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Accelerando by Charles Stross

accelerando singularity fermi paradox artificial intelligence

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#1
zEVerzan

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Recently got around to reading Stross' Accelerando, 9 short stories that chronicle a future history told from the POV of 3 generations of the Macx family and their artificially intelligent cat.

 

It details a terrifying take on the Singularity that doubles, to me at least, as Cosmic Horror. Its answer for the Fermi Paradox is as follows:

Spoiler

 

Throughout the book you really do get this sense of the wild, out-of-control pace of life in the future. This is valuable to me for being one of the only stories I've ever seen to really get at what's beyond the all-mysterious but tantalizing Singularity.

 

Who else read it and what are your thoughts?


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I always imagined the future as a time of more reason, empathy, and peace, not less. It's time for a change.
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#2
Yuli Ban

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The first story actually turned me off several years ago because the bit about the Russian chatbot and Macx being a patent troll made me think it was going in a more Neuromancer-esque cyberpunk direction with the lead character being a nihilistic outsider chased by government agencies with question of the Singularity in the background. When I finally got around to the rest of it and discovered that the 'AI' was a bunch of uploaded brain scans from a lobster, it actually read much closer to my long-envisioned "futuristic realism" style. It's absolutely fascinating, though the writing style feels a bit clunky. I think my big hang-up was more that there was so much tech wank to the point it read like a Wired article with fiction attached. Nowadays, that's probably the reason I like it. 

 

It's one of those books where the concepts and themes is really more important than the characters, so if you're reading it for character-driven drama, you're probably going to be disappointed (though to be fair, hard sci-fi often has unrelatable characters anyway). 

 

The big draw of the book is the detailing of the Singularity, of humans turning themselves into other forms for fun and asking big questions. Like the one about whether pork not made from pigs is halal. I wish Charles Stross were a part of this forum. We'd not be any less insane, but at least we'd have another take on the questions.


And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.


#3
zEVerzan

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For me at least, all that tech wank and jargon at the beginning of the book really sold me on this world that may as well be only 5 years from now but that's changing so rapidly a layman from modern times might feel left in the dust. Of course, the starting chapter of the book was probably set... 5 years ago. So there's a bit of zeerust, there.

 

The fact that a 12-year-old runaway was able to seed some production on an asteroid orbiting Jupiter, form a kingdom that would rise to encompass the whole Jovian Ring and dominate the kinetic energy market, only for it to become obsolete and decline into obscurity, all over the span of 3 decades or so, also sells this blinding pace of civilization. That's the largest and most powerful nation in a traditional sense to ever exist and it didn't even last half an average human lifespan.

 

I especially enjoy the part where Manfred's metacortex glasses are stolen and this early posthuman consciousness is divided between a very confused meatbrain who struggles to come to terms with baseline intelligence, and a 2-bit thief who suddenly develops superintelligence and an identity crisis.

 

I disagree with your take on the characters, they tended to have very strong personalities that were far more central to the story than you might find in other sci-fi. You know a character is great when you love to hate them, for example. I like to think of this as the tale of a very dysfunctional family directly and indirectly guiding the fate of mankind, pulling it in different directions over the decades.


I always imagined the future as a time of more reason, empathy, and peace, not less. It's time for a change.
Attention is currency in the "free marketplace of ideas".
I do other stuff besides gripe about the future! Twitter Youtube DeviantArt +-PATREON-+

#4
Yuli Ban

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I actually found this old post explaining why the tech wank retarded my interest in the book for so long. Considering I was on a slice-of-tomorrow high at the time and was being unreasonably harsh to anything that didn't meet my standards, Accelerando put me off until this past year. Hopefully this explains why it took so long for me to come back around to it.
 
If all stories were written like science fiction stories

Roger and Ann needed to meet Sergey in San Francisco.
 
“Should we take a train, or a steamship, or a plane?” asked Ann.
 
“Trains are too slow, and the trip by steamship around South America would take months,” replied Roger. “We’ll take a plane.”
 
He logged onto the central network using his personal computer, and waited while the system verified his identity. With a few keystrokes he entered an electronic ticketing system, and entered the codes for his point of departure and his destination. In moments the computer displayed a list of possible flights, and he picked the earliest one. Dollars were automatically deducted from his personal account to pay for the transaction.
 
The planes left from the city airport, which they reached using the city bi-rail. Ann had changed into her travelling outfit, which consisted of a light shirt in polycarbon-derived artifical fabric, which showed off her pert figure, without genetic enhancements, and dark blue pants made of textiles. Her attractive brown hair was uncovered.
 
