Review: Accelerando

23Jun14

It’s always a little awkward when you love an author, but not everything s/he wrote. This pops up a lot in SF/F, because writers are inclined to take more risks (which is excellent, and I encourage it). Still, people like what they like, and it’s really important to know which authors are consistent and which deliver change-ups, so you can tailor your recommendations based on what the potential reader will actually be into, and not just blanket recommend an author.

This brings us to one of my biggest nerd crushes, Charles Stross.

I love Charlie. I love the way his brain works. I love most of his ideas, and a lot of his novels (most notably, The Atrocity Archives, first in the Laundry Files series). However, despite the fact that it’s incredibly well-written, I did not enjoy Accelerando. So while I’m probably not the best reviewer for this book, I’m hoping I can set my personal heebie-jeebies aside long enough to describe Accelerando properly for those people who would really enjoy it.

Spanish book cover, from flickr.

The Spanish cover, spotted at flickr. Click through to see the original page.

Accelerando is, as the music buffs might have already guessed, the adventures of humanity after it finally takes the giant leap forward into Singularity. If you’re not familiar with the concept, take a few seconds to read the Wikipedia article (you must be this smart to participate in the SF/F community). If your gut response was, “Ugh,” this might not be the novel for you. If, however, you’re wondering where you can sign up for brain implants, you’ll most likely enjoy the misadventures of the Macx family as they bumble their way through a future where consciousness can live much longer than the body, several versions of yourself can be whizzing around at once, and death, as a concept, is pretty much obsolete, given that nanotechnology has figured out ways to give infinite reboots.

The plot revolves around Manfred Macx, a key player in accelerated technologies, who helps usher in the post-human era. His daughter, Amber, ups the ante by exploring outer space and dabbling in alien consciousness and technology. Amber’s son, Sirhan, is a digital archivist in a world decidedly not of his creation or choosing, trying to make sense of family ties while preserving the best of what used to be. Everyone is frightfully clever, everyone has accepted as many enhancements as they can stand (most of the characters spend most of the novel existing in virtual and/or digital form), and everyone is convinced there’s a technological solution for everything.  The only problem is, nobody’s really very happy. Also (spoiler), cats are dicks (thanks to humans).

Not a comfortable read if, like me, you enjoy having a corporeal existence and are at peace with living out your natural lifespan and then dying. Then again, if I’m reading Stross correctly, these questions aren’t supposed to be comfortable, and they have to be asked. What is all of our technological progress for? We’re going admirably fast, it’s true, but where the hell are we going? Is Singularity everything it’s cracked up to be? Does the value of what we lose exceed the value of what we gain?

Good questions, written in a whip-smart tone, with a cheeky sense of humor. The paradox here is that readers most likely to love Stross have probably already read Accelerando, as well as his other work, and are, as we speak, composing intelligent responses to my clear failure to appreciate his genius. To which I can only say that questioning and challenging what you read is the highest compliment you can pay any author who is clearly questioning and challenging you.

Accelerando! O humanity!

Now if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to go reread The Laundry Files in anticipation of The Rhesus Chart, which I will most decidedly be buying in meatspace, and not from asshats at Amazon (click if you don’t know what they’ve done now).

 

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