Book Review: ‘Accelerando’ by Charles Stross

Charles Stross has sold more than a dozen novels to publishers, but has done so in such a short period of time that less than half of them are actually in print yet. He’s a hot property, a supernova of the notorious Scotland set whose grip on the leading edge of British (and arguably world) SF grows stronger season by season. Stross’ writings are a case study in the talent that exists in this clade, and ‘Accelerando’, his latest to be published, a prime example of how invention and skill can combine in a synergistic fashion.

Technically, this tale isn’t new; it has been assembled from a sequence of short stories that saw publication in a selection of SF magazines and anthologies. The stories follow the exploits of one Manfred Macx and his future descendents over hundreds of years, from a near-contemporary Earth, then deep into a post-human future where the solar system itself is virtually unrecognisable. Macx is some kind of benevolent meme-factory; at the start of the tale he is traipsing across a pre-singularity Europe, his brain (and all the external hardware that feeds it) stewing up viable patents and business blags, then giving the rights to them away to entrepreneurs.

As the story moves on in incrementally larger leaps of time, we follow the development of humanity into post-humanity, as well as the fragmentation and forking of Macx’s dysfunctional but brilliant family. Along the way we meet uploaded lobsters in space, autonomous data-based life-forms evolved from limited liability corporations, numerous incarnations of most of the main characters, and an AI in the form of a cat that knows more than it is letting on.

It’s a hard story to describe, simply because of the vast scope of it; the break-up into smaller parts, each containing a little snippet or two of narration to let you know what has been happening in the interim, helps you keep abreast of the leaps in time line. These back-story slices could easily come over as info-dump, but are handled with finesse, only letting you find stuff out when it will serve the story, though one gets the feeling that Stross could easily pontificate at great length on his vision of the universe at any point in the story.

Simultaneously ‘hard’ and playful, ‘Accelerando’ is a must read for anyone who enjoys the exuberant visions of Ken Macleod, and the cheeky yet subtle humour of Ian McDonald, combined with the geek-pleasing trans-human speculations of William Gibson or Greg Egan. He doesn’t write *like* any of them, but he’s receiving some or all of the same frequencies. Also a must read for anyone who says SF has run out of new ideas; it might make you reassess that opinion.

And on a more personal and less professional note, Charles Stross is currently one of the writers I am looking to for the next big phase change in where SF is coming from. The afore-mentioned Scotland set is growing and strengthening slowly, containing within its environs a diverse set of talents and styles, which offset and contrast each other well. It would be unfair (and most likely incorrect) to ascribe any kind of Bloomsbury-esque plotting of world domination to these fine people (indeed, I don’t know if they all know each other to the extent of meeting up regularly like some shady cabal), but one can’t help but see the steady growth of a nucleus of talent that shines as an example to any aspiring SF writer. God bless ’em. I shall have to buy the next Stross novel for myself; it just takes them too long to work through the library stock intake system to a point where I can get my sweaty hands on them. I also read his blog; if you have any interest in anything a little deeper than ‘Celebrity Hamster Tennis’ or whatever, so should you. That’s why I’ve put it in the Links list to the right. Yes sir.

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