Wonder: Book Three In The WWW Trilogy Paperback – Apr 3 2012
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“[Sawyer] manages to not only make each book work individually, but with Wonder, has adroitly drawn together seemingly disparate threads … Once again, Sawyer shows mastery in his ability to move between complex scientific concepts and genuine and realistic characters … Wonder is written so that readers do not have to read the previous books to be able to follow the story which is fast-paced and immediately engaging. Events from the previous book are smoothly introduced as needed, without detracting from the flow of the story. That said, there are nuances, themes and subtleties that flow beautifully when the trilogy is read as a whole.” - The Globe and Mail
“Wonder is not only a superb conclusion to a tremendous trilogy, but stands alone as one of the best books that Sawyer has ever written.” - Winnipeg Free Press
“Science-fiction juggernaut Sawyer is one of the most successful Canadian authors of the past few decades. He’s also a meticulous realist [whose] novels function as extended philosophical thought experiments. The real tension isn’t about Webmind’s advent and evolution; it’s about how humans will (or should) react to it. As Wonder’s plot twists and weaves, you’re drawn relentlessly toward the finish, eager to find out whether Webmind will turn out to be a blessing or a curse.” - Alex Hutchinson, The Walrus
“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.” - SF Site
“This is Robert J. Sawyer at his very best.” - Analog
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 virtual entity Webmind has been discovered by the US government and they have tried, and failed, to shut Webmind down. With Webmind's existence out in the open the big question is, what next? Caitlin and her family are naturally drawn into the media frenzy surrounding Webmind. The real question facing humanity is basically this: Is Webmind really benevolent or should measures be taken to shut it down while humanity still can? Humanity has some big decisions to make. Will Webmind survive or become just a blip in humanity's history?
There are a lot of good things about this book. Many of the seemingly random things that happen in the previous books all come together and, as a reader, we can see that this book was meticulously planned out. So kudos to Sawyer for thinking things out so well. As with previous books there are a lot of political and social issues discussed. Most of them focus on the questions of a spontaneous entity like Webmind and what his presence means for humanity. Of course other issues weave through this main issue: there is discussion on Atheism, Communism, etc.
Sawyer himself does an intro talking about how long it took him to finish this series (6 years) and how much technology had changed in that time. It is like he went out of his way to make sure this final book incorporated every little thing he could think of to make it as modern as possible. To that extent there is a lot of Twittering, Face-booking, as well as discussion about modern politics and references to companies like Google. There is even a Big Bang Theory quote in there from that popular sit-com (which I am a huge fan of). My only problem with this is that all these inclusions seem a bit contrived and forced at times.
My other complaint are some of the things the characters themselves do that are way out of character. The one that really floored me was when Caitlin decides to take a cell pic of her naked chest and sexts it to Matt. It has me laughing my butt off with the ridiculousness of it all. I mean really a girl as smart as her, who is inexperienced sexually just wouldn't do something like that. She especially wouldn't do it when she is incredibly aware of how easy that data is to access and how insecure it is. And she wouldn't forget to delete it off of her phone; enabling her mom to find it later. I know Sawyer makes a comment about Webmind making her phone secure, but come on...any idiot knows that kind of thing is stupid to do from a secure data and privacy point of view. Now you ask why was this included in the story? Like many of the weird random things included in this book it was so Sawyer could make a point about the end of Victorianism in an Internet based society. Sawyer takes a number of instances to lecture at his readers; sometimes it is interesting...sometimes it is just awkward.
The above being said, I really enjoyed some of the things Webmind does in this book. Some of them are really well thought out and almost make you wish you could live in that era and witness that kind of progress for humanity. Webmind's ultimate act of benevolence for humankind was intriguing, although I am not sure how realistic it really was. The story is wrapped up in a touchy, feely happy way that is as sweet as any happily ever after you have ever read. Sawyer includes an interesting epilogue that I am uncertain how I feel about. Some aspects of the epilogue are interesting, but I kind of feel like the book would have been better without it...that way the readers would have just been left to Wonder.
