Cover image for post Accelerando


This is a very unusual blog post for the open source area of my website, since it contains a recommendation for a science fiction book. The reason I've put it here instead of the private section is on the one hand, that it will definitely reach more geek - and therefor probably scifi interested - people here. On the other hand, the book I'm writing about can be found online for free in English language, but the private section is mostly kept in German.

I love scifi literature and movies, as most geeks do. But the quality of works in this area varies quite a lot. Beside the style of writing, there is one crucial point, which can make the best novel be a total disaster: Authenticity.

Let me give a short example: You probably know the movie Password Swordfish. It's a quite good action shot with some computer science fiction in it. The film doesn't play that far in the future, which makes authentic direction even more important. And it simply fails: Every scene where a computer occurs or is talked about is sooo ridiculous. People cracking 512 bit encryption keys within 60 seconds by hand, by just typing in some passwords? Creation of a worm by putting together ugly rendered 3D cubes? Come on …

Charles Stross manages to write scifi novels with the highest level of authenticity I experienced so far. Surely, his stories could not happen right now, naturally for the scifi genre. However, with every piece of his fiction, you tend to think that it could really happen that way one day.

Accelerando is the book I liked most, so far. It's the story about 3 generations of a family, starting in a not too distant future. I'll try to give you a tiny insight into the story, without telling too much of it:


The core of the book is, as in many of Charles works, the technological singularity. At this point in time, technological evolution will happen that fast, that human minds won't be able to follow it anymore. Starting a few years from now, Manfred Marcx is the first protagonist.

Manfred is a technology consultant, who does not charge anything for his jobs. He makes a living from gifts he receives from satisfied customers, like free for life stop-overs from a hotel chain. Manfred is equipped with augmented reality glasses, informing him about recent news, results from search agents, phone calls, navigation instructions and what ever information he desires.

Manfred already feels, that a singularity is right ahead. He suffers from society neither seeing nor accepting this fact and his way of living, but also from his ex-wife, stalking on him. He interacts with companies and politics in a world which could become real not too far from now.

A nifty side fact I still remember deeply: The music industry has collapsed and was taken over by the Russian mafia, which desperately tries to earn some money with the licenses still left. ;)

The first part of the book follows Manfreds life, creating a picture of the world how I would expect it to be in roughly 10-20 years. The second part deals with Manfreds daughter and the third one with her son. Aligned to the story of this family, Stross digs into the deep future, where people upload their minds to computer memory to realize deep space travel and many more fantastic - often scary - ideas become reality.

Stross does not only describe technological evolution, but also discusses the problems regarding personality and society, arising from it. A little example: Imagine you uploaded your mind to a chip and send it to deep space. 20 years later it returns with many experiences, technological and social ones. But your physical mind also has 20 more years of experiences. Life has changed. Would you still want to integrate with your second mind? Would this mind want to do so? What would be the consequences? Can your uploaded mind be made responsible for misdoings of your physical being?

The author manages to describe serious science fiction. The technological evolution Stross describes is sophisticated and based on a serious technological background. I mainly blame this on his degree in computer science. For non-geeks, the printed (German) version even has a little lexicon attached, explaining computer science terminology used throughout the work. In addition to that, Stross manages to present the effects on society and individuals of the given scenarios and to make you fell how it could be.

I can only recommend to any geek to read Stross' novels. Beside Accelerando, I also enjoyed The Atrocity Archives quite much. This one follows a completely different approach, but is not less captivating. A final little side note: Stross writes his books in VIM.

Follow ups: Get Accelerando online and get more books by Charles Stross.


You might be interested to know that Stross's work here is so authentic because that's what he did for years professionally...

Check out his blog at

Mark Dennehy at 2010-03-10

Yes, Charly is highly recommended. Get a copy of glasshouse!

martin at 2010-03-10