Charlie Stross does the plausibly surreal trick better than almost anybody I know. The worlds he builds are painfully real, viscerally real, and yet push the boundaries of what may happen in ways that go well beyond spec. This is best seen in the short stories he wrote from June of 2001 though December of 2004, the multi-generational tale of the Macx family, spanning the years leading up to, during, and well past what often gets called the Singularity. Those stories have been collected and edited into a novel: Accelerando.
Accelerando as a bound book is due out in the US the beginning of next month, but Stross has joined a growing list of authors who recognize that, in many cases, giving away your work actually increases sales. To that end, he's made a Creative Commons licensed version available for download at accelerando.org. He has it in a variety of (free) formats, all zipped up and ready to be grabbed via BitTorrent.
What makes Accelerando particularly appealing to me is Stross' depiction of the world, the noises and flows and people. It's most recognizable in the first section, unsurprisingly, but even as things get very, very strange, the underlying familiarity of the world remains. And through this world roams one Manfred Macx, venture altruist:
In IP geek circles, Manfred is legendary; he's the guy who patented the business practice of moving your e-business somewhere with a slack intellectual property regime in order to evade licensing encumbrances. He's the guy who patented using genetic algorithms to patent everything they can permutate from an initial description of a problem domain – not just a better mousetrap, but the set of all possible better mousetraps. Roughly a third of his inventions are legal, a third are illegal, and the remainder are legal but will become illegal as soon as the legislatosaurus wakes up, smells the coffee, and panics. [...]
Manfred is at the peak of his profession, which is essentially coming up with whacky but workable ideas and giving them to people who will make fortunes with them. He does this for free, gratis. In return, he has virtual immunity from the tyranny of cash; money is a symptom of poverty, after all, and Manfred never has to pay for anything.
There are drawbacks, however. Being a pronoiac meme-broker is a constant burn of future shock – he has to assimilate more than a megabyte of text and several gigs of AV content every day just to stay current.
(I have to say, that sounds like what being a worldchanging writer is like sometimes...)
I saw a review of Accelerando that compared it to Neuromancer -- not in plot or tone, but in the way it plants the seeds of a new body of literature. I can see that. Like Neuromancer, Accelerando shows us the shape of the future by reflecting the edges, fears and dreams of the present. As such, it shows us quite clearly that the present is a very strange place, indeed.
Frantic and frenetic writing. Engaging ideas, but a kind of hackneyed plot: very cardboard, two-dimensional with the obligatory sex geared toward teenaged boys or any-aged tech geeks :).
It is this generations Stainless Steel Rat, a series of 1980's (?) page-turner sci-fi stories where the main guy is like James Bond on technology steroids. Where the Stainless Steel Rat does it all with physical things like astro-cannons and hyper-drives, Accelerando's protagonist uses knowledge and ideas to bludgeon the rest of the characters into submission, or into having sex with him.
In the final analysis, I would love reading a straightforward essay of ideas by this author for he is one creative tech guy.
Check it out; it's a free download on his site.