The WWW Trilogy

Yes! If you want to read a science fiction novel that holds your attention and makes you think, you should definitely read all three books in Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW Trilogy: Wake, Watch, and Wonder. Like much of hard science fiction, this three-part novel focuses primarily on ideas rather than on character development, so don’t look for that novelistic virtue. But Sawyer grabbed my interest from the start and sustained it through all three volumes. The subject is artificial intelligence in the very near future — like seven or eight months from now. That’s right: months, not years. But of course the series wasn’t just written this year, so it does predict slightly into the future. Unlike the typical dystopian view of AI, WWW presents a hopeful future — even a bit too saccharine, in my view. But the combination of topics is fascinating: emergent intelligence through the World Wide Web, autism, the use of technology to give vision to people with a certain type of blindness, sign language in primates, freedom fighters in China, and even the upcoming presidential election. All these apparently disparate matters are tied together in the third volume, but until then the connection is rather a mystery.

I kept checking with a Canadian colleague about the accuracy of Sawyer’s many remarks about Canada, as the novel takes place in Waterloo, Ontario. Apparently everything he says is accurate…which shouldn’t have surprised me, since it turns out that Sawyer is Canadian. WWW is full of many topical references, ranging from Microsoft to political candidates to the real-life Perimeter Institute (where the protagonist’s father works). References to various Stephens/Stevens (why so many Steves?) add to the verisimilitude: Hawking, Wolfram, and Jobs come to mind. A couple of amateur reviewers found the series unrealistic, either because the 16-year-old Caitlin is so brilliant in math or because she makes the occasional stupid decision. But I guess they don’t know very many teenagers if they find either occurrence unrealistic.

Anyway, if you can put up with cardboard characters, you should definitely read the series. It will be worth your while. If you don’t want to read all three volumes, just read the third. I don’t usually make this kind of recommendation, since I’m a firm believer in reading any series in order, but in this case you won’t be lost and can still figure out what’s going on.

Categories: Books, Technology