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The WWW Trilogy: Wake, Watch and Wonder Book Review

A few months ago I was taking a ride on the Toronto subway and couldn’t help it but notice the posters for Robert J. Sawyer‘s novel WWW: Wake.

The idea of a blind girl seeing the internet and connecting with an emerging virtual intelligence peaked my curiosity so I had to read the book. I thought it was so captivating and brilliant that I went ahead and got book 2 (WWW: Watch) and 3 (WWW: Wonder) as soon as I finished book 1.

After finishing the complete trilogy I can honestly say that the story only gets better and better as one moves through the different parts. I recommend it highly because in contrast to the well-known Matrix or Terminator-type apocalyptic plots, the WWW trilogy explores a near-unique post-singularity scenario of peaceful coexistence between a super-smart artificial intelligence and humanity. This phenomenon does not develop without its share of existential threats and potential for violence yet all out conflict is avoided not because of the wisdom and peace-loving nature of humanity but because of the AI.

Socrates’ Verdict: 10 out of 10

WWW Trilogy Book 1: Wake Trailer

Robert Sawyer visits Google’s Waterloo office to discuss his book WWW: Wake. This event took place on May 28, 2009, as part of the Authors@Google series.

Robert J. Sawyer: Past Interview Highlights

On Abundance:

On Living Forever:

Who is Robert J. Sawyer?

Robert J. Sawyer — called “the dean of Canadian science fiction” by The Ottawa Citizen and “just about the best science-fiction writer out there these days” by The Denver Rocky Mountain News — is one of only eight writers in history (and the only Canadian) to win all three of the science-fiction field’s top honors for best novel of the year:

  • the World Science Fiction Society’s Hugo Award, which he won in 2003 for his novel Hominids
  • the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Nebula Award, which he won in 1996 for his novel The Terminal Experiment
  • and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, which he won in 2006 for his novel Mindscan

Rob is also the only writer in history to win the top SF awards in the United States, China, Japan, France, and Spain. In addition, he’s won an Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada as well as eleven Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards (“Auroras”). The ABC TV series Flashforward
is based on his novel of the same name.

Maclean’s: Canada’s Weekly Newsmagazine says, “By any reckoning, Sawyer is among the most successful Canadian authors ever,” and Barnes and Noble calls him “the leader of SF’s next-generation pack.”

Rob’s novels are top-ten national mainstream bestsellers in Canada, appearing on the Globe and Mail and Maclean’s bestsellers’ lists, and they’ve hit #1 on the bestsellers’ list published by Locus, the U.S. trade journal of the SF field. His twenty novels include FrameshiftFactoring HumanityCalculating GodWWW: Wake, and the popular “Neanderthal Parallax” trilogy consisting of HominidsHumansHybrids.

He’s often seen on TV, including such program as Rivera Live with Geraldo Rivera, Canada A.M., and Saturday Night at the Movies, and he’s a frequent science commentator for Discovery Channel Canada, CBC Newsworld, and CBC Radio.

Rob — who holds an honorary doctorate from Laurentian University — has taught writing at the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, Humber College, the National University of Ireland, and the Banff Centre. He has been Writer-in-Residence at the Richmond Hill (Ontario) Public Library, the Kitchener (Ontario) Public Library, the Toronto Public Library’s Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy, the Canadian Light Source synchrotron, and at the Odyssey Workshop. And he edits Robert J. Sawyer Books, the science-fiction imprint of Red Deer Press.

Rob has given talks at hundreds of venues including the Library of Congress and the National Library of Canada, and been keynote speaker at dozens of events in places as diverse as Los Angeles, Boston, Tokyo, and Barcelona. He was born in Ottawa in 1960, and now lives just west of Toronto with his wife, poet Carolyn Clink.

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  • Pingback: Robert J Sawyer's WWW Trilogy: Wake, Watch and Wonder Book … « Best Science Fiction Books()

  • I’m looking forward to “Wake” all the more now. 🙂 And I see how enthusiastic Sawyer is about having his own talent recognized, so I will be sure to review “Wake” on Amazon.

    A pre-existing duality for consciousness emergence- brilliant! Helen Keller’s duality breakthrough illustrated this beautifully. She went from an existence of like / dislike reactions to an existence of self-awareness and self-directed communication.

    “Consciousness emerged.” Here’s where Sawyer and I disagree. I’d say “consciousness evolved from pre-consciousness.” As in the “Game of Life” Sawyer mentioned (Stephen Wolfram also explains this in “A New Kind of Science”), simple code yields complicated behavior. Wolfram also remains us that even rocks have a computational equivalence- in other words, they have a natural encodement. How could one define consciousness without starting with a foundation of code? Sawyer says, “Deep Blue has no self-awareness whatsoever.” Perhaps that’s true, but I’d say that’s an assumptive statement. How does Sawyer know Deep Blue doesn’t have some level of consciousness? What are his criteria? Indeed, how does any entity know any other entity is conscious? How do we know we ourselves are conscious? Part of the problem is a (perhaps inherently) fuzzy definition of “consciousness.” Sawyer alludes to a checklist, but doesn’t say whether the checklist is fully conceptualized.

    The dog in the elevator- I’d disagree on this one too. I believe dogs (and all higher animals) have a degree of strong “consciousness” (self-awareness and self-directed communication), and being confused by an elevator would not negate that. Most people are confused by many phenomena, yet manage to gloss over the confusion and get on with their lives. The same would hold true for the dog, I imagine.

    Excellent points in the last 2 videos about how oil companies are economically regressive, and how most people (at this point in time) will reject the option of existing as a disembodied consciousness in a computer matrix, yet embrace the fantasy of existing as a disembodied consciousness in a “fairy land,” as Sawyer put it.

  • Jon Perry

    I think these books are entertaining but there are a lot of logical problems and annoyingly untrue cliches contained within them. Webmind repeatedly states that he is “not creative”, while all the while doing extraordinarily creative things. When he delivers his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize he claims that his speech is not creative since it just combines past speeches, which shows a strange failure on the part of a sci fi author to understand that combination of prior ideas is pretty much the definition of creativity.

    Moreover Webmind is highly anthropomorphic. Which is a common flaw in most depictions of AI, butI expected better from this book for some reason.  Webmind gets lonely, is attached to particular humans, enjoys discussion with humans, etc.  None of these things necessarily make any sense at all in the context of a truly non-human mind. Webmind’s benevolence is not at any point well justified. There is all this trite discussion in the book of the prisoner’s dilemma and non-zero sumness, and yes, these concepts make perfect sense in terms of justifiying why HUMANS should be nice to each other. They fail, however, to apply to a superhuman AI, which would probably not care about humans one way or another, and would probably end up destroying all humans, not out of malice, but because to ensure its own survival, Webmind’s best move is to unconditionally control the servers and connections upon which he is built. 

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  • Lu Lu

    “…strange failure on the part of a sci fi author to understand that …” Assuming that the webmind percieves that there is some kind of ineffable, esoteric quality of human mind, and the Webmind strives to be “creative” (in other words, to obtain, through training itself, that mysterious quality), but failed. Therefore the Webmind claims to be “not creative”.

  • Lu Lu

    His previous novel, “Factoring Humanity” is also great too. It contains exploration on Jungian psychology and hypnosis, and I am glad to see that he is writing even better books now.

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