What is it with trilogies? They seem to have become de rigueur for contemporary authors, yet in my youth I cannot recall ever hearing of such a critter, much less reading one, but they seem to walk amongst us now and in growing numbers. As with numerous other such trilogies, Sawyer's WWW: WAKE, WATCH and WONDER must all be read in the proper order for his story to be fully comprehended and to discover the outcomes of the various threads. To my mind, each book is characterized by more or less identical strengths and weaknesses, and separate reviews would be largely repetitious; thus, one may suffice for all three books.
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.