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  1. #1
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    June '06 BOTM: Accelerando by Charles Stross

    The Accelerando discussion is now open. Archren, who nominated Accelerando, contributed a few questions to get the discussion rolling:


    -Do you feel that spreading the storyline over multiple generations was an effective technique?

    -Did the tech-heavy jargon enhance or detract from your enjoyment of the book?

    -Aineko was a central character but in a tangential way. Did you find the description of its role at the end of the novel an interesting plot twist or merely confusing?

  2. #2
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    Spreading the story across several generations is nothing new in SF; I enjoy those tales so it was OK for me.

    My biggest bugbear with the book is that when I read some of it as shorter stories it worked better for me. The book even as a series of connected stories was too dense for me to read much in one go.

    I found when I gave it a long session the book became parody; though I know Charlie is not a writer who would intentionally do this, I found the book trying too hard to impress with it's hip slang dudes and it lost it's impact.

    The plot twist at the end was interesting, though I'm not sure entirely successful.

    Overall the book was worth reading but not one that will become one of my personal favourites. It was a good attempt to shake SF up a little but didn't work entirely successfully for me. Though it was clever, I'm not sure it'll remain memorable to me for long. Perhaps this is me expecting a little more than I got, though.

    Hobbit
    Mark

  3. #3
    Next to Arch Stanton ezchaos's Avatar
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    I read this back in January and have to agree with a lot of what Hobbit says. The ideas were interesting for the first 50 pages or so, but then the story had a hard time holding my interest.

    Do you feel that spreading the storyline over multiple generations was an effective technique?

    Not in this case

    -Did the tech-heavy jargon enhance or detract from your enjoyment of the book?

    Detracted. It became old fast. One of my biggest complaints.

    -Aineko was a central character but in a tangential way. Did you find the description of its role at the end of the novel an interesting plot twist or merely confusing?

    I have to agree that the ending had a somewhat interesting twist, but not worth reading the whole book for.

  4. #4
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    I haven't finished this one yet. I read about half of it in two days, then had to stop and move on for the time being. It was something of the combination of writing style and reading for hours and hours off of my PDA that just cooked me on this one. So I'm reading Vellum now for something a little more interesting and less taxing on the eyes. I do intend to go back to Accel after finishing Vellum in the next day or two....unless I'm drawn off by something else interesting-looking.


    My thoughts so far, as I can't really address it as a complete book, are mostly in regards to the jargon. I don't have a problem with the jargon in and of itself. I understand what he means by all of it pretty much on the first reading. But it doesn't seem like he's often doing anything with it. It's not contributing to the narrative. It's just there. So rather than helping to flesh out and expand the story, as in some books, it feels like Stross is taking a little tiny story and stretching it all out over this jargon, which just leaves it feeling thin to me.

    Sometimes I found myself cranking up the scroll speed just to make myself glaze over some of it so that I could get to the slightly more interesting parts again.

    I was really trying to decide if I would go back to finish it or not. In the first half, there's been nothing to make me want to keep going. I think part of the problem from a "book" perspective is the nature of the related shorts. Nothing happened in the Macx part of the book to make me want to read on to the Amber part. Nothing has so far happened in the Amber part to make me want to go on to whatever comes next.

    The most interesting thing going for it at this point is that you guys have mentioned a twist....and even that isn't but so interesting.

  5. #5
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    I tend to agree with Hobbit's comments. I've read the Accelerando three times now, first as short stories published in ASIMOVS SF MAGAZINE, then twice as the novel (on-screen & dead tree version). The most recent reading was earlier this year.

    It starts off with a hiss & a roar. LOBSTERS is one of my all-time favourite short stories. The first time I read it, it was fresh, had real energy & novel concepts & ideas. The story had a dense style like William Gibson's NEUROMANCER, with lots of ideas packed-in, what some people call a high bit-rate story. I was hooked.

