I just finished reading Charles Stross’ novels Glasshouse and Accelerando, in that order. Stross is a British sci-fi writer who, based on these two novels, is gaspingly original.
Before I was born, most of the “best” sci-fi (in the sense of popularity, or praise) were space-opera novels of adventure, conquest, rocket ships, and the like, befitting the pulpy origins of the genre. Then in the 1960s or thereabouts, a wave of what you might call posthumanistic novels cropped up – answering the question “What does humanity look like after X years?” These novels were for the most part still wrapped up in sociological questions, however – questions of politics, group identity, individualism, frontier ethics – and not so much about our minds themselves.
Stross takes on this relatively unexplored territory with gusto and an inventiveness that borders on genius. For Stross, the future of humanity is one of endless morphability. Death is vanquished. Identity becomes a temporary aspect of our selfhood, rather than a permanent characteristic. The question “Who am I?” always figures prominently, even if not as a foreground plot point.
Accelerando follows a genius family and their descendants through a couple hundred years of near-future history. We hit the singularity inflection point early in the novel, and the resulting “acceleration” is a madhouse cacophony of humans, posthumans, transhumans, and other intelligences. During this time, the Macx clan and their acquaintances fork into multiple personas, or ghosts; travel a few light years for the first alien contact; squabble amongst themselves, and participate in the mass exodus of humanity’s physical remnants away from the destructive and ultimately hopeless machinations of the Vile Offspring, the pure AIs that gobble up the solar system in a quest to turn “dumb matter” into endless zeros of computing power.
Watching it all is Aineko, a early-twentieth century feline AI who may be more than it appears. The cat plays prominently in many of Accelerando’s key scenes, and the ultimate denouement of the novel. If Stross has one weakness, it’s in traditional plotting and pacing, but we can forgive that fault for the rest of the package.
I’m eagerly looking forward to reading his most recent novel, “Halting Sky”, which was recently published. After that, he has several other novels which will go into my queue.