Tag Archives: technological singularity

Accelerando

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Accelerando (Singularity) by Charles Stross:

Charles Stross' Accelerando

 

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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Counting to None

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Invisibles Vol. 5: Counting to None by Grant Morrison and Phil Jimenez:

Grant Morrison and Phil Jimenez's Counting to None from Vertigo

 

I’m reading these reprint collections of Grant Morrison’s Invisibles comic in sequential order, and this is definitely the one that I have enjoyed the best so far. I don’t know if it’s because of the intrinsic merits of its own story, or whether it’s simply that I’ve now read enough of the prior material to feel properly oriented in the story’s world. Each of the main characters from the original Invisibles cell of the first series has now had some significant backstory narrative, and a time-travel plot provides some new perspectives on familiar characters.

This volume collects the individual issues making up three titled arcs: “Time Machine Go,” “Sensitive Criminals,” and “Amerian Death Camp.” Written and published in the late 1990s, these stories seem to accept the identification of Vernor Vinge’s technological singularity with the end of the Mayan long count calendrical cycle in 2012 — an idea later popularized by Daniel Pinchbeck, among others, but which may have been original with Morrison here, as far as I can tell. Still, that feature reduces the immediacy of the narrative when reading it in 2013. Ragged Robin, the witch from the future who is the current leader of the Invisibles, mentions other contra-factual events from the first decade of the 21st century, with similar effects.

Up to his usual tricks, Morrison provides some startling intimations of presque vu and psychedelia-through-language. Many of the motifs in this segment of The Invisibles also feature in his later, more contained and incisive work The Filth. Phil Jimenez does an effective job of depicting key disorientations without entirely losing the reader, and manages to keep the violence as realistic as possible in the context. [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.