    Having to read the rest of the sequence in episodes over time in ASIMOVS was a different experience to reading it all in one go in book form. It worked a lot better as an episodic work. There was time to process each story before the next episode came along.

    The book suffers from its origins. It is really a fix-up of a bunch of related short stories. I find that the best way to read it as a book would be to read them as 9 short stories rather than one novel.

    More later.

  6. #6
    Registered User odo's Avatar
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    I finished the book yesterday and I did like it very much. I loved all those ideas "thrown" to me all the time But I also feel, as some you have already mentioned, that there few things going on in the stories and that the actual plot was not that interesting. Sometimes it was (for instance in "Nightfall", which was my favourite chapter) but either in that cases, it was quickly and very satisfactorily resolved.

    Anyway, I love the book as a perfect example of SF as literature of ideas. Almost every page had something that made think (you know, Manfred Macx has 6 ideas before breakfast ) and I loved the continuous references to computers, science, literature, philosophy... In this respect, I think the book is almost perfect. One of the most obvious homages is to "Alice in Wonderland" (Aineko as the Chesire cat, for example) but there are lots more (Tipler, Clarke, Lovecraft, Chomsky, Matrix, Dilbert, Transmetropolitan...) and I even see the structure of the book (3 parts with 3 chapters and different generations of the same familiy) related to the Star Wars movies (but maybe this is too far-fetched). I'd like to know which other references you have noticed.

    As for the ideas, my mind was completely blown away by the Matrioshka brain. Wow! I had never heard of such kind of thing and, oddly enough, I read about it again in "Godplayers" by Damien Broderick almost at the same time (I read Broderick's book in between two chapters of Accelerando). Then I found out (via wikipedia) that it is a kind of "real project". Same thing with the lobsters. I just love when SF books speculate with current scientific ideas and developments. And the infodumps ("Welcome to the 21st century" ) were the best part of the book

    The jargon was a plus for me. I work in computer science and really like to find this kind of language in my readings. I feel a "complicity" (as it was a kind of private joke) with the author. And I think the jargon was, many times, used in a really creative way and not just as silly technobabble (which is most usual, for instance in "Godplayers").

    The characters were interesting enough to me (I especially like Amber) though I see they were not completely fleshed out. The role of Aineko was more or less obvious to me from chapter 4 or 5, so the final twist was not suprising, just a nice way to tie everything up.

    To put in a nutshell, I loved the book because of its ideas, but I think the plots were a bit dull.

    I would like to propose some other questions to debate:

    * As I've already said, I found the book full of references to science, literature, philosophy. What do you think of them? Which ones did you find?

    * A particular strong inspiration seem to be the "Transmetropolitan" comic books. I haven't read them, but I have taken a look and there are quite a lot of similarities. Have you read "Transmetropolitan"? What do you think?

    * About the singularity, what do you think of Stross' ideas? In particular, do you think that something like "Economics 2.0" is plausible to exist in the future? Do we carry "the seeds of singularity" as Manfred says?

    * It seems that there will be another book ("Glasshouse") set in the same universe. Will you read it?

    * Which was you favourite story?

    * What do you think of "Accelerando" having been released under a Creative Commons license?

    Sorry if I ask too much, but I found the book really thought-provoking on all these issues
    Last edited by odo; June 2nd, 2006 at 05:22 AM.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by odo
    "The jargon was a plus for me."

    "To put in a nutshell, I loved the book because of its ideas, but I think the plots were a bit dull."
    In case it wasn't apparent from my previous post, I really like the book but wanted to like it even more. And mainly for the reasons you state.

    As I understand it, the inspiration for the stories was the commonly held writers' belief that it was not possible to write a story/book spanning a technological singularity. Other writers, most notably Vernor Vinge have written post-Singularity fiction, but no-one's written about a Singularity as-it-happened. "Accelerando" is Stross' attempt at it. As far as that goes, it is partially successful.

    That he even attempted it at all speaks to his courage as a writer. That it was even partially successful points to his ability.

