Caitlin Decter is young, pretty, feisty, a genius at math, and blind. When she receives an implant to restore her sight, instead of seeing reality she perceives the landscape of the World Wide Web-where she makes contact with a mysterious consciousness existing only in cyberspace.
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BOOKS BY ROBERT J. SAWYER
The Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy
The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy
The WWW Trilogy
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content. Copyright © 2009 by SFWRITER.COM Inc.
This novel was serialized in Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine, with installments in the November 2008, December 2008, combined January-February 2009, and March 2009 issues.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sawyer, Robert J.
eISBN : 978-1-101-02897-1
1. Blind women—Fiction. 2. Women mathematicians—Fiction. 3. Implants, Artificial—
Fiction. 4. World Wide Web—Fiction. 5. Artificial intelligence—Fiction. I. Title.
Huge thanks to my lovely wife Carolyn Clink; to Ginjer Buchanan at Penguin Group (USA)’s Ace imprint in New York; to Laura Shin, Nicole Winstanley, and David Davidar at Penguin Group (Canada) in Toronto; and to Stanley Schmidt at Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Many thanks to my agent Ralph Vicinanza and his associates Christopher Lotts and Eben Weiss, and to contract managers Lisa Rundle (Penguin Canada) and John Schline (Penguin USA), who all worked enormously hard structuring a complex publishing deal.
Some great brainstorming for this book happened at Sci Foo Camp, sponsored by O’Reilly Media and held at the Googleplex in Mountain View, California, in August 2006. Attending my session there were Greg Bear, Stuart Brand, Barry Bunin, Bill Cheswick, Esther Dyson, Sun Microsystems chief researcher John Gage, Sandeep Garg, Luc Moreau, Google cofounder Larry Page, Gavin Schmidt, and Alexander Tolley; I also got great feedback after the conference from Zack Booth Simpson of Mine-Control.
Thanks to David Goforth, Ph.D., Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Laurentian University, and David Robinson, Ph.D., Department of Economics, Laurentian University, for numerous insightful suggestions. And thanks to anthropologist H. Lyn Miles, Ph.D., of the Chantek Foundation and ApeNet, who enculturated the orangutan Chantek. Thanks, too, to cognitive scientist David W. Nicholas, for many comments and stimulating discussions.
Thanks to Betty Jean Reid and Carolyn Monaco of the Intervenor for Deaf-Blind Persons Program at George Brown College, Toronto, the first and largest program of its type in the world; to Patricia Grant, Executive Director and Outreach Intervenor Services Manager of the Canadian Helen Keller Centre, Toronto; to John A. Gardner, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus of Physics, Oregon State University, and founder of ViewPlus Technologies, Inc.; and to Justin Leiber, Ph.D., Philosophy Department, University of Houston, author of the paper “Helen Keller as Cognitive Scientist” (Philosophical Psychology, Vol. 9, No. 4, 1996).
Very special thanks to my late deaf-blind friend Howard Miller (1966-2006), whom I first met online in 1992 and in person in 1994, and who touched my life and those of so many others in countless ways.
Thanks to my most excellent ophthalmologist, Gerald I. Gold-list, M.D.; to Edmund R. Meskys; to Guido Dante Corona of IBM Research’s Human Ability and Accessibility Center, Austin, Texas; and to the following members of the Blindmath mailing list who read this novel in manuscript and offered feedback: Sina Bahram, Mr. Fatty Matty, Ken Perry, Lawrence Scadden, and Cindy Sheets. Thanks also to Bev Geddes of the Manitoba School for the Deaf.
Thanks, too, to all the people who answered questions, let me bounce ideas off them, or otherwise provided input, including: R. Scott Bakker, Paul Bartel, Asbed Bedrossian, Barbara Berson, Ellen Bleaney, Ted Bleaney, Nomi S. Burstein, Linda C. Carson, David Livingstone Clink, Daniel Dern, Ron Friedman, Marcel Gagné, Shoshana Glick, Richard Gotlib, Peter Halasz, Elisabeth Hegerat, Birger Johansson, Al Katerinsky, Herb Kauderer, Shannon Kauderer, Fiona Kelleghan, Valerie King, Randy McCharles, Kirstin Morrell, Ryan Oakley, Heather Osborne, Ariel Reich, Alan B. Sawyer, Sally Tomasevic, Elizabeth Trenholm, Hayden Trenholm, Robert Charles Wilson, and Ozan S. Yigit.
