The Accord by Keith Brooke

Solaris, 2009


Disclaimer:- Keith Brooke is another of my SF acquaintances and I’ve known him for years now. He even got me to review books for his SF site, Infinity Plus.

In this novel people can undergo periodic brain dumps which are then warehoused until the “owner” dies, when they are transferred into the Accord – a virtual heaven, a consensus reality, overwhelmingly real, almost indistinguishable from the true world, assembled from the minds of those who have died and been uploaded into it. Its creator, Noah Barakh, in the run up to the Accord achieving a kind of critical mass where it will become more or less fixed, can negotiate its protocols, run and rerun different realities. In the real world from which the dead came there is increasing chaos making the Accord a more and more attractive proposition to the living.

The book’s chapters are not numbered conventionally but rather as 0.01, 1.08 and 2.06 etc depending on which version of the Accord is being written about; its beginnings, its full consensus, and its final shift into quantum space where there are no Malthusian limits on its growth. This software type numbering is either amusing or irritating depending on your point of view.

As to the bare bones of the plot, Barakh has an affair with Priscilla, the wife of leading politician Jack Burnham, who finds out and kills Priscilla but Barakh gets the blame. Priscilla is reborn in the Accord from a brain dump taken before the affair happened. Barakh sets up offshoots of the Accord where he tries to rekindle the affair.

Very early on both Barakh and Burnham die in the real world. The rest of the novel – nearly all its 442 pages – is concerned with Burnham’s quest (with the help of other protocol adjustors) to track down Barakh in the Accord and eliminate his presence there completely, to prevent his affair with Priscilla.

I wasn’t entirely clear about just how the Accord “knew” when inhabitants of the real world had died and so were allowed to join but that is a minor quibble.

More philosophically, in fiction there is a problem with virtual heavens, with virtual environments of any sort. Their inhabitants are merely strings of ones and zeroes. Why should we care about what happens to them? This problem is greater with the Accord as when people “die” there they are reborn from their final brain dump – though with the memories they have gained in the Accord since their first uploading. In effect they are immortal.

This might have been an opportunity for Brooke to speculate about whether we in what we think of as the real world are ourselves merely numbers whirring around in a mainframe somewhere; but that is not his concern. Instead, he focuses on what such a form of immortality means for human behaviour. What is the nature of love and jealousy and revenge in these circumstances? The cleverness of his Accord idea is that it to its inhabitants it is so real that to all intents and purposes it feels like the actual world and hence the characters in it are also made real for us.

This is a complex, thought provoking book, with multiple narrators and shifts of tense. Literature tends to concern itself with love, sex and death. The Accord is about the possible consequences for “human” behaviour of removing one of that trinity.

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