book-reviews

Accelerando

by Charles Stross

Rating: ★★★★★

Accelerando grabs you by the scruff of the neck and starts running. Right from the start, the pace is up: we meet a main character who is out dancing ahead of the cutting edge, spinning deals between various agents of change, accepting no money, only favours. He's hopped up on the latest news, running everything through his personal assistant programs. The future is already strange and scary, national governments are fraying at the edges and someone keeps mailing him kittens whose brains have been scooped out. Uploaded lobsters ring you and ask to be beamed into outer space.

But this is just a pit-stop, a grounding glance at the future a decade or so ahead. We skip ahead to find his daughter, a precocious child who has taken it upon herself to escape both her mother's stable learning environment and indeed the planet, swinging out to Saturn to build herself a kingdom, with nobody but the family cat for company. The world is spinning, still, civilisation coming apart at the seams as the artificial ecosystem starts moving faster than mankind can follow.

Contact, and the daughter splits herself in two, leading a crew on a tiny spaceship flying out to beyond the solar system to meet the false lobsters and plug themselves into the galactic internet. But the world out there is not safe, and dangerous programs like the cat are not even the worst of it. Earth is a storm, one humanity is quickly fleeing. Competition is the name of the game, and in the new economy only the leanest creatures survive. There's no room for mammalian response times, or even values. Those who remain are locking themselves in little bubbles of fiction.

A twist down the line and the grandson is a reactionary, managing his mother's estate out on the fringes of the hellstorm that is the inner system. The beings there probably don't even notice humans any more, though something has started iteratively generating them from historical records and firing them out to Saturn once it's done with them. And soon we have to leave even here, to fling ourselves out beyond the reach of the problem.

The thing with Accelerando is that at some point the future gets to be too much, the pace too rapid. At some point you need to escape from reality, drift around as a flock of pigeons for a while or something. The book really shows you that, makes you grapple with what exponential growth will really mean for mankind. It's fantastic. It's terrifying.