At the airport Roger presented their identification cards to a representative of the airline company, who used her own computer system to check his identity and retrieve his itinerary. She entered a confirmation number, and gave him two passes which gave them access to the boarding area. They now underwent a security inspection, which was required for all airline flights. They handed their luggage to another representative; it would be transported in a separate, unpressurized chamber on the aircraft.
 
“Do you think we’ll be flying on a propeller plane? Or one of the newer jets?” asked Ann.
 
“I’m sure it will be a jet,” said Roger. “Propeller planes are almost entirely out of date, after all. On the other hand, rocket engines are still experimental. It’s said that when they’re in general use, trips like this will take an hour at most. This one will take up to four hours.”
 
After a short wait, they were ushered onto the plane with the other passengers. The plane was an enormous steel cylinder at least a hundred meters long, with sleek backswept wings on which four jet engines were mounted. They glanced into the front cabin and saw the two pilots, consulting a bank of equipment needed the fly the plane. Roger was glad that he did not need to fly the plane himself; it was a difficult profession which required years of training.
 
The surprisingly large passenger area was equipped with soft benches, and windows through which they could look down at the countryside as they flew 11 km high at more than 800 km/h. There were nozzles for the pressurized air which kept the atmosphere in the cabin warm and comfortable despite the coldness of the stratosphere.
 
“I’m a little nervous,” Ann said, before the plane took off.
 
“There’s nothing to worry about,” he assured her. “These flights are entirely routine. You’re safer than you are in our ground transport cars!”
 
Despite his calm words, Roger had to admit to some nervousness as the pilot took off, and the land dropped away below them. He and the other passengers watched out the windows for a long time. With difficulty, he could make out houses and farms and moving vehicles far below.
 
“There are more people going to San Francisco today than I would have expected,” he remarked.
 
“Some of them may in fact be going elsewhere,” she answered. “As you know, it’s expensive to provide airplane links between all possible locations. We employ a hub system, and people from smaller cities travel first to the hub, and then to their final destination. Fortunately, you found us a flight that takes us straight to San Francisco.”
 
When they arrived at the San Francisco airport, agents of the airline company helped them out of their seats and retrieved their luggage, checking the numeric tags to ensure that they were given to the right people.
 
“I can hardly believe we’re already in another city,” said Ann. “Just four hours ago we were in Chicago.”
 
“We’re not quite there!” corrected Roger. “We’re in the airport, which is some distance from the city, since it requires a good deal of space on the ground, and because of occasional accidents. From here we’ll take a smaller vehicle into the city.”
 
They selected one of the hydrocarbon-powered ground transports from the queue which waited outside the airport. The fee was small enough that it was not paid electronically, but using portable dollar tokens. The driver conducted his car unit into the city; though he drove only at 100 km/hr, it felt much faster since they were only a meter from the concrete road surface. He looked over at Ann, concerned that the speed might alarm her; but she seemed to be enjoying the ride. A game girl, and intelligent as well!
 
At last the driver stopped his car, and they had arrived. Electronic self-opening doors welcomed them to Sergey’s building. The entire trip had taken less than seven hours.


The trick to "slice of tomorrow" is doing the reverse: writing science fiction as you would non-science fiction. This is actually very difficult to pull off, partially because you can't spend time on worldbuilding or showing off technology until it's absolutely, quintessentially necessary for the story, and part of the appeal of science fiction & fantasy is worldbuilding and showing off gadgets. If you think that doesn't sound so difficult, try creating a sci-fi story without going on at lengths explaining any technology that's used. "iGlasses, a pair of augmented reality spectacles that overlay graphics and data upon the world" is utterly redundant in a slice of tomorrow story; you stop at "iGlasses". You don't try directing the story to give context clues as to what it does either, because you wouldn't in a story set today that has a character using sunglasses. Slice of tomorrow only works well when the author writes it as if it's contemporary, not science fiction (and that means more than you might initially think).

 

Since Accelerando wasn't that (and why would it be?), the Yuli Ban of 2016 was too much of a pretentious asshole to see it as anything other than cyberpunk schlock with neat themes rather than the transhumanist-Singularitarian epic it actually is.


And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future.


#5
tomasth

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Both the "slice of tomorrow" and the the one explaining things , counts as sci-fi story.

 

Charles Stross have a blog , you can get his take from there. Better to have new unknown people.







Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: accelerando, singularity, fermi paradox, artificial intelligence

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