Monday, November 19, 2007

accelerando, by charles stross

Back in August, I wrote that Charles Stross' Accelerando might be the best science fiction novel of the last ten years. After a few months to think about it, I stand by that, and I wanted to try to follow up on the claim a bit here.

First off, it touches on just about every hot geek topic from the last decade or two: bandwidth politics, data havens, distributed computing, AI pets, entertainment law, viral marketing, the reputation economy, fringe-science ideas from people like Moravec and Tipler... the list goes on. One of Strosser's great talents is that he can not only cram all these ideas into a single book, but also find the ways in which they can be rewardingly combined, the ways they might shoot sparks if struck together: as a result, the future of Accelerando seems like an actual future, the generated result of ideas that have been lived with for a while, and fruitfully combined, recombined, mashed-up, road-tested, exploited, etcetera. It's a future that's imagined richly enough to be pretty disorienting for the reader—the more familiar you are with those zeitgeisty topics listed above the easier a time you'll have.

It'll also help if you've got a passing familiarity with the basic tropes of SF—stuff like interplanetary colonization, "first contact," "the singularity," virtual worlds, consciousness-as-digital-simulacra, etc. Cause most of that stuff's here, too. Still erring on the side of maximalist density, Stross chooses to shoehorn not one but all of these different tropes into his book, again with an eye for the ways they might cross-pollinate interestingly. In other words, this is a book intended to disorient people who find normal SF novels to be not provocative or defamiliarizing enough (no small feat, considering that SF is a genre that has a certain degree of disorientation and frustration built into it as a fundamental requirement). It's also a generational epic and a comic romp—it's brisk and flat-out entertaining. Highly recommended.