Review -- WWW:Watch
WWW:WATCH (Amazon) is Robert Sawyer‘s sequel to his Hugo nominated story, WWW:WAKE (EBR Review). It is the second novel of a trilogy that will end next year with WWW:WONDER (Amazon).
I recently reread WAKE in order to vote for the Hugo awards, and again I found it to be a really entertaining novel about the spontaneous emergence of an Artificial Intelligence on the World Wide Web (WAKE, WATCH, WONDER = WWW. Get it?). Just to give you readers a brief recap, the book is told through the eyes, mostly, of a 16 year old girl named Caitlin. Caitlin has recently gone through a medical procedure that helps her regain her sight through the use of a small computer device which interprets the signals her eye sends and then feeds them to her brain. The emergent AI finds those signals and together they learn about the new visual world around them. The story is interesting and thought provoking. Especially nice were the small side notes about Helen Keller’s life and the parallels it drew to Caitlin and Webmind (the name the AI is given at the end of the book). I liked the book quite a bit. It was fun, it had a neat premise and interesting characters. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough that I decided to stick around for the rest of the series.
The second book, WATCH, sadly has me pretty worried. The story in the first book ended with the emergent AI and Caitlin finally making contact with each other. That story felt whole and complete. I still wanted to know what was going to happen next, but I was satisfied with the conclusion. WATCH feels like the further adventures of Webmind, only there are no adventures. The story continues as Webmind now starts to learn about morals and choices. Where previously Webmind had been intelligent, now he must learn those abstract concepts that drive human beings. That’s the fun part. The other parts of the novel deal with an organization in the United States (aptly named WATCH) that finds out about Webmind and goes about trying to destroy it. Sounds interesting, right?
The whole novel shows these professionals trying to figure out what exactly Webmind is and how it came about (a concept that Caitlin our 16 year old figured out in like 2 seconds). There is never any tension because there is never any real danger. WATCH (the government organization) never knows what Webmind really is and so you never fear for him. When they finally do figure something out and attack Webmind, it takes Caitlin another 30 seconds to figure out how to foil the government’s plans. There’s no buildup, no tension, it all sort of just happens with less attention drawn to it than Sawyer spent on Caitlin thinking about her new geeky boyfriend.
The other thing that bugged me about the book was some of the character interactions. At times Caitlin acted like a normal 16 year old, and then all of the sudden when Caitlin needed to be an expert on Quantum hyper dimensional computing (a term I just made up but it serves the point), she is. She knows everything about it. I’m sorry I just don’t buy it. I’ve met some smart kids in my time, but Caitlin knows everything; she knows things that paid government officials and professionals at the tops of their field don’t understand. I don’t think so. And her boyfriend? He’s the same. It stretched my believability in the story a bit too much (and this is a story about a spontaneous AI rising up in the Web for Pete’s sake). There were also several instances where the characters would start ranting and raving about various subjects, gay marriage, evolution etc… and it just felt like I was being preached too. It didn’t have much of anything to do with the story except to extrapolate on various issues for pages at a time. Even when I agreed with what Sawyer was saying it felt blunt and heavy handed.
I don’t mean to sound so harsh. I like Sawyer, and I like his books, and there is good to be had in this particular novel. Sawyer’s writing makes it easy to get lost in the world and enjoy it. The characters (for the most part) were fun to follow and Webmind’s journey in particular was very interesting. The book just didn’t feel whole. It felt like a piece of a story, which it is. I’m too entrenched now not to pick up the final volume and I can only hope that it will be an amazing finish to the story. WAKE was good. WATCH, not as much. If you really want a great story by Robert J Sawyer with big ideas, I recommend MINDSCAN (Amazon). It is by far my favorite of his works.
- Recommended Age: 14+ Nothing much to worry about here
- Language: A few instances, but nothing a 14 year old wouldn't hear in school anyway
- Violence: Absolutely none
- Sex: Some suggestion and one scene of groping