Accelerando is a 2005 science fiction novel consisting of a series of interconnected short stories by British author Charles Stross. As well as normal hardback and paperback editions, it was released as a free ebook under the Creative Commons attribution-noncommercial-no derivatives license (CC by-nc-nd).
Plot introduction[edit | edit source]
The book is a collection of nine short stories telling the tale of three generations of a highly dysfunctional family before, during, and after a technological singularity. It was originally written as a series of novelettes and novellas, all published in Asimov's Science Fiction magazine in the period 2001 to 2004.
The first three stories follow the character of "venture altruist" Manfred Macx starting in the early 21st Century, the second three stories follow his daughter Amber, and the final three focus largely on her son Sirhan in the completely transformed world at the end of the century.
A sequel novel entitled Glasshouse, loosely set in the same universe, was published in June 2006.
Explanation of the novel's title[edit | edit source]
In Italian, "Accelerando" means "speeding up" and is used as a tempo marking in musical notation. It could also refer to the accelerating rate at which humanity in general, and/or the novel's characters, head towards the technological singularity.
Characters[edit | edit source]
- Manfred Macx : Venture altruist. High Whuffie factor.
- Aineko : Manfred's robotic, increasingly intelligent cat.
- The Lobsters : Sentient, nervous-system state vectors originating from Panulirus interruptus - the California spiny lobster.
- Bob Franklin : Billionaire investor; originator of the Franklin Collective borganism.
- Annette Dimarcos : Arianespace employee; Manfred's second wife.
- Pamela : Manfred's partner, later first wife.
- Gianni Vittoria : Former Italian Minister for Economic Affairs, sometime Minister for Transhuman Affairs, economic theoretician.
- Amber Macx : Manfred and Pamela's daughter.
- Dr. Sadeq Khurasani : Muslim imam, engineer, Field Circus crewman.
- The Wunch : Predatory alien virtual constructs embedded in the router orbiting Hyundai.
- The Slug : Sentient alien corporation from the router.
- Sirhan al-Khurasani : Son of Amber and Sadeq (physical versions).
- Vile Offspring : Derogatory term for the posthuman weakly godlike intelligences that inhabit the inner system.
Plot summary and breakdown by story[edit | edit source]
In the following table, the chapter number (#), chapter name, original magazine date of publication (in red), and a brief synopsis are given. The nine stories are split into three parts.
|#||Chapter||Part 1 : Slow Takeoff - Synopsis|
|In Amsterdam, Manfred receives a call on a courier-delivered phone from entities claiming to be a net-based AI working for KGB dot RU, seeking his help on how to defect. Eventually, he discovers they are actually uploaded brain-scans of the California spiny lobster looking to escape from humanity's interference. He manages to team them up with Bob Franklin, who is looking for an AI to crew his nascent spacefaring project - the building of a self-replicating factory complex from cometary material - which he created with Manfred's help. Later, Manfred's predatory fiancée forces him to impregnate and marry her in an attempt to control him.|
|Five years later, Manfred is in the throes of an acrimonious divorce, and has a daughter, frozen as a prefertilized egg. He meets Annette again, and begins a relationship with her. Three schemes — to create a workable state centralised planning apparatus that can interface with external market systems, a way to upload the entirety of the 20th century's out-of-copyright movie-and-music output to the net, and a plan to thwart his grasping wife and her lawyers — come together perfectly. A legal precedent is established that will help define the rights of future AIs and uploaded minds.|
|In Edinburgh, three years later, Manfred is mugged and his memories (stored in cyberware) are stolen, and so he must find out who he is and what he's doing in Edinburgh. The Lobsters are thriving in colonies situated at the L5 point, and on a comet in the asteroid belt, and they, along with the JPL and the ESA, have picked up encrypted signals from outside the solar system. Bob Franklin, now dead, is personality-reconstructed in the Franklin Collective. Manfred, his memories recovered, moves to further expand the rights of non-human intelligences. Amber, his daughter, has been defrosted, fertilized, born, and is being brought up by Pamela. Aineko begins its own study - and decoding - of the alien signals.|
|#||Chapter||Part 2 : Point of Inflection - Synopsis|
