Robert J. Sawyer 2009. WWW: Wake. New York: Ace Books.
A great example of the best kind of science fiction: takes up themes in current and near-future technology and embarks on a journey to a believable future. Believable to those who have been reading Raymond Kurzweil, anyway.
The protagonist is Caitlin, a well-imagined teenage girl who is blind from birth, due to signal processing errors in the retina. A Japanese researcher has a possible solution in the form of an implant with attached wi-fi enabled hardware (for software updates). But the implant instead enables Caitlin to “see” the internet, which at the same time is becoming self-aware; artificially intelligent. Caitlin learns to interact; the internet likewise.
Several engaging sub-plots develop the artificial intelligence theme in different ways. It turns out Caitlin’s Dad (a physicist) has an autistic condition which is a revelation to Caitlin (and the reader) and provides some great moments. Another sub-plot involving a bonobo-chimpanzee hybrid and an orangutan in the care of psychologists is less successful; it doesn’t seem to go anywhere but on the other hand this is only volume 1 of a trilogy. Yet another sub-plot in China adds a dimension to the narrative of the increasingly self-aware internet but could perhaps be further developed (perhaps it will be).
Some minor flaws in the integration of sub-plots hardly detracts at all from a great read. I’m looking forward to seeing where Robert Sawyer takes all this in WWW: Watch and WWW: Wonder.
The acknowledgments provide some useful background and, most interestingly, point the reader to an academic work by Julian Jaynes:The Origin of Conciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind which is easily found on the internet and has been added to my already ridiculously overwhelming in-tray.