Overall this was an excellent conclusion to the series. The plot moves at a quick pace and many interesting issues are discussed. I was a little irked by the fact that the characters act out of character at times and there are numerous times where Sawyer takes opportunities to awkwardly lecture at his readers. These aspects made this my least favorite book of the three. Despite this, it was still an excellent read. I definitely recommend reading this series for anyone who has interest in artificial intelligence or emergent consciousness. This is a series that broaches these deep topics but makes them easy to relate to for a large demographic of readers. Having Caitlin as the main character really makes this book accessible to a young adult crowd as well and I think young adult and older would really enjoy it.
Let's hit the strong point first: Sawyer has come up with an excellent idea for a story line. Having an evolving artificial intelligence spring into being on the World Wide Web is a fine science fiction theme and is contemporary to boot. Well, that's that, I'm afraid. Now we have to proceed to the difficulties in these books.
The first book, WAKE, struck me immediately as a young reader's volume, primarily because of the author's unimaginative prose. The language is simple, the vocabulary basic, and the syntax straightforward almost to the point of ennui. If, by some happenstance, a word that might not be in a teenager's vocabulary does crop up, the author provides an instant definition, usually as an appositive in the same sentence. For instance, there is a sentence that mentions the loon, and the reader is immediately told that this is a water bird. I'm not at all sure whether young readers are being helped or are having their intelligence insulted.
In the second book, WATCH, the reader is treated to a diversion from the main story line as we see Caitlin, an otherwise highly intelligent, rational and logical young lady with a astute knowledge of mathematics, begin obsessing over not losing her virginity by the precise age of 16.4 years, that supposedly being the average age at which such things are lost. Oh, and lest we forget that magic number, it is repeated ad nauseam both later in this book and in its successor. Why Caitlin suddenly mutates from a scholar to a nymphomaniac is never explained, but it seems totally out of character for her. That two sexually aroused teens then end their grope fest by discussing the evolution of consciousness in humankind is just a tad unbelievable as well. Perhaps this is the author's attempt to convince us that these are really adult books.
Throughout all three books, but particularly in the third, WONDER, the author creates multiple opportunities to editorialize on contemporary social issues. The reader is treated to commentary on homosexuality and gay rights, racial integration and civil rights, right wingers in U.S. politics, abortion rights, the irony of "flesh" colored Bandaids on Blacks, autism, and atheism. We're even treated to a short lecture on the necessity of voting, even if by absentee ballot. I almost hate to criticize Sawyer for all of this editorializing because my personal leanings on every such subject that he broaches agree quite well with his own; however, the sermonizing is too blatant, too obvious, and too much "in the reader's face." It is intrusive and is so artificially injected that it thoroughly interrupts the flow of the story. In short, I have no beef with what Sawyer says but I have copious problems with how and where he says it.
The character of Hobo is yet another matter. One keeps waiting for Hobo and Webmind to somehow merge, not physically, of course, but thematically. At best, though, they touch only tangentially, and having Hobo address United Nations delegates while wearing a huge "smiley face" device through which Webmind speaks is ludicrous in the extreme. After this final indignity, Hobo essentially simply vanishes from the story as if the author has despaired of figuring out any way to make the ape significant.
To be considered "good" fiction, I submit that it must be believable to the reader; that is, the reader must be able to lay aside disbelief and accept the story as being "real," even if only in a make-believe world. Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, H.G. Wells, Robert Heinlein, et al have accomplished that in many science fiction short stories and novels. Unhappily, in the WWW trilogy, Sawyer has not.
This third book is about WebMind's growth and survival. One great scene is near the start in which WebMind reaches out to the U.S. President (clearly Obama) via his private blackberry and asks for a voice conference to discuss their attempts to eradicate the rogue AI. Talk about earth shattering! This book is full of real-life situations like that. Sawyer loves to explore not just the technological ramifications of his books but also the social implications. There are many people in this book that begin to assign religious connotations to WebMind's "all knowing" intelligence. What a thought!
I am a little surprised at the negative reviews - Sawyer's books never include action scenes, car crashes, secret agents jumping out of windows of exploding buildings, etc. His books are mostly "true life" explorations of near future topics such as time travel, life extension, life after death, the emergence of an AI. I, for one, really enjoy that. No blood & guts here, just some very well thought out speculative fiction.
