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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Charles Stross

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To purchase Accelerando

Title: Accelerando
Author: Charles Stross
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005
Length: 415 pages
Availability: Accelerando - US
Accelerando - UK
Accelerando - Canada
Accelerando - India
Accelerando - France
Accelerando - Deutschland
Accelerando - Italia
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  • Chapters/stories originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction magazine, between 2001 and 2004

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Our Assessment:

B : overflowing with ideas and concepts, and quite good fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly A- 1/7/2005 Noah Robischon
Publishers Weekly . 13/6/2005 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Accelerando is to cyberpunk what Napster was to the music industry: volatile, visionary, a bit flawed, and a lot of fun." - Noah Robischon, Entertainment Weekly

  • "Stross's three-generation experiment in stream-of-artificial-consciousness impresses, but his flat characters and inchoate rapid-fire explosions of often muzzily related ideas, theories, opinions and nightmares too often resemble intellectual pyrotechnics -- breathtakingly gaudy but too brief, leaving connections lost somewhere in outer/inner/cyber space." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Accelerando is a multi-generational saga, starting in the near future and presenting the transition to the singularity. Each of three parts more or less focuses on one character (with considerable overlap) and progressive steps on the way to the singularity-future: Manfred Macx ('Slow Take-Off'), then his daughter Amber ('Point of Inflection'), and then her son Sirhan ('Singularity') -- though by the end concepts like generations (and much else) have gotten very muddied. Each part has three chapters, as the novel progresses chronologically -- though often by considerable leaps and bounds: originally published as stories, each chapter focuses on distinct times and episodes. It does fit together as a novel, but a decidedly episodic one, and the feeling of strung-together-stories does remain.
       While technological change obviously dominates Stross' novel, he also pays close attention to economic and legal systems and the role they play in society ("It's all about property rights", one character already points out in the first chapter, and these continue to play a role in much of the novel), beginning with Manfred's subversive approach:

Manfred is at the peak of his profession, which is essentially coming up with whacky but workable ideas and giving them to people who will make fortunes with them. He does this for free, gratis. In return, he has virtual immunity from the tyranny of cash; money is a symptom of poverty, after all, and Manfred never has to pay for anything.
       When the novel opens, the world is fundamentally not yet that far removed from our own: Microsoft has been broken up into the 'Baby Bills', for example, but politically and technologically not that much has changed yet. But things are moving very fast -- so much so that Manfred couldn't imagine having a child with longtime fiancée and then wife Pamela:
Things are changing so fast that even a twenty-year commitment is too far to plan -- you might as well be talking about the next ice age.
       Already making an appearance: Manfred's electronic pet cat, Aineko, a "late-model Sony, thoroughly upgradeable" -- which, over the course of the novel, does indeed evolve very impressively --, as well as the lobsters who are the first to be uploaded -- "one neuron at a time" -- and injected into cyberspace, the first living creatures who begin to adapt to this alternate (form of) reality.
       Technology gallops forwards, and humanity is increasingly tied into the new technologies. When, in the third chapter, Manfred is mugged and loses his more-than-just-prescription glasses he loses much of his self, from memories to basic functions.
       By the time of the second section, starting when Amber is a teen having made good her escape from the mother she can't stand (by selling herself into a form of slavery -- a clever legal set-up that the father she has never personally met helped her out with), and on a spaceship nearing the Jupiter subsystem. Amber is of a new generation: as she notes when explaining why her paternal grandparents don't get her: "I'm not built like little girls were in their day". Still, mom wants to continue to control her, and has yet another legal gambit up her sleeve, which results in an Islamic judge, Sadeq, flying in to decide these things.
       Amber maintains her distant independence -- and takes things a step further, and, in digital form she and a few from her crew travel through a wormhole looking for the greater intelligences they expect to find on the other end. That turns out rather differently than expected too -- with Sadeq, in particular, tested by world they find themselves in -- but clever Amber figures out how to get them out of here, and back to their space.
       Things have changed in the solar system when they get back: for one, Amber and Sadeq have a son, Sirhan -- the product of their (now deceased) physical selves who stayed behind while the virtual ones were elsewhere. Sirhan definitely takes after grandmother Pamela, and arranges a family reunion -- though it's starting to get complicated, what with the different versions of the same people floating around: the family history he's considering writing can hardly be straightforward:
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 conserved other copy ?
       It's a lot for Stross to juggle, but he doesn't let the multiplicity-possibilities get too far out of hand. Between the (rather extreme) personality-conflicts -- and strong personalities -- and the issues they face, both caused by each other and by larger changes around them, things are kept moving along at a very lively pace.
       By the end, the inner part of the solar system, including earth, is being mined and deconstructed -- the 'Vile Offspring' the dominant local (limited-)super-intelligence, with Saturn the new human home base, and Amber leading the charge to looking again beyond the local. Meanwhile, Aineko may still be cat-like, but has also taken on rather greater form too; the longtime pet-presence, first with Manfred and then Amber, definitely taking on an outsize role.
       Accelerando is packed with ideas and action. The nine chapters more or less do each tell a separate story, a stage in these characters' -- and humanity's (whereby 'humanity' becomes an increasingly complex concept) -- lives, but there are connections throughout, and cascade-effects of early decisions ripple through the novel as a whole. Time itself becomes an increasingly looser concept, and frequently it's explicitly noted that it's unclear -- or more or less undefinable -- just how much time has passed between one step and the next. Occasional summary-sections, printed in a different font, help provide a general overview of what next stage has been reached when the information can't all be easily summarized in the narrative proper -- a helpful and not too intrusive gloss going along.
       Stross' heaps on the technological advances and uses -- plausible enough, certainly for the story, and without overwhelming with explanation or detail. Everything seems to streak by rather fast, but the overall picture is a fairly solid one, an arc of (hi)story that seems reasonable enough (the occasional detour aside). The economics and legal logistics are of interest too -- though also only loosely discussed -- and a welcome added dimension to the stories -- again, without Stross getting too lost in or hung up about them. The question of mortality, and its meaning in the singularity, of course becomes an increasingly complex and intriguing one too.
       The stories themselves -- the episodes and character-development -- are quite entertaining, some more exciting and engaging than others. The strong personalities of the main characters help -- even if Pamela is rather single-mindedly obsessive in a destructive way.
       Occasionally exhausting in its constant on-rush, Accelerando is an enormous grab-bag of ideas about the future, from the technological possibilities to the consequences of different scenarios. There's certainly enough here -- of everything --, making, all in all, for a choppy but always engaging ride.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 January 2018

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Accelerando: Reviews: Charles Stross: Other books by Charles Stross under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Charles Stross was born in 1964.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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