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Charles Stross
Accelerando
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2005

Ace / Penguin Putnam
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 0-441-01284-1
Publication Date: 07-01-2005
390 Pages; $24.95
Date Reviewed: 06-21-05

Index: Science Fiction

We're so thoroughly embedded in the present that it's difficult to remember that we live in the future as well. It's far too easy for us to sit at our open-air caf├ęs enjoying a global variety of cuisine while wirelessly surfing the Internet on our laptops. With the vault of the clear-blue sky overhead, and the quiet susurrus of traffic on Pacific Avenue, it's possible to think that it was always this way.

But only four years past the iconic date of 2001, it's clear that we're not embarking on any space odysseys. We're not living in the future depicted by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. No, as we sit enjoying the fresh air, summer breeze and information that wants to be free, we're living in the cyberpunk world of William Gibson's 'Neuromancer', currently celebrating its twenty-first anniversary. Gibson himself wrote 'Neuromancer' on a Hermes manual typewriter; his future is our present. And this begs the question: Where, in our present, can we find our future?

'Accelerando' fast forwards a not-so-average family through three generations and into a future in which humans seem far more alien than any critters from outer space. With heart, humor and extreme technophilia, Stross embarks on a voyage that unwires humanity and rewires readers to experience the Singularity. Welcome to the Rapture of the Nerds.

As 'Accelerando' begins, Manfred Macx is busy inventing new technologies on a daily basis, his mind split between the confines of his skull and the uncharted wilds of the Internet. This does not prevent him from falling for Pamela, a whip-wielding lawyer who spurs him to new heights of invention as well as corresponding emotional depths. Their daughter, Amber, escapes into the solar system as an indentured astronaut. Amber's son, Sirhan must give up his life as a scholarly recluse when the human race is threatened by its own Vile Offspring, post-humans who no longer need physical bodies. The stage is set for an apocalyptic family re-union.

Structurally, 'Accelerando' is a classic science fiction fix-up novel. Stross sins without regret, info-dumping here, techno-babbling there, bullying his way into the reader's brain to describe that which we cannot by definition understand. His only tool to overcome this is language, and he uses it with a vengeance, creating in the process a bizarre and brilliant hybrid of technical documentation and jazz poetry. Stross is so full of ideas and his ability to convey complex concepts with clarity is so strong that reading the novel is a revelation. The oldest joys of reading science fiction are born anew in 'Accelerando'.

By setting his story in the form of a sprawling multi-generational family saga, he's able to keep an emotional connection while he's slinging more ideas per paragraph than most SF writers fit into an entire novel. This lucky-bag of clashing concepts and invented words is kept afloat by an ample sense of humor and a consistent focus on the family. Any time the reader suspects that embedded electronics have taken over the writing chores, Stross finds a way to reveal a stinging emotional truth.

Of course, all the human characters in 'Accelerando' have serious competition in the form of the technology, itself a major character. But Stross shapes his machinery with a human hand. Every nano-this and cyber-that belies the creators in the background -- greedy apes too smart for their own good, grabbing bones to smash their neighbors only to have nuclear contraptions fall from the sky on their heads. And as the title indicates, it's not just the machinery that matters; the pace itself is also a player. Before any iteration of the Macx clan has wrapped its brain around what's going on, the successor is slipping over the horizon, selling itself relentlessly, smaller, better, faster. But there are technologies that Stross does not outdate here -- fine writing and the science fiction novel.

Stross is certainly not trying to predict the future in 'Accelerando'. Instead, he's using language to describe how we might feel about the future when we get there. Knowing -- and unafraid -- that information wants to be free, Stross will be offering the novel as a download from the website. Readers can luxuriate in the cool wind on a warm night, and read his novel in the glow of their laptops. Or you can go retro, buy the book, buy into the old economic system and turn the pages as the future whispers to you on the soft summer breeze.

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