Watch (WWW Trilogy, Book 2) Mass Market Paperback – Mar 29 2011
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“[Sawyer is] a brilliant thinker pondering some of the most fundamental questions we face today … a complex and fascinating book … Sawyer maintains the same high-level interplay of ideas and action that characterizes all his work, and even readers who haven’t read the first volume will be satisfied. I can’t imagine how he’s going to complete the trilogy, but I do know it will involve a wildly creative combination of cutting-edge science from multiple disciplines.” - Michael Basilières, National Post
“Sawyer shows his genius in combining cutting-edge scientific theories and technological developments with real human characters…. Sawyer is a master at research, and uses his novels to inform and educate as well as to entertain. His works are both revelatory and thought-provoking…. Watch is as fine a novel as we have come to expect from Sawyer, with a blend of human values and technological foresight.” - The Globe and Mail
“Watch is the second of three volumes in brilliant Canadian science-fiction novelist Robert J. Sawyer’s trilogy…. [I]t’s engaging…. He can write about the most sophisticated science while giving readers the room to understand what’s happening and follow the plot.” - Winnipeg Free Press
“This page-turning thriller by the author of Flashforward and the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy is a top-notch choice for sf fans.” - Library Journal
“Watch is a damn fine story. Sawyer spins and weaves a world so comfortable and close, you forget that it’s fiction. The humorous dialogue, the gleeful pop culture references and the Canadian cultural touchpoints expose Sawyer as a writer who loves to have fun with ideas and to eagerly share them with his readers. Watch is set in today’s Canada where, yes damn it, cool things can happen.” - FFWD
“Over the course of the two novels thus far, Sawyer has presented an interesting perspective of artificial intelligence and, perhaps, a 21st Century revisionist view of a cyberpunk story. The novel has the fresh feel of something that could happen in the very near future.” - SFF World
“There’s something about Robert J. Sawyer’s novels that strike a pleasing science fictional chord. They encompass all the things I like about science fiction, like cool ‘What if?’ extrapolations, portrayal of technology that leads to thought-provoking ideas, strong characters and engrossing plots. Watch, the second novel in his WWW trilogy after Wake, is no exception.… Watch is a helluva fun read and an excellent science fiction book.” - SF Signal
“One of the best things about Robert J. Sawyer is the way he references pop sci-fi culture; every book contains at least one reference to Star Trek. But in this novel, second in a trilogy about the singularity—the artificial-intelligence consciousness that is predicted to arise from the Internet—he gets to reference his own sci-fi TV creation, the ABC program FlashForward. It’s fun, but even better is the intelligent and compassionate approach this series is taking to the nature of consciousness.” - Sacramento News & Reviews
“There’s no middle book syndrome here; Robert J. Sawyer packs as much thought and development into this volume as he did into the first, turning out a compelling, thought-provoking entry in one of his best series to date. He’s one of those few writers who can be equally at home dealing with characters’ personal lives and tackling the hard science in an accessible way…. It’s optimistic, intelligent, and I can’t wait for the third in the series.” - SF Site
“Some thriller writers get you worried about the future. Sawyer makes the present perilous.” - Linwood Barclay, bestselling author of Too Close to Home
About the Author
Robert J. Sawyer was born in Ottawa and lives in Mississauga with his wife, poet Carolyn Clink. He has won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel. The ABC TV series FlashForward was based on his novel of the same name.
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The future painted by Sawyer is not only believable, but likely.
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In the previous novel , WWW: Wake, Catlin Decter, a brilliant 15 year old blind girl is given sight through experimental technology in the form of an implant that interprets visual signals correctly and allows her to see (in her left eye at least). Through this device she discovers a presence in the Web that starts to gain greater and greater cognitive abilities, which grows as the second novel progresses. She dubs it Webmind.
In Watch, we watch as Webmind not only develops cognitive abilities exponentially, but through the help of Catlin begins to develop its sense of ethics and, without being too maudlin, an understanding of "the meaning of life." This novel is primarily about this development, along with government agencies trying to figure out how to shut Webmind down, fearing it will become so powerful it will destroy mankind.
While I have greatly enjoyed these novels so far, and the second one is even better than the first, which is unusual for a middle novel of a trilogy, sometimes I find the interactions between the characters to be a bit unbelievable. They seem scripted more for a Grade B movie than the way people really interact with each other. And when the characters are mouthpieces for the author to pontificate a point of view on consciousness, ethics and other scientific theories, the interactions just don't ring true, even though the characters are supposed to be geniuses at math and physics.