    Quote Originally Posted by odo
    I would like to propose some other questions to debate:

    * As I've already said, I found the book full of references to science, literature, philosophy. What do you think of them? Which ones did you find?
    The main one for me was the philosophical aspect, the perception of self & defining identity. If you can spawn copies of yourself, are they still you or are they now separate entities? If they are bots of yourself, at what level do the bots become sentient? And who decides what sentience or self-awareness is?

    It also goes to the concepts of consciousness. Does it have to be continous? Is it platform dependent? If I upload myself into a computer, is it still me? Or do I have to be in a biological meat-body? And if the computer is turned off, does that mean that I die? If so, then what about when the meat version of me goes to sleep? Do I die every night & wake up to a different me every morning? Thought-provoking questions.

    Quote Originally Posted by odo
    * A particular strong inspiration seem to be the "Transmetropolitan" comic books. I haven't read them, but I have taken a look and there are quite a lot of similarities. Have you read "Transmetropolitan"? What do you think?
    There are similarities. Ellis isn't unknown to Stross. I'd want to check on the writing timelines but I suspect that the similarities are coincidental, more a result of them both interested in similar issues & reading & talking to the same sorts of people at the time. But really, I don't know.

    Quote Originally Posted by odo
    * About the singularity, what do you think of Stross' ideas? In particular, do you think that something like "Economics 2.0" is plausible to exist in the future? Do we carry "the seeds of singularity" as Manfred says?
    Personally, I think that the Singularity is a neat idea to explore in stories, but I doubt that it'll happen. "Economics 2.0" is fascinating. Even now, our "Economics 1.0" is a mystery to many, a lot of faith is involved. For example, on the stock market, a share is worth a particular price because that is what someone is willing to pay for it. It often bears very little relationship to actual tangible assets, but sometimes more on market confidence a.k.a. whether people 'believe' the share price will increases or not. For me, "Economics 2.0" is 'merely' taking it a step further.

    Do we carry the "seeds of singularity" within us? I don't think so, but I certainly do think that we carry the "seeds of change" within us.

    Quote Originally Posted by odo
    * It seems that there will be another book ("Glasshouse") set in the same universe. Will you read it?
    Yes. Although I understand it will be a very different book.

    Quote Originally Posted by odo
    * Which was you favourite story?
    Easy one: "Lobsters".

    Quote Originally Posted by odo
    * What do you think of "Accelerando" having been released under a Creative Commons license?
    I think it is an excellent idea for several reasons. From the Charles Stross blog entry dated 28 Feb., 2006 about DRM locking downloaded fiction to specific machines:

    Rule #1: the customer is not a PDA, they may change computers.

    Rule #2: trust your customers, don't treat them like shoplifters.


    Reasons that work for me:
    1. Publicity: It is a form of publicity. If no-one knows who you are, who will buy your work?
    2. Sell-through: Many people like me are i)choosy & ii) hate reading more than a few pages online. The downloads allows people like me to 'try before I buy' & if I like it enough, I'll buy the dead tree version.

    This strategy seems to work best for a mid-list author, where making downloads available exposes the work to people who might not otherwise be aware of it. It won't work for a best-seller like J.K. Rowling where peope who might buy it already know of it & in fact, may negatively impact on sales, but it seems to be a worthwhile marketing tactic for the lesser-known writers.

    A publisher like Baen Books has made their books available without any DRM, so I can download the book & view it in any format or even print it. They generally make the first book of a series free & have kept doing it as it increases sales of their print versions.

    I also find it interesting that Charles Stross' "The Concrete Jungle" won the 2005 Hugo for Best Novella. At nomination time, the only place you could have read it was in the hardcover book, "The Atrocity Archives" which had a print of 3000. Following nomination, it was made available under CCL. While I would like to believe that the strength of the story would have achieved it the Hugo anyway, making it freely available undoubtedly had a tremendous effect.

    BTW odo, you should check out "The Atrocity Archives", my favourite Stross book to date. I would say more but I cannot describe it in a way that does it justice.

