Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Accelerando (Singularity) by Charles Stross:
I’ve read all of Charles Stross’s Laundry novels, which are humorous neo-Lovecraftian espionage adventures. Those involve extensive homages to various earlier writers, with some consequent inflections of writing style. Accelerando is the first of Stross’s straight-ahead science fiction books I’ve digested, and I presume it represents a more direct delivery of his authorial voice. (There’s a simulated Lovecraft cameo at page 337, though.)
In subject matter, this book seemed most comparable to the excellent work of Ian McDonald, with an ambitious 21st-century futurology involving radical technologies of simulation, artificial intelligence, and enhancement of human capability. But true to his title, Stross imposes a pace of change far in excess of what I’ve seen in McDonald’s books. He has evidently taken Moore’s Law of integrated circuit development and its extrapolation in Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns as the axioms of his story about what might become of our species and our planet. Not only does Stross have the intellectual fortitude to narratively stare down the “technological singularity” but he also confronts Fermi’s Paradox. He enlists Ray Bradbury’s notion of the matrioshka brain, Robert L. Forward’s starwisp, and other inventions that seem inevitable in the face of unchecked technological development.
Given some of the topical focus, I was prepared for the futurological flavor of this book to have something in common with Olav Stapledon’s Star Maker. Instead, I was surprised to sense a certain kinship to 1970s-era Robert Heinlein novels. Perhaps Heinlein’s orientation to the aerospace research of his day has its analog in Stross’s own background in software engineering. Moreover, the characters and their motivations are sketched in the manner that reminds me much more of Heinlein than, say, McDonald.
The novel has a triple-triadic structure, with the nine chapters having seen individual publication as short stories prior to their assembly here. As a consequence, there is something of an expositional “reset” at the start of each part, with a little redundancy and narrative hand-holding. But in light of the huge changes in context imposed by each transition from one part to the next, the effect is barely noticeable, and actually somewhat comforting. Another effect of this compositional process is that each chapter seems to have roughly the same dramatic weight as the others. The last of them could be read equally as climax or denouement, depending on the reader’s inclination. Each of the three larger sections is focused on a successive generation of a single family moving deeper into the trans-human condition.
While not as overtly comedic as the Laundry books, Accelerando definitely has its share of laughs, many of them with a black sense of humor, such as the throwaway mention of cannibalistic cuisine on page 262. The characters are strong enough to keep the narrative rolling, despite its frequent interruption with bulletin-style text bringing the reader up to date on the state of (post-)human affairs for the decade in question. The entire book — excepting the occasional retrospective glance — is written in the present tense, and it is a mark of Stross’s artistry in using this unconventional technique for novel-length fiction in English that I didn’t even notice until I had read most of the way through the first large chapter. In the seven years since it has been collected into a novel, history has of course provided some contradictions to point up the status of Accelerando as a fiction, but the sort of events it proposes could still credibly be in our future. [via]
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