The Cat who Walks through Worlds

The first in my stack of Christmas gift novels was Charles Stross’s Accelerando. Definitely a fun read, one of the best sci-fi novels I’ve read since I finished Stephenson’s Diamond Age a few years back.

The title refers to the singularity, the point where technological acceleration becomes so rapid that future prediction is no longer possible (the physics analogue is the event horizon of a black hole). The book is composed of nine short stories covering three generations of the Macx’s, a somewhat dysfunctional family residing on the front line of the exponential curve. Manfred is the first of the trio, a wired geek ‘neo-altruist’ jetting around Europe, using ideas as currency. His daughter is Amber, one of the first generation transhumans, cutting a personalized colony out of cold rocks in Jupiter’s lower orbit, and acting as a bandwidth broker for the entire system. Sirhan is her son, living in a world so far removed from our own it may as well be labeled fantasy. Through it all is the cat, Aeniko (certainly a Heinlein homage), starting as little more than a hacked plaything, eventually becoming a ‘weakly godlike entity’ of a distant human biome.

The book is thick with ideas, bloated with jargon like the frontpage of Slashdot. It makes for an interesting ‘literary’ technique, mirroring the hyperlinked high-bandwidth world from which a lot of these very ideas sprouted.

A few observations:

It was interesting to read Stross’s descriptions of Jupiter and it’s moons, given that I just wrote a science fiction novella in that setting. I also breathed a sigh of relief that my astronomy was for the most part accurate.

Transhumans utilize software agents in increasingly powerful ways. We are already doing this – with ubiquitous cell phones and personalized web tools – we communicate and store information digitally. The question is integration. As gadgets become better designed the use of this exocortex will become easier, and in turn more powerful. Example: Manfred Macx moving from goggles with built in software tools to implants directly in the brain.

Posthumans and the Vile Offspring (which are the uploaded beings residing in the Matrioshka Brain). As human consciousness can be uploaded it can also tweaked, mixed with software agents that ‘think’ in different ways. Similar to the Matrix where Agent Smith could merge and absorb with uploaded identities, posthumans become something else. What happens when these “new” humans no longer respect the old fleshy, dumb ones?

Overall – the tech jargon presents a bit of a learning curve. Stross himself admits as much in various interviews. But don’t let the babble of Kardashev Galaxies, Matrioshka Brains and syncitium throw you off – diligent fans have created a handy online reference guide, precisely the activity you’d come to expect from aspiring transhumanists.

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