Accelerando is a 2005 set of short stories by Charles Stross. The novel consists of three parts with three short stories each, showing the life of a family going through an AI Singularity.
The novel follows three generations of the Macx clan. In the first part of the book, the plot revolves around Manfred Macx, internet nerdwealth crossdresser, in the early decades of the 21st century, starting in 2013. Manfred is an entrepreneur who has made a fortune using algorithms to create intellectual property. Manfred is a singulatarian always trying to keep his wearable tech ahead of the curve. His wearable supercomputer develops into a metacortex, which, when stolen by a druggie causes a severe case of memory loss and depersonalization.
In the second part, his daughter, Amber becomes an indentured astronaut helping mine resources from Jupiter’s moons and harnest energy and rare isotopes from Jupiter’s atmosphere. By Amber’s time, uploading has become common. The third and last part follows Amber's son Sirhan as he struggles to help preserve human civilization in the face of the Vile Offspring, the group of 'weakly-godlike superintelligences' that inhabit a cloud of nanocomputers encircling the sun.
Since the novel is actually a collection of short stories, descriptions of concepts and characters are sometimes repeated. While noticeable, this doesn’t turn out to be a huge flaw, and may actually assist some readers in keeping track of the story. The book includes a dazzling array of concepts, including uploading, starwhisps, utility fog, computronium, gray goo, borganisms, decentralized autonomous organization, distributed intelligences, Matrioshka brains ( Dyson spheres) , space elevators, assemblers, super-Turing oracles, and many other singulatarian and futurist tropes. Stross usually assumes that the reader is familiar with most of these concepts, usually offering one line explanations at best. Almost all of these concepts have appeared before in science fiction, but rarely have they been combined into a seamless whole.
The book uses a vocabulary for discussing life in the virtual universes that run on advanced computational substrates. Some of the common terms are:
“meat space” – the physical world
“state vectors” – the string of digits which completely specify the connectome and synaptic weights of a person’s brain.
“ghosts” – temporary instantiations of self which are created to carry out a specific task and report back. They can be manipulated, for instance, a ghost may intentionally be made autistic to assist in performing a particular task. Ghosts usually have a temporary lifespan but if they become substantially different may take on a life of their own, and even download into a separate meatspace body.
“somatotype” – the bodily form that one takes on. In cyberspace, one may become a dragon or any other creature. The same term is used for downloading into a different meatspace body.
“Cartesian theatre” – also called the “sensorium”, the field of conscious perception. People may enhance their sensorium to see radio waves or other types of radiation, or to block out certain senses.
“metacortex” – the cloud computational resources which lay outside seat of consciousness. They may be considered as members of the “society of mind” which can take on certain tasks.
“forking” – the splitting of oneself.
“merging” – the merging of two selves into one (mutual consent is required).
“ackles” – (Transliteration of the pronunciation of “ACL”, an initialism for “Access Control List”) refers to the amount of control one has over the virtual environment. Amber has ‘management grade’ ackles in the spacecraft Field Circus, which allow her to control the laws of physics and other core features of the environment.
- “There is an intrinsic unknowability about the technological singularity. Most writers leave it safely offstage or invent reasons why it doesn’t happen. Not Charles Stross. Accelerando lives up to its name, :and is the most unflinching look into radical optimism I’ve seen.” – Vernor Vinge
- “Like Bruce Sterling or William Gibson at their best, Stross surfs a wave of ideas and information that seems always on the brink of collapsing into incomprehensibility, but never does—a careening plunge :through strangeness in which every page contains something to mess with your head.”—SF Site