By the time I finished ACCELERANDO, I was again reminded how it's just as well that we are, each of us, only so long for this world. With the increasing pace of technological change being what it is, this world is starting to get a little too weird for me already, and I'm not even 50! Imagine living in the mid-21st century timeframe Charles Stross sets his novel against: A time in which the interface between the human mind and the digital realm allows for a genuine expansion of consciousness and the evolution of our species into something new and just a little frightening.
ACCELERANDO deals with three generations of the Macx family, beginning in Manfred, who could have been born in the 1980s and now, as a thirty-something adult, has vast amounts of computer processing power sewn into his clothing and experiences so much of his reality via the web that without his hardware he's all but deaf, dumb, and blind. In Manfred's world we are learning to literally "upload" the brains of living creatures, neuron by neuron, into cyberspace. Later, in the world of Manfred's daughter, Amber, humans can use digital technology to spin off "ghosts," rudimentary copies of their consciences that can worry about rudimentary tasks. By the time Amber's son, Sirhan, starts coming into his own, most of the human beings in the inner solar system have uploaded into cyberspace, the inner planets are being systematically pulverized and turned into raw material for increasing computer bandwidth, and our own sun is little more than an energy source for a growing, almost God-like digital mind. Stranger still is the suggestion that intelligent lifeforms elsewhere in the universe often share similar fates.
Needless to say, ACCELERANDO is highly speculative and ideological, even veering toward satire at times. The novel raises all kinds of provocative questions about the nature of consciousness, identity, and even what we commonly call the soul. In the process Stross throws at the reader all kinds of techno-jargon that we can barely make heads or tails of, though computer geeks will probably have a easier time of it. For me, this made the novel rather difficult to absorb at times, and the parts that take place in purely virtual reality got a bit annoying.
And yet I couldn't shake the suspicion that maybe Charles Stross is really on to something here. 200 years ago a 70 year old and a 17 year old could carry on a conversation in mutually understandable terms. Today that's just not possible, and the pace of technological change is accelerating ever more. Technology, specifically digital computer technology, is shaping who we are as humans and what our society is becoming. Resistance is futile.