    Quote Originally Posted by odo
    Sorry if I ask too much, but I found the book really thought-provoking on all these issues
    Cool. That's the point of the Book Club; to generate discussion!

  8. #8
    Registered User odo's Avatar
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    You have mentioned some very interesting points

    First, I'd like to say that I found the philosophical topics not as deep as I would have liked. The speculation on the question of identity is light-years away from that of Egan or John C. Wright (in the The Golden Age trilogy). Interesting, anyway, but a bit standard. It is one of my favoutite topics and I was expecting more new insights.

    The topic of economy, on the other side, was surprising to me. I think Stross is right in that economy would play a principal role in a singularity. However, it seems that most authors focus just on the scientific or tecnological aspects of the singularity an leave economy aside.

    About the Creative Commons, I also think it was an excellent idea. I bought the book anyway, but I also downloaded digital versions and I read substantial parts of the book both in my computer and in my mobile phone. It was a really curious experience and a step forward to the singularity, I think

    Quote Originally Posted by Soon Lee
    BTW odo, you should check out "The Atrocity Archives", my favourite Stross book to date. I would say more but I cannot describe it in a way that does it justice.
    I've been really, really interested in TAA for a long time (wow! Turing + Lovecraft ) but the availability is not very good. I think I'll download "The concrete jungle" in digital version and give it a try (thank you for the link!)

  9. #9
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    You're right. John C. Wright does the examination of identity much better. Stross' was still an interesting take on the identity issue.

    I have been interested in the topic of economy, more so since I read Neal Stephenson's BAROQUE CYCLE. Book One, QUICKSILVER was an examination of the scientific technique & rationalism. Book Two, THE CONFUSION was more focussed on the foundation of our economic system, and Book Three, SYSTEM OF THE WORLD was supposed to bring it all together. It's a flawed masterpiece but there are some real pearls in there. It can be read as a (mostly) historical fiction or an examination of the genesis of modern day society.

    With economics, basically, once humans moved away from a barter system to currency, the rules changed. It changed even more when currency was no linger linked to a tangible commodity. Basically, going from:

    one cow = 5 bushels of wheat,

    to one cow = 10 gold; 1 bushel of wheat = 2 gold, gold being the standard and has intrinsic value.

    to one cow = 10 dollars, and 1 dollar is worth whatever the market rate is. And the dollar is represented by bytes of digital information or by paper sigils.

    It's arguably an economic singularity; for example, would an ancient Egyptian brought forward to the present day be able to conceive that a small rectangular papyrus (Credit Card) can be used repeatedly to magically acquire goods?

    With TAA, be warned that THE CONCRETE JUNGLE takes place after the events of TAA, it will be a bit like reading a sequel first. TAA is now also available as a trade paperback & if you search some of the booksites like Amazon, Abebooks or Addall.com, you can find cheaper new or used copies.

    One of the things I like about Stross' writing is the ideas. Have you read his piece On Beginnings where he talks about the inspiration behind the story. His strength is world-building, he is less good at characterisations but he brings so much energy to his writing that it is easy to overlook that, especially in short stories. So in ACCELERANDO, the stronger bits are the infodumps, the technical jargon and the explanation of big ideas (Matrioshka Brains! Eigen-selves!, VILE OFFSPRING!, ECONOMICS 2.0!). He is getting better at characters though.

    The big problem with writing a story that spans a Singularity is that a pre-Singularity person in a post-Singularity environment would not be able to function as the post-Singularity environment is so alien to them. To make it work, the characters have to be enough like us pre-Singularity humans that we, the readers can relate to them, yet different enough to justify the post-Singularity label.

    Stross is clearly not averse to tackling difficult challenges. He is currently writing HALTING STATE which is on MMORPGS and is going to use second person point-of-view as he says in his 20th April 2006 blog entry! He is an interesting writer & I'm curious to read what he comes up with next.