Many thanks to the members of my writers’ group, the Senior Pajamas: Pat Forde, James Alan Gardner, and Suzanne Church. Thanks also to Danita Maslankowski, who organizes the twice-annual “Write-Off” retreat weekends for Calgary’s Imaginative Fiction Writers Association, at which much work was done on this book.
The term introduced in the last chapter of this book was coined by Ben Goertzel, Ph.D., the author of Creating Internet Intelligence and currently the CEO and Chief Scientist of artificial-intelligence firm Novamente LLC (novamente.net); I’m using it here with his kind permission.
A list of links to the specific Wikipedia entries I’ve briefly quoted can be found at sfwriter.com/wikicite.htm.
For those interested in learning more about Julian Jaynes, author of The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, in addition to reading his book please also visit the Julian Jaynes Society (of which I’m a member) at julianjaynes.org.
A lot of this book was written during the three fabulous months my wife and I spent at the Berton House Writers’ Retreat. The childhood home of famed Canadian writer Pierre Berton, Berton House is located in Dawson City—the heart of the Klondike gold rush in Canada’s Yukon—right across the street from Robert Service’s cabin, and just a short distance from Jack London’s cabin. The retreat’s administrator is Elsa Franklin, and Dan Davidson and Suzanne Saito looked after us in Dawson.
Finally, thanks to the 1,300-plus members of my online discussion group, who followed along with me as I created this novel. Feel free to join us at:
What a blind person needs is not a teacher but another self.
Not darkness, for that implies an understanding of light.
Not silence, for that suggests a familiarity with sound.
Not loneliness, for that requires knowledge of others.
But still, faintly, so tenuous that if it were any less it wouldn’t exist at all: awareness.
Nothing more than that. Just awareness—a vague, ethereal sense of being.
Being . . . but not becoming. No marking of time, no past or future—only an endless, featureless now, and, just barely there in that boundless moment, inchoate and raw, the dawning of perception . . .
Caitlin had kept a brave face throughout dinner, telling her parents that everything was fine—just peachy—but, God, it had been a terrifying day, filled with other students jostling her in the busy corridors, teachers referring to things on blackboards, and doubtless everyone looking at her. She’d never felt self-conscious at the TSB back in Austin, but she was on display now. Did the other girls wear earrings, too? Had these corduroy pants been the right choice? Yes, she loved the feel of the fabric and the sound they made, but here everything was about appearances.
She was sitting at her bedroom desk, facing the open window. An evening breeze gently moved her shoulder-length hair, and she heard the outside world: a small dog barking, someone kicking a stone down the quiet residential street, and, way off, one of those annoying car alarms.
She ran a finger over her watch: 7:49—seven and seven squared, the last time today there’d be a sequence like that. She swiveled to face her computer and opened LiveJournal.
“Subject” was easy: “First day at the new school.” For “Current Location,” the default was “Home.” This strange house—hell, this strange country!—didn’t feel like that, but she let the proffered text stand.
For “Mood,” there was a drop-down list, but it took forever for JAWS, the screen-reading software she used, to announce all the choices; she always just typed something in. After a moment’s reflection, she settled on “Confident.” She might be scared in real life, but online she was Calculass, and Calculass knew no fear.
As for “Current Music,” she hadn’t started an MP3 yet . . . and so she let iTunes pick a song at random from her collection. She got it in three notes: Lee Amodeo, “Rocking My World.”
Her index fingers stroked the comforting bumps on the F and J keys—Braille for the masses—while she thought about how to begin.
Okay, she typed, ask me if my new school is noisy and crowded. Go ahead, ask. Why, thank you: yes, it is noisy and crowded. Eighteen hundred students! And the building is three stories tall. Actually, it’s three storeys tall, this being Canada and all. Hey, how do you find a Canadian in a crowded room? Start stepping on people’s feet and wait for someone to apologize to you. :)
Caitlin faced the window again and tried to imagine the setting sun. It creeped her out that people could look in at her. She’d have kept the venetian blinds down all the time, but Schrödinger liked to stretch out on the sill.
