after a certain point, nanotechnology essentially becomes magic in a Clarkian, sufficiently-advanced kind of way. It’s perhaps a corollary to that adage: sufficiently advanced technology can let you escape any plot hole. (This is particularly evident in episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.) Once you have the ability to manipulate matter at the subatomic and quantum levels, you are essentially a wizard. This makes you very powerful, and thus from a story perspective, somewhat uninteresting. How do you threaten your protagonist when the answer to everything is, "Nanotechnology!"?

Then there’s the other side of the posthuman coin: the Singularity. Now, I don’t necessarily believe the Singularity will happen (and I think that is rather beside the point), nor do I particularly agree with the concept that the Singularity is a boring or unrealistically utopian vision of the future. It’s a mistake to refer to the Singularity in earnest as the Rapture of the Nerds, and Singularitarians who remain convinced that the Singularity will bring about the eternal prosperity of a post-scarcity economy are kidding themselves. The whole point of the Singularity is that it is a massive paradigm shift in the way humans relate to the world, to the extent that we cannot predict what society will be like after it occurs. No one mentioned the shift would make the world perfect. It’s entirely possible the Singularity could leave humanity worse off, endangered or extinct, particularly if it involves a strong AI.

This is the path that Accelerando treads. Even though Stross’ blithe use of nanotechnology frustrates me, his grounded notions of what a Singularity could mean for the human species are very appealing. This is a posthuman novel that is fun and optimistic in one sense but also twisted and dark in another. In short, it’s a posthuman novel for the postmodern age. It has flaws—particularly, I think, because of its nine-part novella-like structure—but it still packs enough punch to make it worth reading.

Accelerando, as the title implies, aptly demonstrates how certain technological innovations within the next few decades could combine to create a snowballing effect of accelerated change—a rolling Singularity, if you will, with no clear beginning or end. To name a few such innovations: simulation of consciousness, to be followed by mind uploading; weak AI based on primitive neural networks; easier and more reliable cryptography becoming tied to one’s identity, which will in turn become distributed through nanotechnology and wearable computers on one’s person. Stross demonstrates how, over the course of a single lifetime, so much can change that the world—and humanity—becomes unrecognizable.

As I said before, I’m not too impressed by the book’s near-future setting (at least for the first part) or some of Stross’ specific predictions. I’m not one to complain when an author gets such predictions wrong, but I’m wondering what motivated Stross to make such predictions about a world only twenty years from the time he was writing. Did it really seem like we would advance to that point by then? Or was it just a convenient length of time?

The specifics, and indeed the speed at which these changes and innovations occur, are immaterial to the actual point of the book. Even if it took longer for everything that happens in Accelerando to happen, the result is still the same: Earth being disassembled for computing power by the "Vile Offspring" of humanity.

Because that is the paradox of posthumanism. By definition, we cannot become posthuman until we give up that which makes us human. But if we don’t, and we elect to remain human (or even mostly human), we risk being left behind in the cognitive arms-race, so to speak, of self-enhancement. Having reached the point where we effectively control our own evolution, it is difficult for us not to walk down that path. Stross makes some interesting observations about some of the "most logical end points" for such evolutionary decisions.

It might be difficult for some people to comprehend, this idea that we would disassemble moons and entire planets for use in computing. That’s a byproduct of the public misconception of what computers are—all silicon and electrons whizzing about microprocessing units. Even though I’m aware of some of the deeper theories that underpin the subject, the various Turing this-and-thats, I admit that a lot of the jargon used in this book is beyond me. However, if you can work past this obstacle to understand that, yes, hungry posthuman intelligences will probably disassemble some or all of our solar system, then you start to realize how humanity as we know it might be threatened. If we’re not careful, we could build, design, and simulate ourselves to death.

And then there’s the cat, Aineko. It isn’t a cat so much as an AI in a cat’s body. It has become self-aware and started modifying its own programming. It has also discovered that it can manipulate humans, particularly by using its physical form’s adorable nature to catch them off guard. At the beginning, Aineko is an ally, then a trickster, and finally a thorn in the characters’ side. By the end, with its true power and nature more apparent, we can see that it has been manipulating the characters for the entire time. Once again, Stross points out that any AI, whether created by us or an accidental amalgamation of algorithms, is not necessarily going to be our friend. At worst it will be Skynet; at best it will be a helpful, God-like protector (as if we could trust it). But it will probably be like Aineko or the Vile Offspring, two examples of "amoral" and disinterested intelligences who will use humanity if it suits their purposes or ignore it as long as humanity isn’t in the way.

With Accelerando, Stross plays with a lot of high-concept ideas about the future. Not all of them will come to pass, but some of them might, if we make it long enough. Designer babies are on the way, and with Europe and the United States both investigating the secrets of consciousness, mind simulation and uploading remains a possibility for now. I’m not in love with the story that Stross tells with these concepts. The characters aren’t great—I never really sympathized with any of them, and I found the behaviour between Manfred and Pamela practically bizarre and inexplicable, shenanigans with AI cats notwithstanding. And this is by no means a "feel good" flick that will leave you burgeoning with hope for the future of the human species. But I think it has restored some of my faith in Singularity-driven posthuman fiction. It’s demonstrated that the Singularity by no means removes the obstacles facing our survival as a species. The problems we currently face might seem daunting, but we can probably overcome them. And then we’ll face more.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Susan.
116 reviews12 followers
December 15, 2008
If I were to outline the plot of this novel, it would look like the most brilliant epic on the the Singularity that has ever been written. And, damn it, that's exactly what it should have been. This is my second book by Charles Stross, and I am concluding that his strong points are quippy prose and great ideas, and his weakness is story.

