Monday, December 02, 2013

Accelerando, by Charles Stross

Book cover Oh, what a wonderful book this was. A cross between a William Gibson and a Peter F. Hamilton book, Accelerando was like a cyberpunk's wet dream. Not only it describes the deep transformations of our culture caused by the increasing power and speed of computation, but it goes further, years, decades, centuries and millennia more. You know the feeling you get when you get close to the end of a book and you sigh "Oh, I wish it would continue to tell the story"? It happens at the end of every chapter. It's like Stross could have ended the book at any point, but he chose to continue the story until its satisfyingly circular end. What is it with writers and the return to origins, anyway? There is an explanation for the structure of the book, as the author originally published each chapter as a separate story.

What is even nicer is that the story doesn't skim the details, showing only superficial bits that further the story, but it goes into everything: cybernetics, economy, ethics, law, the nature of consciousness. It gets frightening at some points when you realize that in the situations depicted in the book reality would be even more carnivorous and that your own individuality (held coherent in the book for the benefit of the reader) is just an illusion we cling to, ready to dispel when we muster the courage (or the insanity) to let it go.

I also liked how, while it was human-centric, the book did not limit itself to one species, nor did it go the way of accelerating (pardon the pun) until the whole story becomes meaningless in some encounter with a God like alien or by complete transcendence. I have to say I appreciate Stross immensely for not doing so, which is the normal and easiest way for a geek to end such a story: by generalizing the hell out of the situation until no particulars make sense. In that, the writer showed real restraint and mature wisdom. It makes me want to read all of his books.

If you want to know what the plot is, you will have to read the book, as I can't really do it justice here. I can tell you that it made me believe in an explosive evolution of the human race in my lifetime more than any Kurzweil discourse and it did it easily, by simple measuring MIPS/gram on the scale of the entire Solar System. If we will run Moore's Law for a few more decades, it will make enormous sense that "dumb matter" is done for. It is a fantastic vision of computation as a devourer of mass, a frightening equation akin to Einstein's matter to energy conversion. Did I mention that it also - convincingly - explains Fermi's paradox, much more so than "we get to build androids for sex", which was the most believable for me so far?

Needless to say it, but I will anyway: go read it, read it now! It is an amazing book. It is a little too pretentious in some parts, when it bombards your brain with technobabble just so it gets you "future-shocked" enough to understand the characters, but what cyberpunk fan doesn't eat that up, anyway? Also the familial connections in the book are a bit too overdone, but then again, they provide the generational point of view necessary to describe centuries of human evolution. There is a page - surprisingly Web 0.9 for such a plot :) - for the book, with an extract from the first chapter, but I don't think it is representative for the entire work.

You can actually read the book online for free, from the author's site: Accelerando