B.W.'s Book Report: Accelerando
I wasn't even sure I was going to be able to describe the story without massive spoilers, until Stross did it for me more than two-thirds of the way through. Sirhan, a major character in the last third of the book, is asked about the family history he apparently intends to write.
"I'm thinking about it," he says. "An old-fashioned book covering three generations, living through interesting times ... 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 preserved other copy? I could trace the history further, of course -- if you tell me about your parents [he's talking to his grandmother], although I am certain they aren't around to answer questions directly - but we reach the boring dumb matter slope back to the primeval soup surprisingly fast if we go there, don't we? So I thought that perhaps as a narrative hook I'd make the offstage viewpoint that of the family's robot cat. (Except the bloody thing's gone missing, hasn't it?)"
When I read that passage, the thing finally began to fall into place for me. That paragraph seems to sum up what Stross is up to. Accelerando is indeed an old-fashioned three-generation epic, except there's nothing old-fashioned about the first three generations after humans begin to merge with technology and artificial intelligence evolves into a life form of its own. And a reader will miss some major clues to the proceedings by not paying close enough attention to the cat.
The book is a nine-part story, three parts per generation, and began life as a series of nine short stories in Analog magazine between 2001 and 2004. To be honest, not until Chapter 8 ("Elector") did I feel like I had a handle on the story - but finding the handle is most of the fun - and I'm not sure the pay-off in Chapter 9 quite matches the buildup. But I feel rewarded enough to recommend Accelerando to anyone who wants a healthy dose of speculative fiction, heavy on the speculation.
Thirty-odd years after first viewing 2001: A Space Odyssey, I think it's one of the greatest movies ever made but I'm still not completely clear what it is I'm watching. Chances are good, I think, that if I'm still around 30-odd years from now, I will say similar things about Accelerando.
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