He may have shot himself down by his raw audacity. This is supposed to be a novel about the Singularity as it is happening. For those of you less into science fiction lore, the Singularity is sf's attempt to reconcile the path of accelerating change (cultural and technological) that the human race has found itself on for at least the last century. Exponentially accelerating change isn't sustainable. Either something is going to cause us to slow down, or eventually we become... something else. Something that couldn't possibly be understood or predicted by the us that exists now. Usually the Singularity is a handwave in some far-future history that doesn't look anything like what we look like now. Charting mankind's path THROUGH the Singularity is definitely the subject of a science fiction epic. And without a doubt, this book has the ideas to pull it off. It just doesn't have the storytelling.

So, this book charts the course of the Singularity through the lives of 3.5 generations of a family in essentially three acts and an epilogue. 50 pages into Act 1, I was riveted and couldn't put it down. Somewhere in Act 2, he lost me.

As an example of what I mean about Stross not having the chops to tell this story, let's talk about economics. This book is FULL of economic terms. Stross clearly is building a world where the effect of technology on economics is crucial to our transformation into a post-Singularity people. This makes a lot of sense, and at first I loved the hard economics SF as a contrast to hard technological SF. So, in Act 1, our hero sits down with another character and discusses the abolition of scarcity. And I thought, "Yeah! Go there! What kind of world will you build with no scarcity?"

Then, not only does he never go anywhere with that, but in Act 2 we race across the galaxy to find an alien civilization with... SCARCITY-BASED ECONOMICS! Sure, you could have saved the story by having the characters think about this, by perhaps postulating that scarcity itself can't be eliminated, only redefined. There are a lot of places you could go with this, and Stross not only fails to go there, he never even seems to notice that he's talking in circles. After a while, every time he brings up economics, it sounds like, "Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat! No, not the rabbit I just pulled out of my hat. This is a different rabbit."

He talks constantly about Economics 2.0, but it sounds exactly like Economics 1.0 with more processing power and more complicated AI-driven computer models. Well, I can predict that from here. I don't need a Singularity. Why can't he come up with a new set of economic laws that human beings right now would never think of?

Aye, there's the rub.

And that's not even going into his bizarre fetish for nonsensical lawsuits in a legal system with remarkably consistent behavior over time. Or the nonsequitur use of 20th century media references and slang. He seems to go back to these things like old friends, making the world he's building seem a whole lot less changed than he wants you to believe.

The thing is, Stross talking himself into a corner on economics and law is a side show to the big show. You could have used a lot less detail, sounded like you knew what you were talking about, and moved the plot forward just fine. I almost wish a different storyteller could take his plot outline and write a different story. Or maybe what he needed was a better editor -- did nobody read through and notice? The ideas were so good. The arc was so good. As it is, I'm glad I finished it, but I don't think I'm recommending it.
Profile Image for prcardi.
538 reviews76 followers
January 17, 2020
Storyline: 2/5
Characters: 3/5
Writing Style: 4/5
World: 5/5

Accelerando gets one’s attention. It does not do so pleasantly, but it would be foolhardy to deny that Stross accomplished something here. There is a place for books like this; that place is in the canon. Books like this meet the demands of significance even if not the demands of enjoyment. Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed is one such book. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars is another. Accelerando, like those, establishes a new standard against which other books dealing with similar themes must be measured against. If one aspires to pen a new science fiction work on utopian political ideologies, they need to have read and to respond to Le Guin. If you are going to be the new name for space colonization, you will have to explain your divergences from Robinson. Now, if one is going to write about the singularity and post-humanism, Accelerando is the new reference point. Not that Stross has penned the first post-human sci fi novel, any more than Le Guin or Robinson had founded leftist politics or the idea of humans on Mars. What these canonical books provide is a leap beyond their peers in thoroughness. They take their topic seriously, making the changes, decisions, and details the bulk of the story. As a result, Accelerando is sometimes overbearing; it is saturated to a burdensome degree. Stross takes us to a future – a radically envisioned and described future – showing us what its citizens would think, how they would behave, and how it must be described. It is alien. The writing is packed with descriptions that must be puzzled through. Odd proper nouns throughout, random pop culture intermittent, science fiction ideas galore, scientific terminology appending, and bizarre juxtapositions a regular. The world, in Stross’s vision, has changed. It makes for an impressive but wearisome read. But it works. Stross builds a believably real future, one that follows from the rapid technological changes. Not every descriptor is comprehensible nor every sentence clear, but the picture, for those who are patient, emerges. Ultimately, the confusion is the point - the very concept of the singularity is that technological progress proceeds so rapidly as to become incomprehensible to us. It is probably not the future readers want nor the writing style that most enjoy, but it is the kind of future and kind of style that is required to take seriously these science fiction themes.

