In music notation, this indicates a gradual speeding up of the tempo of the music. It is often abbreviated "accel.". The word simply means "accelerating" or "speeding up" in Italian.

Some years later, two men and a cat are tying one on in a bar that doesn’t exist. (146)

Charles Stross’s novel Accelerando put the quirky author in the running for the 2006 Hugo Award. It follows an early twenty-first century maverick, his ever-upgrading artificial cat, and his descendants into a future affected by a technological singularity, the downloading of consciousness, nanotechnology, artificial and posthuman sentience, and alien contact.

Title: Accelerando
Author:Charles Stross.
ISBN: 0-441-01284-1

Stross created the novel from a series of related stories, and the plot does not summarize easily. It begins with Manfred Marcx, a wildly-successful near-future entrepreneur who rarely makes money. He prefers to exchange money-making ideas for favours, and thus leads a good life without being tied to financial institutions. He also has an artificial cat, Aineko, who gradually upgrades to sentience.

Marcx separates from his domineering dominatrix wife, Pamela, and later sends Aineko to help their daughter escape from what the girl perceives to be a stifling childhood. Amber Marcx ends up working in space and, through a series of developments, becomes the ruler of a small but successful colony. She, Aineko, and others later download copies of themselves to crew a tiny starship boldly responding to an alien signal. The novel follows their adventures, and also their return to a very different solar system, where Amber and her now-adult son will play a pivotal role in preserving a segment of humanity against the encroachment of the "Vile Offspring," the posthumans who are dismantling the planets and turning the solar system into a Matrioshka Brain.

This leads to the final part of the novel (and the set-up for its sequel), where the plot grows strange.

Stross makes his bizarre world comprehensible through computer-related analogies. Software, hardware, routers, downloading, internet and gaming avatars et cetera all become analogies and analogues for the futuristic concepts he envisions. I doubt this book could have been written before the present era, and it certainly would not have found an audience of any size. Those with little interest in computers and SF will likely find it irritating and incomprehensible.

Accelerando examines a possible future and comments on current and long-standing aspects of the human condition. Stross's characters, for example, can separate themselves into multiple identities. He's reflecting on a situation which may come to pass, but regardless of its plausibility, it provides opportunities to think about identity.

At one point, Manfred Macx loses his glasses, which function as external computer support, and he can barely function. Doubtless this would happen if we became dependent on implants--- but does anyone else, right now, find their mind functioning differently, perhaps even failing at certain tasks, because these cool things called "computers" can access so readily the answers to most factual questions? How much of our brain function is affected by a palm pilot? Or, for that matter, by the ability to write things down on a piece of paper?

The thug who takes the glasses, meanwhile, thinks he’s got a golden ticket to riches beyond his imagination. The problem, of course, is that he doesn’t have much of an imagination. He fails to understand the technology and his base assumptions about how to use it are ridiculously out of date. I suspect most of us can see a parallel with the players involved in various current events.

Other books explore the same speculative elements as Stross, but few develop so thoroughly their consequences. Compare, for example, his handling of downloadable consciousness with that found in Robert Sawyer’s Mindscan or David Brin’s Kiln People. Both of these authors place artificial restrictions on the technology in order to make their stories work. Stross creates societies where people copy, download, and reboot themselves the way we do computer files, and follows through on the implications.

He also presents an interesting, if not wholly original solution to the Fermi Paradox. Technological civilizations inevitably experience a technological singularity, one result of which is that they neither leave their system nor communicate with ordinary intelligences. Vernor Vinge and others have postulated the same solution, but Stross develops the answer and its implications further than anyone else I’ve read. As for first contact with extraterrestrials, it occurs frequently in SF, but rarely looks as it does here:

The Tuileries are full of confused lobsters.

Aineko has warped this virtual realm, implanting a symbolic gateway in the carefully manicured gardens outside. The gateway is about two meters in diameter, a verdigris-coated orouborous loop of bronze.... Giant black lobsters—- each the size of a small pony—- shuffle out of the loop’s baby blue field, antennae twitching. They wouldn’t be able to exist in the real world, but the physics model here has been amended to permit them to breathe and move, by special dispensation.

