WWW: Wonder by Robert J. Sawyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sawyer bills his WWW trilogy as the story of an optimistic singularity event. Where an AI achieves awareness but doesn’t go bad. Of course, it’s never so simple in a story by Canada’s dean of science fiction. Webmind has ‘his’ (he seems a him to me) growing pains especially when the powers that be in China decide to sever him again with a firewall.
I think it’s appropriate that the first e-book I have ever purchased is excellent science fiction like this. The formatting on the kobo app on my iPad had many faults but this final book of this series was such a page turner I found myself not caring.
This book is well worth the price of admission.
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Reading Watch, Rob Sawyer’s 2nd in the WWW trilogy, was awesome and worth the wait since last year’s Wake. Caitlin Decter is getting physically older but I expect she’s far too smart to be ‘growing up’ just yet. That is certainly part of her charm. Hell, that’s part of the charm of any teenager who knows too much for his or her age or good. I particularly enjoyed the incredibly quick ‘getting it on’ of Caithlin and Matt Reese. I love their first ‘date’ where Caitlin observes:
And — wow! — boy’s eyes really did do that. She’d read about it, but hadn’t yet seen it: straight to the boobs, and only apparently with an effort of will coming up to the face.
Webmind, on the other hand, is maturing incredibly fast. I’m very interested in seeing where Sawyer is going to take this super-intelligence in Wonder. I liked the ending with the poetic interruptus where the reader sees Webmind thinking in spurts around the single words of a human sentence. Kewl way to show human thought and speaking speeds as compared to the incredible speed of Webmind’s hopefulness.
Sawyer’s technical side is usually very well stocked with fact and there is nothing different here except that I would question Webmind’s ability to delete e-mails so easily and quickly. And more fundamentally I wonder how an entity built from ‘cellular automata consciousness’ would know if parts of it were under attack. It boggles the mind.
Like all of Sawyer’s books, this challenges and engages. Very worthwhile reading and recommended.
I finished Wake, the first in Robert J. Sawyer‘s trilogy called WWW last night … well actually early this morning. I didn’t get to bed until late: it was Em’s prom night and she and her friends had the party light on downstairs. I was on the verge of an asthma attack from the sultry (Justin had Throw Mamma from the Train on last night) air and all the dust from cleaning so, though exhausted, I had a hard time sleeping. But around 12:30 I could have done it: in fact I was fighting to stay awake and it was Rob Sawyer’s fricking fault. He, to borrow Caitlin’s (the main character in Wake) expression, is ‘made out of awesome’ and so I didn’t get to sleep until after 2.
The downside, of course, is that now my pacing of reading it is over (I couldn’t help it) and I have to wait for Watch next year. And then the last one: Wonder. Back to the anxiousness I had to experience with his amazing Neanderthal Parallax.
Sawyer has done nothing less than explore what it is to be aware in humans. And, then, credibly (even realistically) he applies that to artificial intelligence on the World Wide Web. He says it took him longer to write this novel than with any previous and I really think it was worth it. He really nails it and in a package that is, like others of Rob’s works, very approachable and enjoyable to read.
Caitlin Decter is a blind teenage mathematician (and computer geek) who has just moved to Waterloo as her physicist father has just accepted a job at the Perimeter Institute. She is a wonderfully sympathetic and engaging protagonist who becomes a guide for the birth of the awareness of the World Wide Web. Sawyer does a wonderful job linking this to and educating us again about the miracles Annie Sullivan did with Helen Keller along the way.
I only have one question. Is Caitlin using Linux?
Extremely and Awesomely Recommended!
Want more? Here are some links:
- The first three chapters are available online if you’d like a taste of this book
- An excellent podcast interview with Robert J. Sawyer that covers this book, the pilot for Flashforward and the TV series “Supernatural Investigator” he hosts on Vision
- Sawyer has even set up The Calculass Zone on LiveJournal where you can read 3 entries (which will presumably grow at the trilogy continues
- Or you can become Caitlin Decter’s friend on Facebook
The main part of the festival occurred on the afternoon of Sunday September 7 and I saw the following writers read from their work:
- Elspeth Cameron
- David Chariandy
- Rebecca Rosenblum
- Alma Fullerton
- Kenneth Oppel
- Arthur Slade
- Sheree-Lee Olson
- Robert Sawyer
- Anita Rau Badami
- Karen Schindler
- Carin Mukuz
- Sylvia Markle-Craine
- Kaite Ewing
- Alistair MacLeod
- Paul Quarrington
- Leon Rooke
Quite the line up of interesting readings. I enjoyed them all but I especially liked David Chariandy, Kenneth Oppel, Arthur Slade, Robert Sawyer, Sylvia Markle-Craine, Alistair MacLeod, Paul Quarrington and Leon Rooke. Kenneth Oppel and Arthur Slade were both engaging readers of their young adult fiction. Oppel read from the intriguing Starclimber from his alternate Earth and Slade from the funny and well characterized Jolted. I bought Megiddo’s Shadow which is one of Slade’s books. I’m part way through it and enjoying it although I’m not a big war fiction fan. I really want to read Jolted but it was sold out.
Robert J. Sawyer read from Rollback which I recently read. It looked like he read from a blackberry or i-pod touch or something, holding that in one outstretched hand while dramatically reading. He was excellent and performed one of the pivotal parts of the book with great feeling. I went to Eden Mills to support my friend, Sylvia, AND to see one of my favourite Hard SF writers: Robert J. Sawyer. He did not disappoint. While walking to one of the next events I talked to him a bit and he’s coming out with the first book in a trilogy called Wake in April. I can’t wait.
Sylvia did a wonderful job on her Donny Crow story. I was envious of the style and relaxed way she read this emotional story about a man lost after the death of his wife. A beautiful story especially if you read the story that immediately comes after it that she recently published in Swimming to Fatima.
Paul Quarrington and Leon Rooke capped off a great day with their stories about beginning writers who have taken a writing course. Both touching and hilarious at the same time I was impressed with their reading ability. Rooke, especially, took on this bombastic American accent which fit his story beautifully and had many of us laughing so hard there were tears in our eyes.
Mindscan (2005) is a Robert J. Sawyer novel (his 16th) with a central focus on consciousness. This is a topic he’s touched on in other books but this time he really gives it his complete attention. And that is saying something as I consider Sawyer one of the most intelligent and technically accurate science fiction writers going. He really puts a lot of research into his topic and seems to grok before writing. If you look at the list of reference works on the ‘consciousness’ at the end of Mindscan you’ll see what I mean.
This book has an heir to a Toronto beer fortune with a life threatening brain disease and an elderly world-famous author who is near death as the main characters. They both transfer their minds in a new process to android copies of themselves. Sawyer explores the legal, moral, philosophical and practical issues that ensue from their choices.
I was particularly intrigued by the inability of future scientists to produce viable artificial intelligence in the world Sawyer paints for us. They have been able to create complex enough electronic brains but not the ‘mind’ to use them. But why throw these brains away? Why not use real consciousness to power the mind of an android with the ‘power of attorney’ of the individual instead. The original humans are nicknamed ‘skins’ and shipped one-way to a luxury complex on the dark side of the moon. Sawyer leaves to the imagination how the company came up with that particular necessity. Hmmm. It would be a good short story for Sawyer’s website where he discusses his ideas before and after writing about them.
So if you see this book at your library I recommend you pick it up and give it a read. Even if you’re not a sci-fi fan, you will find that Sawyer’s fiction is very approachable. And if you do, you’ll love the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy and Calculating God by the same author. I haven’t, in fact or fiction, come across anything by Sawyer that I haven’t liked.