First day in tenth grade began with the Mom dropping me off and BrownGirl4 (luv ya, babe!) meeting me at the entrance. I’d walked the empty corridors of the school several times last week, getting my bearings, but it’s completely different now that the school is full of kids, so my folks are slipping BG4 a hundred bucks a week to escort me to our classes. The school managed to work it so we’re in all but one together. No way I could be in the same French class as her—je suis une beginneur, after all!
Her computer chirped: new email. She issued the keyboard command to have JAWS read the message’s header.
“To: Caitlin D.,” the computer announced. She only styled her name like that when posting to newsgroups, so whoever had sent this had gotten her address from NHL Player Stats Discuss or one of the other ones she frequented. “From: Gus Hastings.” Nobody she knew. “Subject: Improving your score.”
She touched a key and JAWS began to read the body of the message. “Are you sad about tiny penis? If so—”
Damn, her spam filter should have intercepted that. She ran her index finger along the refreshable display. Ah: the magic word had been spelled “peeeniz.” She deleted the message and was about to go back to LiveJournal when her instant messenger bleeped. “BrownGirl4 is now available,” announced the computer.
She used alt-tab to switch to that window and typed, Hey, Bashira! Just updating my LJ.
Although she had JAWS configured to use a female voice, it didn’t have Bashira’s lovely accent: “Say nice things about me.”
Course, Caitlin typed. She and Bashira had been best friends for two months now, ever since Caitlin had moved here; she was the same age as Caitlin—fifteen—and her father worked with Caitlin’s dad at PI.
“Going to mention that Trevor was giving you the eye?”
Right! She went back to the blogging window and typed: BG4 and I got desks beside each other in home room, and she said this guy in the next row was totally checking me out. She paused, unsure how she felt about this, but then added, Go me!
She didn’t want to use Trevor’s real name. Let’s give him a code name, cuz I think he just might figure in future blog entries. Hmmm, how ’bout... the Hoser! That’s Canadian slang, folks—google it! Anyway, BG4 says the Hoser is famous for hitting on new girls in town, and I am, of course, tres exotique, although I’m not the only American in that class. There’s this chick from Boston named—friends, I kid you not!—poor thing’s name is Sunshine! It is to puke. :P
Caitlin disliked emoticons. They didn’t correspond to real facial expressions for her, and she’d had to memorize the sequences of punctuation marks as if they were a code. She moved back to the instant messenger. So whatcha up to?
“Not much. Helping one of my sisters with homework. Oh, she’s calling me. BRB.”
Caitlin did like chat acronyms: Bashira would “be right back,” meaning, knowing her, that she was probably gone for at least half an hour. The computer made the door-closing sound that indicated Bashira had logged off. Caitlin returned to LiveJournal.
Anyway, first period rocked because I am made out of awesome. Can you guess which subject it was? No points if you didn’t answer “math.” And, after only one day, I totally own that class. The teacher—let’s call him Mr. H, shall we?—was amazed that I could do things in my head the other kids need a calculator for.
Her computer chirped again. She touched a key, and JAWS announced: “To: cddecter@ . . .” An email address without her name attached; almost certainly spam. She hit delete before the screen reader got any further.
After math, it was English. We’re doing a boring book about this angsty guy growing up on the plains of Manitoba. It’s got wheat in every scene. I asked the teacher—Mrs. Z, she is, and you could not have picked a more Canadian name, cuz she’s Mrs. Zed, not Mrs. Zee, see?—if all Canadian literature was like this, and she laughed and said, “Not all of it.” Oh what a joy English class is going to be!
“BrownGirl4 is now available,” JAWS said.
Caitlin hit alt-tab to switch windows, then: That was fast.
“Yeah,” said the synthesized voice. “You’d be proud of me. It was an algebra problem, and I had no trouble with it.”
Be there or B^2, Caitlin typed.
“Heh heh. Oh, gotta go. Dad’s in one of his moods. See you”—which she’d no doubt typed as “CU.”
