(2005) Charles Stross, Orbit, £16.99, hrdbk, 433pp, ISBN 1-84149-390-2
Manfred Macx doesn't have a 'real' job; he just wanders around, spilling out ideas for new technologies and calling in the odd favour. The world recession in the new millennium is finally turning after a decade and a half, but globally populations are ageing as people live longer and the rate of technological change increases daily. For Manfred old-style economics just doesn't work. Needless to say he has his friends, or at least people who are indebted to him, but also his enemies, those who hate the uncontrolled way he spawns new technologies in his wake, ignoring the way things 'should be done'. He has a robot cat, one of few possessions left after his divorce (and his ex-wife isn't completely happy about that) and, just as he upgrades its intelligence periodically, so too does he indulge in intelligence amplification technology for himself, initially through the use of peripherals, then implants, until he's finally readys to throw off flesh altogether. With dizzying rapidity the solar system is also invaded by technology, with Macx's daughter one of the major players in the new economics. When Macx, bereft of flesh, sends her his now very intelligent cat, it makes a SETI discovery that leads to an extra-solar exploration for the uploaded intelligences of his daughter, Amber, and her associates who transmit themselves into what appears to be a 'router'. Assuming they survive what they find there, there will still be the problem of what they find when the come back to the solar system, not least their old 'meat' selves... And the cat, itself now an AI in all but name, might also have a few new ideas about what it would like to do.
This book, or at least parts of it, are very reminiscent of bits of Greg Egan's Permutation City and Diaspora, not to mention chunks of William Gibson's Virtual Light and even Pattern Recognition. All of which is to the good. But, good as this book is (and I'm a sucker for any book where the cat turns out to be the most intelligent protagonist), it seems much less accomplished than Charles' previous offerings (both excellent), Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise which, admittedly, are a bit space opera-ish (not that there's anything wrong with that) and a bit more 'sure footed'. Perhaps this is because, as Charles admits, it took him five years to finish this book. As such it seems much more like a First Novel than Singularity Sky did which may, perversely, be for the best. I certainly think, for the general SF reader, that it's probably best to encounter the books in the order they were released. Not that I want to put anyone off Accelerando, far from it; it's just not the best place to start encountering Charles' work, in my opinion.
See Accelerando paperback review for Jonathan's take.
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