|Amber Macx, now in her early teens, finally breaks free from her domineering mother by utilising a complex plot, thought up by Manfred and Annette, in which she indentures herself to a Franklin Collective-owned, youth-crewed spacecraft, mining materials from Amalthea, Jupiter's fourth moon. Pamela hires Sadeq to issue a legal challenge against Amber, which she thwarts by setting up her own empire on a small asteroid. The alien signals have been decoded, and a physical long-range journey to a mentioned "router" is planned.|
|The alien router, orbiting a 3-light-year-distant brown dwarf star named Hyundai +4904/-56, is visited by the spacecraft Field Circus, a Coke-can-sized mass of computronium propulsed by a Jupiter-based laser and a lightsail. Amber and 62 others have uploaded themselves to become the virtualized crew. They are contacted by a group of aliens called The Wunch who occupy virtual bodies based on Lobster patterns "borrowed" from transmissions - these turn out to be mere third-rate "barbarians" who, after a struggle, are thwarted. Amber and a few others make the decision to travel deep into the router network.|
|The router explorers find themselves trapped by yet more malign aliens in a variety of virtual spaces, but are eventually set free by Aineko's machinations. They discover that they are being hosted in a Matrioshka brain, the builders of which seem to have disappeared (or destroyed by its own creations), leaving an anarchy ruled by sentient, viral corporations and scavengers who attempt to use newcomers as currency. The crew finally escape by offering passage to a "rogue alien corporation" (a "pyramid scheme crossed with a 419 scam"), virtualized as a giant slug, who opens a powered route out, after which they begin the journey back home.|
|#||Chapter||Part 3 : Singularity - Synopsis|
|Back in the solar system, the crew find that "home" is now Saturn, on a floating habitat in the planet's upper atmosphere, where they meet Sirhan, son of the physical Amber & Sadeq who both stayed (and died) at home. The crew upload their virtual states into new bodies, and find that they are all now bankrupt, unable to compete with the new Economics 2.0 model practiced by the inner system. Manfred, Pamela, and Annette are present. Bailiffs - sentient constructs - arrive to "repossess" Amber and Aineko, but a scheme is hatched whereby the Slug is introduced to Economics 2.0, which keeps both constructs very busy.|
|In the increasingly populated Saturnian floating cities, Amber, Annette, Gianni and Manfred begin a political campaign to finance a scheme to escape the predations of the Vile Offspring by journeying once more to the router network, with Amber as the leader of the Accelerationista party. She loses the election (to the stay-at-home conservationista faction), but once more the Lobsters step in to help, by offering passage to uploads on their large ships if the humans agree to act as explorers and mappers.|
|The router has, once again, been reached. Learning from it, the refugees have created their own network, enabling them to explore vast distances. Habitats built around Hyundai are home to copies that wish to stay put, including child-clones. Aineko returns to make Manfred an offer that, if he accepts it, will result in Aineko leaving them alone for ever.|
Allusions/references to current science[edit | edit source]
- Lobster stomatogastric ganglion (STG) ... 1 , 2 , 3 , 4
- Rubberized concrete
- Fermi paradox. Stross offers a solution - it's a problem of bandwidth (see Information theory).
- Roboticist and futurist Hans Moravec is mentioned.
- Quantum state vector, p. 6
- Nanoassembly conformational problem, p. 14
Awards and nominations[edit | edit source]
- Book won the 2006 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.
- Book was shortlisted for:
- Original short story "Lobsters" (June 2001) was shortlisted for:
- Original short story "Halo" (June 2002) was shortlisted for:
- Original short story "Router" (September 2002) was shortlisted for:
- Original short story "Nightfall" (April 2003) was shortlisted for:
- Original short story "Elector" (September 2004) was shortlisted for:
Release details[edit | edit source]
- Ace (US), hardcover, July 2005, ISBN 0-44101-284-8
- Ace (US), paperback, July 2006, ISBN 0-44101-415-6
- Orbit (UK), hardcover, Aug 2005, ISBN 1-84149-390-9
- Orbit, UK, paperback, June 2006, ISBN 1-84149-389-9
Online versions[edit | edit source]
- The entire novel has been released online under a creative commons license here.
- Original short story "Elector" (September 2004) is available here.
- Searchable version in multiple formats ( html, XML, opendocument ODF, pdf (landscape, portrait), plaintext, concordance ) SiSU
See also[edit | edit source]
- Accelerando Technical Companion (on wikibooks)
[edit | edit source]
- Accelerando website
- SciFi.com interview.
- Hunting for typos!
- Charlie Stross offers latest novel, Accelerando, for free (The Alien Online, 8/26/2005): Includes commentary from Stross about reasons for releasing freely-downloadable novels.