Accelerando Manfred Macx generation review

Oct 16th, 2011 by Kris in Book

I am reading Charles Stross award-winning book Accelerando. My very first encounter with the popular science fiction theme called the singularity, in which human intelligence is surpassed by technological advances. Pretty heavy stuff, yes, not just highly entertaining, but an impressive piece of literature.

Accelerando describes how three generations of the Macx clan try to survive and thrive in an accelerated world. Below I am writing a review of the first generation as the three first chapters were so relatable and gripping. The setting is post-cyberpunk-like and it takes place in the early 21st century. Extra-terrestrial life and spacecrafts are elementary in the subsequent chapters,  and basically a completely transformed world is just not so much appealing to me. I rather prefer themes such as Otaku and globalization. Post-scarcity economics. My fantasy has issues putting up with space exploration and other things beyond human comprehension.

Accelerando has been in paperback already since 2006. Originally it was written as a series of novelettes in the period 2001 to 2004. So really it does not make so much sense to review the book (or novella in this case) when it is in “production” for such a long time already – let alone to notify the author of a typo in the book, which I did. Charles replied me that there is indeed no point in notifying the author of a typo in a book unless you catch it in the first edition within six months of publication. There may be time to correct the second/paperback edition, but once that’s gone to press there’s no re-typesetting unless the book goes out of print and is reissued (many, many years later, if ever). But still, I like the idea of crowd-sourced spelling like Cory’s expirement with self-publishing.

Writer Charlie Stross is distinct from fellow cyberpunk writers such as William Gibson, because he has a background in Pharmacy and brings something new to the table. He is specialized in hard science fiction and knows a few things about biochemistry and computer science. By leveraging these new elements, it really spices and levels up the story. One thing that is bothering me though is that he introduces too many ideas at one go and sometimes keeps rambling one. This makes it incomprehensible at times, but then it all suddenly makes sense again.

The story starts during a hot summer in Amsterdam Centraal Station. Manfred Macx, a VC with a high Whuffie factor, mind-uploader and fighter for AI emancipation, receives a FedEx package when he is enjoying a beer. The parcel contains a mobile phone and Manfred gets called, confronted with a KGB AI agent who wants to be set free. Most likely some spammy Russian capitalist spooks, and a failed robbery attempt, Manfred thinks. However, after bumping into the KGB AI agent a second time, he discovers they are uploaded spiny lobsters or nervous system vectors. It looks like he is then becoming tied up in a communist KGB plot. In the meantime, Manfred is also doing business with entrepreneur  Bob Franklin, to discuss an investment in the self-replicating robotics market. And he runs into his ex-fiancee Pamela. Manfred is all about a higher cause, he doesn’t believe in scarcity, competition or zero-sum games prevalent in the traditional economy. Pamela is totally opposite. She works for the Internal Revenue Service, being worried about such things like national debt, birth decline and environmental issues. Manfred still owes the government twelve million in taxes and she is chasing him for that. Apart from that, Pamela wants to get a grip on Macx and marry him.

Three years later, Manfred returns back to Europe.  In the UK, he loses his luggage which is on its way to Mombasa. Luckily, he manages to pick up a replacement luggage that looks exactly the same. Back in his hotel in Milton Keynes, he gets called up by tame attorney Alan Glashwiecz who is filing a lawsuit against one of his companies out of the blue. Manfred then gets the suspicion that this has something with Pamela’s divorcement settlement. So in order to blow this off, Manfred figures out a plan to make himself a temporary billionaire. In the UK he meets Parisian Arianne from Arianespace marketing, who he had met three years earlier in Amsterdam in connection with investor Bob Franklin – he falls for her. She turns out to be a CIA stringer who files dispatches from time to time. This comes in quite handy when Manfred needs to do a press release. However, because of this, the Copyright Control Association of America comes to know he is based in Paris. They are chasing him because he had been assisting music thieves. So they track him down, but the CCAA does not recognize him, since he is still completely in outfit from the previous night drugging and dress-up clubbing. In the meantime, Manfred comes to know of his daughter with Pamela, currently a frozen fertilized embryo. As he needs money for his divorce and to close the deal to get his luggage back, he thinks of selling his idea to interface a central planning system with a capitalist economy to the Italian Communist Party, represented by Gianni. For settling the divorcement, he gives all the music rights that he acquired from busted music cartels to Pam. However, he uploads the entirety of the 20th century out-of copyright music to an anonymized public network so that the Mafiya can’t stop it from being pirated. This way Manfred is able to fend off the CCAA, his dominatrix wife and her attorney.

Some time later, Manfred finds himself in Edinburgh, Scotland where he gets robbed by a young chap named Jack. He loses his very powerful glasses and belt pouch. Without his goggles, Manfred is lost, confused and suffering from amnesia due to the identity theft. Annette feels something is wrong and worriedly goes to look for Manfred after Gianni tells her that Manfred was going to talk to the Franklin Collective to get him a seat on the Confederacy Commission. The Franklin Collective is in fact a shared partial upload of venture billionaire Bob Franklin, a group mind through the brains of its members or collective borganism. The Franklin Collective has huge resources to help pass the Equal Rights Amendment, where all non-human intelligences are eligible to vote, own property, download, upload and sideload. Manfred makes it to the emergency department in the hospital, but ends of following Victorian men in dark suits and women in anachronistic garb. Meanwhile, Annette is interrogating Manfred’s robot cat Aineko, which eventually will bring her to Jack to get Manfred’s spectacles back while Manfred is with the Victorians. They help Manfred to get his consciousness back and with a memory backup, he is at least able to remember again. It then becomes clear that Manfred is there with the Franklin Collective to discuss Gianni’s election campaign. He gets an anxiety attack and madly explains the Collective about Gianni’s believe to achieve True Communism and make everybody rich. But Manfred is still considerably puzzled and falls asleep. Annette manages to find Manfred and the Collective, and together they try to turn around the ERA opposition. The ERA is a very important theological issue for the Collective, because the cult of individuality allows some of the Collective’s team to operate without  the other’s knowledge. This is countered by Manfred by saying that posthumanists also should be thinking about identity issues. Group minds, lobsters and aliens should get civil rights and be accounted for too. And that therefore a new legal concept for of what it is to be a person is needed. In the meantime  his daughter Amber has been defrosted and born, and is being brought up by Pamela. The Lobsters are thriving in colonies and very low entropy alien signals are starting to get picked up. Aineko the cat, starts deciphering these alien signals.

I really like the protagonist Manfred Macx and his character. By being generous, he is able to make people richer. Everything he does it for the betterness. That’s why he enjoys protection from multinational consumer protection groups. He is a smart-ass rebel who knows how to evade licensing issue and reminds me of Julian Assange in a lot of ways.

I like the distinction between meat and mindspace in the book. I like the fact that Stross uses popular culture elements and mixes them up in wicked ways. Wonferful and crazy themes and ideas: KGB lobsters that want to fleet from human occupied Internet, a Lockheed Martin and Boeing alliance, the decay of Europe, terminal outsourcing disease. I love how he thinks in terms of abundance instead of an economic model that relies on scarcity, where resource allocation is no longer a problem and money is associated with poverty.

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