  10. #10
    Prefers to be anomalous intensityxx's Avatar
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    As I've posted before, I eagerly bought the hardback when it first came out, and began reading it consecutively as a novel, making every effort to understand each whiz-bang idea Stross threw my way. My brain got tired about halfway through and I set it down to pick up later. I still haven't picked it back up, but do hold the author and his mighty brain in godly esteem.

    I'm glad this is being read and discussed here, since I think it's a huge and significant undertaking in sf literature, and also because this discussion is inspiring me to give it another try. This time I think I'll read chapters one-by-one, with breaks inbetween, as it was originally written. I am incapable of digesting 5 years of Stross' powerful Ideas in one go.

  11. #11
    Repudiated Ursus s271's Avatar
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    I found "post-singularity" part of the book considerably less interesting than pre- and through- singularity. And I agree, Stross is the first who treat seriously economical aspects of singularity. The same as the ecnomy was/is a driving force of high-tech boom, it may be a driving force of singulartity. One interesting thing is use of programming languages to formulate contracts in exact terms.Another - truly scary idea about the danger of self-aware or presentient corporations and financial tools. Corporations as dumb and inefficient as they are now aready represent a lot of problems and threats, what kind of Evil they would be if they become smart and sentient is difficalt to imagine. Distributed in the net superintelligent patent shark agency, intantly filtering out all patentable ideas from the net, applicating for patent and staring lawsuits, all at once ?

  12. #12
    BookWyrm Archren's Avatar
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    Hi guys! Sorry I haven't posted yet, my brain has been more or less broken this last week. I'll let that be the excuse for the scatteredness of this post as well.

    When I originally read "Accelerando," I posted my initial review at my website. My thoughts haven't changed too dramatically since then.

    The multi-generational thing was an interesting technique, but I had trouble relating to the characters. I liked Manfred, so I was disappointed when I didn't hear from him for 5 chapters. Amber and Sirhan I found annoying. For Amber's generation I wish he'd focused more on Peter, he seemed more sympathetic and interesting. Still, I liked the exaggeration of the modern theme of children being alien to their parents.

    I'd be curious to see what the book would have been like if Stross had kept Aineko closer to the center of things. I think that might have given the book (as opposed to the short stories), a better focus.

    I enjoyed the tech-heavy stuff, which caused me to hit the internet heavily and educate myself. I made heavy use of the Accelerando Wikipedia, which you might want to check out if you've got a little spare time. It answers a lot of the questions that I had, at least. Of course, I'm also the sort of person who really enjoys Kim Stanley Robinson's infodumps, so I know I'm wierd.

    I liked the economic speculation and the human identity speculation, although I'll go with those who say that John C. Wright did the latter better. I loved the idea of the Matrioshka brain, it's just so huge and amazing! However, I'm still not convinced that intelligence will be a self-emergent property of computer systems in this century. I don't doubt that *someday* computer systems will be complex enough to possibly exhibit those kinds of emergent properties, but Stross didn't convince me that it's just around the corner.

    One other thing I thought was an oversight in the books: what did all this look like to people in (for example) Sudan who don't even have TVs yet? How were they integrated (or not) into the Singularity? Were they able to get off-planet? Were they given the tech to integrate at some point? It all seemed a little middle-class Western European/American-centric, if you know what I mean.

  13. #13
    Repudiated Ursus s271's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Archren
    Sudan who don't even have TVs yet? How were they integrated (or not) into the Singularity? Were they able to get off-planet? Were they given the tech to integrate at some point? It all seemed a little middle-class Western European/American-centric, if you know what I mean.
    Sudan will probaly get the WiFi before TV. The East/South-East Asia are covered by novel - Asia is a hadrdware manufacturer. The India is integrating already now. South Africa contries may be integrated in the neraest dozen of years. The central Africa may be integrated too - Negroponte mesh-networked 100 dollars laptop may be instrumental in it. Arabian contiries may become high-tech battleground and a testing ground for new weapon systems. Singularity will probably cause some armed conflicts anyway. I don't see a why the novel should cover any of it if it's not impacting the plot in any major way. I have no feeling that Accelerando is western-centric at all.

