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Accelerando (Singularity) Mass Market Paperback – June 27, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Stross (Singularity Sky) explores humanity's inability to cope with molecular nanotechnology run amok in this teeming near-future SF stand-alone. In part one, "Slow Takeoff," "free enterprise broker" Manfred Macx and his soon-to-be-estranged wife/dominatrix, Pamela, lay the foundation for the next decade's transhumans. In "Point of Inflection," Amber, their punky maladjusted teenage daughter, and Sadeq Khurasani, a Muslim judge, engineer and scholar, try to escape the social chaos that antiaging treatments have wreaked on Earth by riding a tin can–sized starship via nanocomputerization to a brown dwarf star called Hyundai. The Wunch, trade-delegation aliens evolved from uploaded lobster mentalities, and Macx's grandson, Sirhan, roister through "Singularity," in which people become cybernetic constructs. 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
*Starred Review* During the last five years, Stross has garnered a reputation as one of the most imaginative practitioners of hard sf. Expanded from several stories originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction, 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. Stross has his thumb squarely on the pulse of technology's leading edge and exults in extrapolating mere glimmers of ideas out to their mind-bending limits. His brilliant and panoramic vision of uncontrollably accelerating technology vaults him into the front rank of sf trailblazers, alongside Gibson and Stephenson, and promises to become a seminal work in the genre. Carl Hays
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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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 idea of the singularity in human history fascinates me, so I may even try another of Stross' books.
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.
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.