What I really like about Sawyer's books is how "accessible" they are. He researches his topics with care, and writes them to be engaging and also very understandable. He also plans his books very well - and I really appreciate that. He stated years ago he was writing a 3 book series on the emergence of an IA within the internet and here he is, fulfilling that promise. Not with a never ending series or a rambling 10 books that's meant to pad his bank account and put his kids thru college.
Sawyer seems to know that if you just write really excellent novels - people will keep buying them without the "hook" of a series that is meant to artificially trick the reader into buying the next book & the next... I fully expect Sawyer to announce within the year that he is writing another XX part series book based on XX theme and I will pre-order with no hesitation.
If you haven't read any of his books - I envy you! Just pick anyone and start (make sure you start at book 1 of his 3 book series of course). Some of my favorites were the Terminal Experiment and FlashForward (very different from the tv series and much better imho).
In the wrapup of the trilogy, the government has become aware of the Webmind and performs a test to see whether they can contain or destroy it. Meanwhile Caitlan is coming of age with her friend Matt. The other main plotline revolves around the Chinese government attempting to close their firewall and isolate China from the Internet. This operation causes the Webmind to split becoming a weak primary entity and an "evil" other. This part reminded me of the Star Trek episode where Kirk was split into two entities.
This book is a lot more interesting than the second book but still nowhere as good as the first. There is some intrigue as a government man (Hume) tries to locate a hacker to create a virus to defeat Webmind. However, every hacker he approaches seems to have been taken away by a large scary man.
The trilogy does get wrapped up by the end of the book and even the hybrid ape, Hobo plays a part. I just didn't find this trilogy as intriguing as some of Sawyer's other efforts (Hominids). Considering that Caitlan is a minor, there was one scene between her and Matt that was a little disturbing. I give this book just slightly less than four stars.
If you haven't already discovered how good a writer Sawyer is, this is a great time to discover him, and to share the adventure. This series, with its young heroine, qualifies as SF/Young Adult cross-genre, and makes for an excellent gift set.
There are three subplots that develop and intertwine in these books. First, Caitlyn Decter, 15 years old and blind from birth, good at math and science with a strong online persona, is invited to participate in an experimental surgery that might make her sighted. Second, the world-wide web is developing sentience. And third, a bonobo-chimp hybrid named Hobo is at the heart of a research project studying cross-species communication. The potentials of cross-boundary communication is the theme at the heart of the trilogy.
In this, the third volume, Caitlyn her friends and family are trying to protect a still fragile Webmind from Government agents who want to shut it down while they still can. Webmind has some good ideas on how to demonstrate his benign nature, and he wins lots of friends as he uses his information sorting and synthesis skills to help humanity. Even so, said agents are ungrateful and terminally paranoid. While the US government tries to directly destroy the basis for Webmind's existence, the Chinese government erects a firewall that effectively divides Webmind in two separate entities - with disastrous results, for the parts are considerably less than the whole.
I refuse to provide spoilers, because the revelations are brilliant, and each reader deserves the chance to discover this treasure trove for him/herself. Not only are the plotlines intriguing, the characters are wonderful. These include Caitlyn's mother, an expert in Games Theory; Caitlyn's dad, a mathematical genius who happens to have Asperger's' Syndrome; Hobo, who confronts no less august body than the United Nations, and tells members the truth about themselves; and Wai-Jeng, a hacker who risks his life to make communication possible in Communist China. How can you not love a book in which a nerd with Asperger's is one of the heroes?!?
The book was published weeks before a certain international event that had huge political ramifications, but other events, such as the 2012 election, are anticipated with unusual warmth - even heat. It is increasingly rare for SF to take on politics with any directness; but with all the leverage and censorship politicians exert on scientific endeavors, it is past time for writers to return the compliment.
For all the book is sheer fun to read, it is hugely informative. Very, very few writers provide an education along with their story; Sawyer is one of the best. I hope he gets a Hugo nomination for this one.