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Accelerando (Singularity) Mass Market Paperback – June 27, 2006
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The Singularity. It is the era of the posthuman. Artificial intelligences have surpassed the limits of human intellect. Biotechnological beings have rendered people all but extinct. Molecular nanotechnology runs rampant, replicating and reprogramming at will. Contact with extraterrestrial life grows more imminent with each new day.
Struggling to survive and thrive in this accelerated world are three generations of the Macx clan: Manfred, an entrepreneur dealing in intelligence amplification technology whose mind is divided between his physical environment and the Internet; his daughter, Amber, on the run from her domineering mother, seeking her fortune in the outer system as an indentured astronaut; and Sirhan, Amber’s son, who finds his destiny linked to the fate of all of humanity.
For something is systematically dismantling the nine planets of the solar system. Something beyond human comprehension. Something that has no use for biological life in any form...
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Then, I started seeing the beauty in it. It was just so far out. Charles Stross seemed to try to shoehorn every Singularity-oriented technology out there into the story. It was a bit clumsy that way, but there were some new ones I was made aware of. Like automated contracts. The book mentions them a lot, and it's difficult to understand partly because of vagueness that most likely has something to do with the technology not being in existence yet, but I found on the internet that the same technology that Bitcoin uses to make transactions for money can be used for contracts too.
One of my favorite topics is the theory that sentient beings can be simulated and much to my delight that was brought up a couple times in the book. The first time is when one of the characters mentions the concept in a discussion about theism. The second time it is mentioned one of the characters explains that the evolution of theory of mind, that's the ability to figure out what someone else is thinking, progressed because there is an advantage to a predator knowing what it's prey is thinking. Eventually when the species ends up fighting itself, an advanced theory of mind is a simulation of themselves. That's pretty deep, and it's just one of the many profound ideas in the book.
I don't want to spoil the story at all because there is a nice twist at the end. But, to demonstrate how far out this book is, the bad guys are the Vile Offspring who are advanced AI beings that oppressed and possibly drove to extinction whatever organic life-form created them. The Vile Offspring are also turning all the dumb matter in the solar system into something that they can upload consciousnesses to because they need the space.
Charles Stross does very well with setting up an entire culture in this super-advanced society that includes an Economics 2.0 that only AI's can understand and a political system. Since the characters are uploaded consciousnesses in the last half of the book, the environment gets pretty crazy with characters taking the form of a flock of pigeons or other animals. The characters can also change their environment to whatever they want. This gives the author a lot of space to make the settings very unusual and fun, much like Micheal Moorecock did in his "end of time" series fantasy books by giving the characters creation rings. It works, and made the last half of the book much more enjoyable than the first.
Another thing I noticed is that there is a reference to Russia still using Microsoft, --- remember this is in the future ---, and there was a reference to a company with a name that was kind of an anagram for Apple, but I do not remember seeing any references to anything that sounded remotely like Google.
I wouldn't recommend this book to everybody, but the people who might like it probably already know who they are. Anyone who does get through more than a few hours of it and is struggling, I'd suggest to keep going because the last half of the book is better and the ending ties things together well.
The story spans several generations of a 'family' from just before the singularity until well past it. As with all Charles Stross books, the tone is cheeky, irreverent, and slightly manic, all of which produces a very engrossing read that makes this book hard to put down. And some of the ideas espoused in this book, especially what lies ahead in the post-singularity world, represent by far the strangest and most entertaining fiction I have read in a long time.
Although this may be an odd comparison, I felt that this book did for transhuman/posthuman genre what Neuromancer by William Gibson did for the cyberpunk genre- both built a well defined new world in which to tell weird tales and set the benchmark against which all other novels in their respective genre must measure themselves.
The idea of the singularity in human history fascinates me, so I may even try another of Stross' books.
This is a very complex book and requires a lot of attention and a good dictionary (that won't always help as Stross makes up a lot of words). I think CyperPunk is pretty much a dead genre, and maybe Stross would argue that this isn't CyperPunk; but it sure reads that way to me. I'm glad I finished this book more to have gotten it done than edification.