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WWW: Wake
Robert J. Sawyer
Ace, 356 pages

WWW: Wake
Robert J. Sawyer
The winner of the Nebula Award in 1995 for The Terminal Experiment, Robert J. Sawyer has also won several Aurora Awards, Canada's award for excellence in science fiction. His novel Starplex was a finalist for both the Hugo and the Nebula and Hominids won the Hugo for best novel. In addition, he earned the Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada.

Robert J. Sawyer Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Mindscan
SF Site Review: Relativity
SF Site Review: Hybrids
SF Site Review: Hybrids
SF Site Review: Hominids
SF Site Review: Flashforward
SF Site Review: Frameshift
SF Site Review: Calculating God
SF Site Review: Factoring Humanity
SF Site Review: Illegal Alien
SF Site Review: Frameshift

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Michael M Jones

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Blind since birth, teenage mathematical genius Caitlin Dector has compensated quite well for her lack of sight, embracing life online as her way to communicate and keep up with the world. Blessed with a supportive family -- even if her mother is overprotective and her father is distant and often uncommunicative -- she's doing quite well for herself, even though she's currently adjusting to a recent move from Texas to Toronto. But now a unique opportunity has presented itself, in the form of a revolutionary new technology developed in Japan. If successful, a surgically-implanted device would help to process the signals received by her eyes, granting her sight at last. Naturally, Caitlin leaps at the chance to see the things she has only imagined or been told about, and undergoes the procedure. But when the device she playfully calls an eyePod works, it does so in a way no one could ever have expected; Caitlin can see, all right. She can see the electronic signals of the World Wide Web.

Meanwhile, a strange series of events starting with an outbreak of bird flu in China, and the drastic actions taken in response, lead to the emergence of a strange new consciousness on the Internet. It's the world's first digital intelligence, and like any newborn, it lacks the intellectual grounding and education needed to understand the world around it. That is, until it finds itself seeing through the eyes of one special girl. As Caitlin adjusts to her new sight, and learns about her surroundings, so does her new companion. But will the consciousness of the Web be friendly, or sinister?

Now, the idea of a digital intelligence forming online is not a new one, by any means. But I daresay most of the people tackling such a concept automatically assumed, as I always did, that such a being would not only have access to the shared data of the Internet, but the conceptual groundings needed to understand it. And that's where Robert J. Sawyer turns this into such a fascinating, satisfying piece. In a deliberate parallel to the story of Helen Keller, he tackles the need for building a common base of understanding, before unleashing an education creation upon the Web's vast storehouse of knowledge.

More than that, Sawyer is an author who's not afraid to make his readers think. The topics invoked in this book cover a wide range, from math to theories of intelligence, from what it's like to be blind, to cutting edge technology. He incorporates the myriad resources available online, including Livejournal, Wikipedia, Google, Project Gutenberg, WordNet, and perhaps the most interesting site of all, Cyc, a real site aimed at codifying knowledge so that anyone, including emerging artificial intelligences, might understand. He ties in Internet topography and offbeat musicians, primate signing and Chinese hackers, and creates a wholly believable set of circumstances spinning out of a world we can as good as reach out to touch. There's quite a lot to consider, and Sawyer's good at making it accessible to the average reader. Sometimes it seems as though he's introducing threads which don't have any immediate relevance, but there's usually a payoff somewhere down the line.

My only complaint is that Caitlin's almost too good a character. She presents a near-perfect exterior, and it's hard to find any flaws in her, save for the obvious one of her blindness, which is, of course, the defining plot point. She's a very real, very grounded character, but at the same time, it's hard to find fault with her. She's extremely smart, clever, highly capable, and an overachiever. Ironically, it's only when she regains a measure of her sight that we see any signs of weakness, and that she's pulled down to something closer to the average.

That said, there's no doubt in my mind that Sawyer has delivered another excellent tale, and I'll be looking forward, quite eagerly, to the remaining two books in this trilogy. He's certainly piqued my interest, and I was disappointed to see things come to a close for the time being. If intelligence does develop on the Internet, hopefully it'll have the same sort of reception it does in WWW: Wake. (And for more on the subject, including links and commentary, go to his website at www.sfwriter.com.)

Copyright © 2009 Michael M Jones

Michael M Jones enjoys an addiction to books, for which he's glad there is no cure. He lives with his very patient wife (who doesn't complain about books taking over the house... much), eight cats, and a large plaster penguin that once tasted blood and enjoyed it. A prophecy states that when Michael finishes reading everything on his list, he'll finally die. He aims to be immortal.


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