Grain of Salt disclaimer: I’ve been on a Charlie Stross bender– this is #4 in a few weeks, plus playing catchup on his blog— and that tends to be a bad idea. You start to notice recurring tropes, for instance, like “canned primates” and “orthohumans” and “megaseconds”.
Anyway, Accelerando is absorbing and you should read it, but I think it’s the weakest of his books. It’s about the singularity, the rapture of the nerds. Humanity creates AIs, then uploads itself into cyberspace, then converts the mass of the solar system into computronium, basically creating a hyperintelligent Dyson sphere. As the resulting “weakly godlike” intelligences are inscrutable, the story focusses on the semi-rejects who choose to remain merely post-human, who spend most of their time in augmented meat bodies.
The middle section of the book is best. It has the strongest character, Amber, and she has the most intriguing story: a mid-21C girl fully at home with augmented minds, she escapes her domineering mother, founds the Ring Imperium, and rides a starwisp out to an alien router with a bunch of friends, falls into and escapes an alien trap.
The first part starts just past the present, and it tries so hard to be hip and up-to-date that it’s already hopelessly dated. (For example, he refers to Microsoft several times but not Google; and the timeline is already ludicrous; it’s 2010 and we don’t even have cool exocomputational shells.) Plus his hero of this section, Amber’s father, is a soulless nerd a la Gibson who never amounts to much more than his obsession with being transhuman. What, playing Second Life wasn’t enough?
And the third part concentrates on wrapping up the family story, ending up with Amber’s son– only the real story has gone somewhere else. No character speaks for the post-intelligences in the computronium, so they simply become a threat without clear motivation. (It’s never really explained what they’ll accomplish if they eat up Saturn as well as Jupiter.) And the book ends on a cheat, hinting at new developments with the aliens and never delivering. I think Stross got too tied up with his symmetrical structure. Tthe last chapters are a continual family reunion: death is never final, so the cast continually grows and no one gets enough screen time.
Plus the last chapters sound like the Star Trek writers used to write scripts:
KIRK: Why can’t we TECH?
SCOTTY: We can’t TECH because of TECH. We’ll have to TECH.
The TECH would be filled in later with plausible-sounding nonsense. Not that Stross ever just spits out jargon, but it does read sometimes like he’s trying to give techno-wet dreams to Wired readers. I think he does much better when he focusses on a single viewpoint character and a somewhat less abstract predicament. (“Why are people trying to kill me?” works pretty well in Saturn’s Children and Glasshouse.)
There was a period when the grand dreams of classic sf were sidelined in favor of slightly dystopian near-future stuff. Stross is good news, in that a huge perspective, megaprojects, and space opera are back in style. He reminds me of Niven, except with more biological savvy and less recourse to unobtainium. And a dash of socialism.