There is plenty to complain about in the book as well. Not simply the downside of a choice or the undesirable elements of a trade-off, but simply badly written elements that have to be excused. Because the book was more about the picture of the future than an adventure in it, the dramatic and plotting elements can only charitably be called “passable.” Those already worn down by the writing style might not be so charitable. Stross also uses the flexibility inherent in the future to make leaps and connections that are not obvious, pushing for something more like linear distance than density. A lot of interesting questions are raised here; a lot of possible technological plotholes are simply willed away. This was much more of a conversation starter than the final say. That is not necessarily a bad thing though. I have read a considerable amount of the leftist far future science fiction of which this is a member, and Accelerando has changed the way I will think about these issues in the future. I will think back on it with more affection and admiration than I experienced while reading it.
Profile Image for Costin Manda.
564 reviews15 followers
February 11, 2018
Oh, what a wonderful book this was. A cross between a William Gibson and a Peter F. Hamilton book, Accelerando was like a cyberpunk's wet dream. Not only it describes the deep transformations of our culture caused by the increasing power and speed of computation, but it goes further, years, decades, centuries and millennia more. You know the feeling you get when you get close to the end of a book and you sigh "Oh, I wish it would continue to tell the story"? It happens at the end of every chapter. It's like Stross could have ended the book at any point, but he chose to continue the story until its satisfyingly circular end. What is it with writers and the return to origins, anyway? There is an explanation for the structure of the book, as the author originally published each chapter as a separate story.

What is even nicer is that the story doesn't skim the details, showing only superficial bits that further the story, but it goes into everything: cybernetics, economy, ethics, law, the nature of consciousness. It gets frightening at some points when you realize that in the situations depicted in the book reality would be even more carnivorous and that your own individuality (held coherent in the book for the benefit of the reader) is just an illusion we cling to, ready to dispel when we muster the courage (or the insanity) to let it go.

I also liked how, while it was human-centric, the book did not limit itself to one species, nor did it go the way of accelerating (pardon the pun) until the whole story becomes meaningless in some encounter with a God like alien or by complete transcendence. I have to say I appreciate Stross immensely for not doing so, which is the normal and easiest way for a geek to end such a story: by generalizing the hell out of the situation until no particulars make sense. In that, the writer showed real restraint and mature wisdom. It makes me want to read all of his books.

If you want to know what the plot is, you will have to read the book, as I can't really do it justice here. I can tell you that it made me believe in an explosive evolution of the human race in my lifetime more than any Kurzweil discourse and it did it easily, by simple measuring MIPS/gram on the scale of the entire Solar System. If we will run Moore's Law for a few more decades, it will make enormous sense that "dumb matter" is done for. It is a fantastic vision of computation as a devourer of mass, a frightening equation akin to Einstein's matter to energy conversion. Did I mention that it also - convincingly - explains Fermi's paradox, much more so than "we get to build androids for sex", which was the most believable for me so far?

Needless to say it, but I will anyway: go read it, read it now! It is an amazing book. It is a little too pretentious in some parts, when it bombards your brain with technobabble just so it gets you "future-shocked" enough to understand the characters, but what cyberpunk fan doesn't eat that up, anyway? Also the familial connections in the book are a bit too overdone, but then again, they provide the generational point of view necessary to describe centuries of human evolution. There is a page - surprisingly Web 0.9 for such a plot :) - for the book, with an extract from the first chapter, but I don't think it is representative for the entire work.

You can actually read the book online for free, from the author's site.
71 reviews4 followers
September 26, 2008
Accelerando, or That Darn Cat!

The basic template for every chapter is: character wanders around and uses increasingly-elaborate gadgetry--wearable computers and VR glasses give way to neurally-interfaced implants give way to reality-editing "ackles" authorizations to edit the criteria of the virtual simulation space that their minds have been uploaded into--in between chunks of exposition. When this starts getting unwieldy, it switches to pure expository essays about just how much further technology has advanced in the last decade's jump. After the essay, we return to our characters facing some sort of crisis. Then the crisis is resolved with some handwaving dei ex machina--either a masterplan the character had all along and was just waiting for the pieces to fall into place, or a genius plan that came out of nowhere, or just the evolved emergent alien AI cat did it.

There's a tremendous striving to portray velocity and pace of change; it's trying its very heart out, right down to the style of the book itself being very deliberately (that's my wager, anyway) to be the opposite of timeless--it's chock-full of geekblog in-jokes and pop-culture references that will be quaint in a few more years and practically forgotten (aside from geek nostalgia) in a few more after that. But filter past that, and there's not much in the way of *narrative* velocity--there's all kinds of motion blur and exciting jangling musical score, if you can dig it, but in terms of character and plot, not very much actually *happens*, either in the individual episodic chapters, or overall.

Still, it was an entertaining read. Points for treating the more religious/messianic side of the singularity/transhuman thing with more than a touch of mockery, and for considering the Fermi Paradox right alongside the technological-progress singularity angle, which coexists with it even more uncomfortably than non-singularitarian sci-fi does.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
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