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WWW: Wonder
Robert J. Sawyer
Ace, 338 pages

WWW: Wonder
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: WWW: Watch
SF Site Review: Starplex
SF Site Review: WWW: Wake
SF Site Review: WWW: Watch
SF Site Review: FlashForward
SF Site Review: WWW: Wake
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

Webmind, the world's first true artificial intelligence, has finally revealed himself to humanity, sparking a firestorm of controversy and mixed reactions. Despite ingratiating himself by all but eliminating spam, he's already survived one attempt on his "life" and fears a repeat. Now he must convince his "creators" that he comes in peace, winning over a world conditioned to expect the worst of artificial intelligences who can break any encryption, invade any database, and learn any secret.

In America, Colonel Peyton Hume works tirelessly to convince his superiors that Webmind must be destroyed at all costs. When that fails, he turns to the hacker underground, only to discover that the people most capable of harming Webmind are disappearing without a trace. In China, the government prepares to raise the Great Firewall again, cutting their country and citizens off from the Internet once and for all. In Canada, Caitlin Dector, the once-blind teenage math genius who first discovered and befriended Webmind, juggles her blossoming love life, her adjustment to possessing sight, and her newfound notoriety as Webmind's first teacher.

The world stands on the dawn of a brand new day, as it reels with the realization that we are not alone, and Webmind was created in our image. But is Webmind truly here to help, or will his survival instincts overwhelm his philanthropic nature?

This conclusion to the WWW trilogy proves once again why Robert J. Sawyer is one of the best writers on the shelves. Reading one of his books is like attending a cocktail party full of very smart people with amazing chemistry, where discussions bounce from topic to topic with amazing fluidity, yet remaining within the realm of accessibility. As Webmind matures and fine tunes his sense of ethics and moral code, as he debates hot topic issues and cuts through the social quandaries, we gain a keener understanding of what makes us tick. Maybe the solutions and situations postulated here aren't the one true way, but they're thought provoking and intelligent nonetheless. The narrative bounces from pop culture references, to species rights, to computer science and Internet theory, to teenage sexuality, to atheism, to politics, and so much more, leaving no cultural stone unturned. It's almost dizzying; in a less skilled writer, this would come off as clumsy, even preachy, but Sawyer's worked hard to develop the sort of characters and situations in which these discussions come naturally.

Some readers with long memories might recall that this isn't the first time we've seen a relatively altruistic AI spontaneously emerge, only to be subjected to debates over its existence, debates heavily influenced by a cultural bias of representing AIs as malevolent and frightening in their power. Spider Robinson tackled the same theme in The Callahan Touch, over two decades ago. However, with 20+ years worth of cultural change, technological advancement, and Internet evolution separating Callahan's Solace and Sawyer's Webmind, there's no denying that this is a far more complicated, and much more intriguing exploration. Certainly, Sawyer is an expert on Internet theory and someone who truly gets how it can be used, abused, applied and exploited. He weaves together Google and Skype, Livejournal and Wikipedia, iPods and Blackberries, webcams and PayPal, thoroughly examining the way we interact with the online world.

Even with such a focus on technology and culture, Sawyer never loses sight of his individual characters. Caitlin may be a math genius who uses experimental tech to see, and who's best pals with an AI, but she's still a normal teenage girl for all that, capable of lapses in judgment and able to make mistakes. However, Caitlin still makes for a believable, sympathetic, easy-to-relate point of view, as do the numerous other characters playing a part in this story. Even Peyton Hume, who one might consider the villain of the piece for his unrelenting determination to destroy Webmind, is presented as someone we might like to know under better circumstances, a guy doing the best he can to serve the interests of his country and humanity as a whole.

How does Wonder stack up against the first two installments of the trilogy? Perfectly. It brings home the story with warmth, intelligence, and precision. While there's plenty of room to revisit the characters at a later date, it's easy to close this book and know you've gotten the full story. Fans won't be disappointed by the way things turn out, especially with some of the unexpected swerves Sawyer throws in for good measure. Sawyer's presented a world I'd love to live in, and I can't wait to see what he'll do next.

Copyright © 2011 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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