And I wonder a bit about the lost thread about the Chinese hacker that appears in Wake. I wonder if Sawyer had abandoned that tread, or if it will somehow reappear in the next novel.
This is a good and interesting trilogy so far and very much worth reading.
WWW: WATCH is a middle book in the trilogy. In WWW: WAKE (the first book), blind teenager Caitlin Decter gained sight and discovered the existence of a developing consciousness in the World Wide Web. This Webmind, as she calls it, begins communicating with her ... and that's where the second book picks up. Caitlin has to come to terms with suddenly seeing a world that she's only known through touch while also dealling with the fallout from Webmind. Fortunately, she has help from her friends and family.
Less fortunate is the fact that the American government perceives Webmind as a potential threat, especially when it gains the ability to almost effortlessly bypass password security. The government decides that it needs to be terminated, a task that is far easier said than done.
This isn't an unreasonable decision, because it is clear that Webmind (at least initially) lacks any sort of morality at all ... but this, it turns out, is a good thing, because that means it gets to choose how to behave, instead of being guided by instincts which may sway it toward bad behavior. And, as the book makes clear, we all, as conscious beings, have the ability to make this choice. The subjects of morality and ethics, in contexts as varied as teenage relationships, suicide prevention, and personal privacy are explored from the perspectives of game theory, evolution, and religion.
And if you're not interested in any of that brainy stuff about human nature, the story itself stands out as a great read in its own right. I, for one, will definitely make the choice to read the third installment when it comes out ... and look forward to it!
Caitlin eventually lets her parents know about the Webmind and they are convinced that it is someone on the Internet pulling a prank until Caitlin's father tests it out. Eventually they are convinced and are fascinated with the Webmind like it is an additional child.
Overlayed on this tale is the story about Hobo, the intelligent chimp/bonabo crossbreed. Hobo starts to get violent towards the woman who is responsible for him and the scientists have to decide what to do with him.
Meanwhile, through Dr. Kuroda, the Webmind is able to view more than text files on the internet and branches out to sound and video files. Eventually, the Webmind witnesses a teen suicide through the net. Caitlin becomes furious at it because it didn't intervene.
There comes a point where Sawyer hints that the Webmind will be to Caitlin like the computer implant that he introduced in the Hominid series.
Some of the drawbacks to this book are that you really needed to read the first book to understand what is going on and that the book drags. The deep feelings that the reader developed for Caitlin in the first book seem to be lacking here.
There are three stories happening in Watch - the story of Caitlin Decter, the once blind teenager who is the first to meet Webmind; the story of the intelligence agency trying to come to terms with the implications of such a seemingly omniscient entity, and the story of Hobo the ape who can communicate using sign language. The three strings begin to converge in Watch, but obviously we'll have to wait for the final instalment to see exactly how they come together.
As always, Sawyer's storytelling is masterful, combining big themes with authentic characters that we can all understand and identify with. The main character, Caitlin, though amazingly intelligent and perceptive for a sixteen year old (perhaps a little too much so), is also delightfully adolescent, and Sawyer manages to wrap her extraordinarily brainy thoughts and words in convincing and often charming teen-speak. He like totally does! There are also lots of popular cultural references, including one to the recent TV adaptation of Sawyer's earlier novel Flashforward, and a good deal of wit. I also learned a lot about game theory, how the worldwide web works, the differences between bonobos and chimps, Unitarianism and government paranoia (actually, I already knew about that).
My only criticism is that the final chapter is a tad overwritten and a bit melodramatic. Otherwise, Watch is a great read that sets up what should be a fascinating third volume. The big question for me is whether or not Webmind can remain uncorrupted either by power or by the powerful.
The conversations struck me as incredibly hokey (the stilted English, the dumb questions, the whole thing reeking of phoniness). Perhaps this was to be another Singularity novel but of course, it's not, since its creation never evolves beyond the "Help Desk" phase. It never hits that it can/has absorbed the world's knowledge. There is one further problem. If consciousness is obtained on the Web (and revealed to a teen who tells mom & dad before all run off to dinner) how can it speak simultaneously to millions of users? A machine that processes sequentially can appear to address everyone simultaneously but a "mind" whose development is depending on its decisions cannot afford to make decisions that might affect its "brain". Maybe this is one for a beach read after several mojitas. My Grade: C-