Amber sniffs derisively as she enters the great reception room of the Sully wing. "Can’t trust that cat with anything," she mutters. (180-81)

Stross provides reasonable explanations for why the aliens have taken the form of crustaceans, what they're doing in a simulated Tuileries, and why Amber holds the cat responsible.

Accelerando features Stross's usual nerd jokes, including a cameo by H.P. Lovecraft—"some boringly prolix pulp author from the early twentieth, with a body phobia of extropian proportions," according to the character Rita (337). The parodic echo of Lovecraft's style should be clear to anyone who has read him.

Stross presents many characters and keeps them credible despite pressures and circumstances that conventional writers don’t face. It takes talent to plausibly handle characterization in a world where people have multiple incarnations. Still, more could have been done with these characters, and Stross misses opportunities. When the downloaded crew of the Field Circus return, we learn the fates of their originals in a few paragraphs of Infodump. Those stories could have been a fascinating, developed part of this novel.

Given that Stross juggles so many ideas and follows through on their implications, one might expect and excuse a certain amount of infodump. The regular updates on human and posthuman history I accepted and enjoyed. However, Stross later uses these bolded sections to explain character’s motivations and backstory. He occasionally tells us things about characters we should have been shown, and in some cases could already guess. Lengthy dialogues take place (172-73 of the hardcover edition, for example) to explain and clarify. He’d do better to tell a smaller part of the story and allow his readers to understand his world through narrative rather than by notes. Accelerando, the first of two parts, by itself could have been a trilogy.

Stross has not yet lived up to the promise of his debut novel, Singularity Sky, but he has, with Accelerando produced another entertaining and thought-provoking book.

The book has been made available as a free download.

Author: Charles Stross
Published: Ace Books, 2005
Genre: Science Fiction, Transhumanism

Charles Stross is one of the best writers of transhumanist SF around today (although he refers to it as posthumanism, not transhumanism). He has written a number of books set in the far (or maybe not-so-far) future, exploring the effects that advanced biological sciences and artificially created neural networks will have on humans. You should read some of his books. But not this book. Not unless you are really obsessed with transhumanism, anyway...

Accelerando is a novel pasting together a number of short stories previously published in Asimov's Science Fiction magazine. And I use the word 'pasting' deliberately. While this book is packed full of new and exciting ideas, the plot and writing style leaves a lot to be desired. Mr. Stross made a number of interesting and unusual choices when writing this book. For example, it is written in the third person present tense. It spans three generations, in a jerky and unpredictable manner. It is interspersed with 'news updates', updating you on what wonderful advancements have occurred this decade. And it doesn't build. I have almost finished the book, but I have no more urge to finish it than I would a particularly interesting glossary of ideas. I don't care what happens to any of the characters, and I'm somewhat indifferent as to whether or not the human race survives. I would identify it as an ODTAA plot, except that the 'D' is largely missing from the equation -- it's like browsing the 2100 edition of Wikipedia.

Okay, enough griping. Charles Stross is a brilliant idea man, and he does a great job of showing what the future really holds. He is over-emphasizing (I think) the speed that the future will arrive and the role that nanobot matter munchers will play in reformatting the solar system, but I could be wrong. I'm certain that he is entirely correct in predicting that large portions of the human race will upload themselves; if you don't believe this, reading this book may convince you. But that's hardly a new idea; what really makes this book worthwhile is his exploration of what it means to be uploaded. Suddenly posthumans are in direct competition with viruses, worms, self-improving AIs, failed (or perhaps too successful) science experiments, and all the oddities of the internet writ large and evolving fast.

The characters are insanely cool (which makes the complete lack of good editing -- or writing -- all the sadder); a technologist who patents multiple inventions a day, releasing them all into the public domain, earning him the whoofie lifestyle of a billionaire without a cent ever entering his bank accounts; a colony of orphans that sets up a kingdom on a moon of Jupiter and becomes one of the major powers of the solar system; a cloned kitten that has had so many apps applied to it that it is more powerful than any of the enhanced humans around it; a boy who was raised in simulation dozens of times to find the best outcome, who unbeknownst to his parents has been logging and integrating all of his ersatz lifetimes.

If anyone is looking for a good piece of fanfic to write for NaNoWriMo, this would be a great universe to fill with some personalities. So very close to being a good book...

Ac*cel`er*an"do (#), a. [It.] Mus.

Gradually accelerating the movement.


© Webster 1913.

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