Book: "WWW: Wake" by Robert J Sawyer

WWW: Wake is a sci-fi book centred around the emergence of an artificial intelligence through the medium of the world wide web, and its interaction with a human, a girl called Caitlin who has been blind from birth. This book is the first in a series of three novels; it will be followed by WWW: Watch and finally WWW: Wonder.

I "read" this book in audio form as a download from Audible. It has been recorded using several readers, rather than just one.

The book has three strands of narrative. The first is that of the artificial intelligence itself - we "hear" its thoughts although nobody in the book-world does so directly. The second is the group of people centred around Caitlin - her parents, friends and others. The final group, seemingly unconnected, is a group of scientists who are studying a bonobo ape who has been taught to communicate in sign language.

One aspect that I found very interesting was that of Caitlin's blindness. Sawyer in the foreward states he asked in the blind community for feedback on this aspect and what results is both believable and illuminating. Early on in the book we get a simile on what it is like for a blind-from-birth person not seeing: it is said to be like a sighted person not being able to detect magnetic fields - that is, you have no comprehension of what it is like because it is outside of their experience. Being sightless in this case is not "dark" because there is no concept of "light". Later in the book, Caitlin finds out what it is like for a sighted person to lose sight, and even for her it is a very different thing.

I enjoyed this book very much and the narration (esp. the choice of different voices) helped in the characterization. As the author notes at the beginning, the perspective of someone who has never seen is an interesting one, and the changes that happen as the story evolves only serve to accentuate that. It became the audio equivalent of a page-turner for me, and I am eagerly looking forward to 'WWW: Watch'.

One thing that did appeal is that the approach Sawyer takes to the book is very different to that used by most sci-fi authors. As someone reasonably well read in sci-fi world, I have become somewhat bored by the constant reworking of similar ideas and plots. The characters Sawyer portrays are believable and of sufficient depth (while not being so deep that we get lost in descriptive text), and though the plot is relatively simple it is not too predictable either.

Minor Spoiler Alert:

The only disappointment, from my perspective as someone who understands how the net works very well, is that the way the net intelligence is supposed to have evolved didn't make sense. In some ways I would have preferred not having that explanation - just 'somehow it happened' - although a more believable version would have been even better! The author's description of automata is essentially Conway's 'Game of Life', which is well known and indeed capable of quite amazing things given the simplicity of the rules. However, Life does rely on condition rules - if this then that - and to my knowledge, this doesn't happen with packets on the net as described here.

However, and despite the above disappointment, a good listen.