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Accelerando (book)

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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 introductionEdit

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.

According to Stross, the initial inspiration for the stories was his experience working as a programmer for a high-growth company during the dot-com boom of the 1990s [1].

A sequel novel entitled Glasshouse, loosely set in the same universe, was published in June 2006.

Explanation of the novel's titleEdit

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.

CharactersEdit

  • 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 storyEdit

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
1 Lobsters
June 01
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.
2 Troubador
Oct/Nov 01
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 centralized 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.
3 Tourist
Feb 02
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
4 Halo
June 02
Amber Macx, now in her early teens, finally breaks free from her domineering mother by utilizing 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.
5 Router
Sep 02
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 propelled 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.
6 Nightfall
Apr 03
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
7 Curator
Dec 03
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.
8 Elector
Sep 04
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.
9 Survivor
Oct/Nov 04
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.

CosmologyEdit

In Accelerando, the planets of the solar system are dismantled to form a Matrioshka brain, a vast computational device inhabited by minds inconceivably more complex than naturally evolved intelligences such as human beings. This proves to be a normal stage in the life cycle of an inhabited solar system; the galaxies are filled with Matrioshka brains, communicating via wormhole networks. Lesser intelligences may live unmolested around brown dwarf stars.

The notion that the universe is dominated by a communications network of superintelligences bears comparison with Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker, although Stapledon's advanced civilizations communicate psychically rather than informatically.

Allusions/references to current scienceEdit

Awards and nominationsEdit

Release detailsEdit

Online versionsEdit

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

it:Accelerando

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