  14. #14
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    I have to admit that I didn't read *Accelerando* diligently ... I just skimmed parts I wasn't very interested in ... What can I say? It just didn't grab me! Several SF writers are using evolved human/AI/whatever ideas: I've read Karl Schroeder's *Lady of Mazes* and Tony Daniel's *Metaplanetary* lately and enjoyed these much more ... But I grow into and out of books so I may pick this up ten years from now and really get into it ...

    Multigenerational storyline? Seemed to work OK, although less-interesting protagonists = skimming.

    Pseudo-tech jargon? = skimming.

    Aineko? OK -- I liked the cat! "Cats know what you want; they just don't care." It's refreshing to meet an AI who doesn't become human! From one angle, the felix ex machina ending is rather contrived; from another, it's just admitting what we suspected all along. It's an easy way to wrap up the book after a quick glance at generation four instead of following yet another protagonist.

  15. #15
    the puppet master ArthurFrayn's Avatar
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    Thumbs up if you don't like it move to brooklyn

    Which is a local way of saying , if you don't like technobabble, read Accelerando. I've read people here talking about the many infodumps that are in the book -to me the book was one gigantor infodump. But that's what it sets out to do, to be an uitmate nerd geekfreak fest, and it succeeds in being entertaining in spite or because of this, depending on your perspective.
    Me? I loved it. it was like a meal with way too much curry; my scalp was tingling through the whole thing. Stross has a handle on bits of so many things he definitely wins the "brightest kid in the class" award. I especially enjoyed wry satiric observations like, for example: as the info culture accelerates, it also becomes increasingly litiguous.The economic material with regard to info acceleration is fairly fascinating as discussed above.
    The chapter headings which give you the world backdrop on the story of the MacX clan read very much like the chapter headings in Stand on Zanzibar -Stross gives you the quick macro view, then places his characters in that context. I like the characters, Manfred, Amber,Sadq, Annette...Pamela is probably a bit too much of a PKD BOW for me, but she has her function in the story.
    I like how the story plays out like a parody of night time soap operas like Dallas or Dynasy, and generation gap fiction.
    This is one of my favorite quotes-Amber about her father;

    Amber sighs, and subsides. "Nothing. It's not that I'm ungrateful or anything, but he's just so extropian, it's embarrassing. Like, that was the last century's apocalypse. Y'know?"
    There are lots of little things like this strewn though the book,It's a very amusing novel.

    Much is made of the singularity aspect of the novel, but to me it's reads as a post cyberpunk novel akin to Michael Swanwick's Vacuum Flowers and Stations of the Tide, and very much a descendant of novels like Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix. It's ironic that a novel so much about the thrill of uncontrolled technological advance, is ultimately a cautionary tale about exactly that. The central themes of organic intelligence vs ai, and transhumanism are explored in an interesting and provocative ways. I found the Matrioshka Brain interesting in comparrsion to the nanotech intelligence in Spin, which I also finished recently. They serve a similar function in the novels, but the authors differ in their respective feelings about whether the ramifications are positive or negative..

    Unfortunately, the novel has no true ending; things just kind of peter out. I found the last two chapters the least successful of the novel. I also never really got a very satisfying explanation as to why Aineko becomes so very powerful (apart from the fact that she's the deus ex machina or felix ex machina, as mentioned above ). The explanation that she's running everything all along is unconvincing to me. Also I just caught this on a search: Aineko=AI+Neko(cat in Japanese)

    Still, this is one of the wildest books I've smoked this year. This is what expect from good SF.
    Four and a half stars. ****1/2

    I just found out that Glasshouse is sort of a sequel. I'm pumped to read it, unfortunately I have 3 other novels of his I should read first, on the TBR pile.
    Last edited by ArthurFrayn; January 8th, 2008 at 09:20 AM.

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