Thursday, 14 July 2011

WWW: #1 Wake

A great Sci-fi is one which takes an issue or a topic then speculates on those that are theoretically possible given some of the conditions and advances of our current level of technology. And in the case of Robert J Sawyer's WWW trilogy #1 Wake that speculated future maybe the best so far.

Here is the summary for the book:

Caitlin Decter is young, pretty, feisty, a genius at math-and blind. Still, she can surf the net with the best of them, following its complex paths clearly in her mind. But Caitlin's brain long ago co-opted her primary visual cortex to help her navigate online. So when she receives an implant to restore her sight, instead of seeing reality, the landscape of the World Wide Web explodes into her consciousness, spreading out all around her in a riot of colors and shapes. While exploring this amazing realm, she discovers something-some other-lurking in the background. And it's getting more and more intelligent with each passing day...

The book centers around networking (kind-of obvious - its named WWW trilogy after all) and its co-relation to sentience. The plot follows three stories, connected only by this thread. Due to a massive influenza outbreak, the secretive Chinese government cuts off its people from the Internet, because of its decision to take care of the problem by exterminating the village where the outbreak occurred. This causes a cascading reaction that "awakens" something in the Internet. It becomes a living being, slowly, even painfully, comes to understand it exists.

Young Caitlin, blind since birth, is offered a chance to see, using a new optical technology, funded the University of Tokyo. Something goes awry, and instead of the actual world, she becomes the first person to actually be able to "see" the web, as a series of geometric shapes, colors, lines and nodes. Eventually, as the plot progresses, she is able to switch her EyePod (!fitting!) to either view WebSight, or, in a different mode, external reality, i.e., her mother, her schoolmates, etc.

The third story is of a primate research lab where a bonobo and an orangutan are given the opportunity to have the first cross-species live webchat. As a result, something "turns on" inside the bonobo's mind, and the researchers realize that he is capable of more than just a few sign-language gestures, but representational art that depicts his favorite members of staff.

And although the the book follows three plots intermingled together, the side plots actually felt meaningless since our main focus is Caitlin and how she gets an implant that is supposed to fix her blindness. However, what she can do after the implant is see the infrastructure of the World Wide Web and then interact with an entity which lives inside of it. She becomes a teacher to this entity just as Annie Sullivan did to Helen Keller (the book's analogy) and radically expands its consciousness, knowledge and ability to communicate.

It was actually the cover (beautiful don't you all think!) as well as the description on the back cover that made me want to read it. Sawyer's writing style is approachable even for those who are not big Sci-Fi readers. An element which I dare say is most often not found within this genre. Certainly the science is there (which is also  accurate) but his books tend to deal more with the culture of the day and the way the characters respond to that while the science goes by in the background.

Thought provoking,a good read and an introduction to modern thought on human perception and pattern recognition. The plot is pure science fiction and points to a plausible future maybe years in the distant future from now.

It is also very refreshing optimistic read of the future. Super-Artificial-Intelligence as a concept can be dealt about but in the long run is a very difficult topic to base your work on without making it an info-dump. Writing an entire thread of the story from the Super-AI's perspective must have been daunting. During the "waking" of the internet being, Sawyer illustrated how concepts that humans take for granted would be viewed by an entity with no framework in place to interpret them, and then goes on to show these concepts and worldviews could be altered.

Wake is a book that will grow on you as you read it. Sawyer has done a fantastic job of researching the science, but also throws in lots of references that any savvy Internet user will recognize, appreciate, and be amused by; as well as putting the readers in the mind of a blind person and how they do the amazing things they do each day. By the end of the book readers will be impatiently wanting the sequel, Watch. I know I am.

Genre :      Fiction, Sci-fi

Publisher: Ace Hardcover

Rate:              5/5 (It was amazing)


  1. Wow... this book sounds interesting. I'll have to put it on my list. Nice review. :)



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