I’ve got to say, modern and near future science fiction is not usually my thing. I’m the type who wants to go big or go home. But I’ve wanted to read some Charles Stross for a while, I’ve actually had this book sitting around for quite some time on my “get to sometime” pile, but other things kept coming first. So finally, I got into it, the story of Manfred Macx and his descendants over a series of 9 shortish stories that explore the history of the tech singularity that overtakes humanity. So after all that time, was Accelerando worth the wait? Read on to find out.
“Accelerando” is an Italian term meaning “to speed up”. Here, it refers to the ever-increasing rate that technology is taking over humanity, to the point that we reach a “technological singularity” where tech is all. The stories explore three generations of a single family, starting with “venture altruist” Manfred Macx before the singularity, then moving to his daughter Amber, who lives through the singularity and finishing with his grandson Sirhan who inhabits the world following the event.
Now while the story itself is actually quite good, it won the 2006 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, it’s got some issues. This is as good a place as any to talk about using understandable speech in a fiction story though. See, I recognize in my own writing that 4000 years in the future, whatever language people speak, whatever mannerisms they practice and whatever idioms they use, none of those things will be understandable to a modern reading audience. A reader from a few thousand years ago would have no clue what we were talking about if they were suddenly transported to the modern day and the writer needs to recognize this problem. Therefore, there are two real solutions. First, you can simply make the characters relatable, giving them dialogue that your reader can understand, with the assumption that they realize you’re doing it for their benefit. This is the method that I prefer. Alternatively though, you can just throw a bunch of words at your reader that they don’t comprehend, you can focus on cultural peculiarities that your reader won’t understand the significance of and hope they stumble through the heavy prose with the feeling of really being there. That’s what Stross does in this book. He puts you into Macx’s shoes from the very first page without ever bothering to explain what’s going on or what he’s talking about and I found myself, on more than one occasion, really struggling to continue to trudge through the vocabulary. It’s just not what I want to do when I read. I want to immerse myself in the world, not fight to get through the terminology. There’s nothing wrong with what he does, it just isn’t what I’d do in the same situation.
Apparently I’m not alone because a lot of people who’ve written about the book never ended up finishing it, citing many of the same problems that I had. It’s both confusing and frustrating to trudge through the verbiage, after a while it becomes more work than pleasure and reading is supposed to be enjoyable. I did finish the book, but it was a constant struggle.
Another issue, I’m not sure I’ve talked about this at length before, but this is the kind of hard science fiction that I really dislike. So much of it is about the technology and the culture and the world and the characters really suffer from the lack of attention. I really can’t say I can identify with any of the characters Stross writes. They come off as mere cardboard cutouts prancing through a very detailed world that is far too complex to be dealt with. When the world gets in the way of the story, when the technology gets in the way of the characters, I lose interest in continuing. It’s a sad fact, but as much praise as this book gets, there is just as much criticism from people who wanted an engaging tale, not an over-complicated dose of word-salad. If that’s what you’re looking for, look no further. I wasn’t.