Caitlin went back to her journal. Lunch was okay, but I swear to God I’ll never get used to Canadians. They put vinegar on French fries! And BG4 told me about this thing called poontang. Kidding, friends, kidding! It’s poutine: French fries with cheese curds and gravy thrown on top—it’s like they use fries as a freakin’ science lab up here. Guess they don’t have much money for real science, ’cept here in Waterloo, of course. And that’s mostly private mollah.
Her spell-checker beeped. She tried again: mewlah.
Another beep. The darn thing knew “triskaidekaphobia,” like she’d ever need that word, but—oh, maybe it was: moolah.
No beep. She smiled and went on.
Yup, the all-important green stuff. Well, except it’s not green up here, I’m told; apparently it’s all different colors. Anyway, a lot of the money to fund the Perimeter Institute, where my dad works on quantum gravity and other shiny stuff like that, comes from Mike Lazaridis, cofounder of Research in Motion—RIM, for you crackberry addicts. Mike L’s a great guy (they always call him that cuz there’s another Mike, Mike B), and I think my dad is happy here, although it’s so blerking hard to tell with him.
Her computer chirped yet again, announcing more email. Well, it was time to wrap this up anyway; she had about eight million blogs to read before bed.
After lunch it was chemistry class, and that looks like it’s going to be awesome. I can’t wait until we start doing experiments—but if the teacher brings in a plate of fries, I’m outta there!
She used the keyboard shortcut to post the entry and then had JAWS read the new email header.
“To: Caitlin Decter,” her computer announced. “From: Masayuki Kuroda.” Again, nobody she knew. “Subject: A proposition.”
Involving a rock-hard peeeniz, no doubt! She was about to hit delete when she was distracted by Schrödinger rubbing against her legs—a case of what she liked to call cattus interruptus. “Who’s a good kitty?” Caitlin said, reaching down to pet him.
Schrödinger jumped into her lap and must have jostled the keyboard or mouse while doing so, because her computer proceeded to read the body of the message: “I know a teenage girl must be careful about whom she talks to online . . .”
A cyberstalker who knew the difference between who and whom! Amused, she let JAWS continue: “. . . so I urge you to immediately tell your parents of this letter. I hope you will consider my request, which is one I do not make lightly.”
Caitlin shook her head, waiting for the part where he would ask for nude photos. She found the spot on Schrödinger’s neck that he liked to have scratched.
“I have searched through the literature and online to find an ideal candidate for the research my team is doing. My specialty is signal processing related to V1.”
Caitlin’s hand froze in mid-scratch.
“I have no wish to raise false hopes, and I can make no projection of the likelihood of success until I’ve examined MRI scans, but I do think there’s a fair chance that the technique we have developed may be able to at least partially cure your blindness, and”—she leapt to her feet, sending Schrödinger to the floor and probably out the door—“give you at least some vision in one eye. I’m hoping that at your earliest—”
“Mom! Dad! Come quick!”
She heard both sets of footfalls: light ones from her mother, who was five-foot-four and slim, and much heavier ones from her father, who was six-two and developing, she knew from those very rare occasions on which he permitted a hug, a middle-aged spread.
“What’s wrong?” Mom asked. Dad, of course, didn’t say a word.
“Read this letter,” Caitlin said, gesturing toward her monitor.
“The screen is blank,” Mom said.
“Oh.” Caitlin fumbled for the power switch on the seventeen-inch LCD, then got out of the way. She could hear her mother sit down and her father take up a position behind the chair. Caitlin sat on the edge of her bed, bouncing impatiently. She wondered if Dad was smiling; she liked to think he did smile while he was with her.
“Oh, my God,” Mom said. “Malcolm?”
“Google him,” Dad said. “Here, let me.”
More shuffling, and Caitlin heard her father settle into the chair. “He’s got a Wikipedia entry. Ah, his Web page at the University of Tokyo. A Ph.D. from Cambridge, and dozens of peer-reviewed papers, including one in Nature Neuroscience, on, as he says, signal processing in V1, the primary visual cortex.”
Caitlin was afraid to get her hopes up. When she’d been little, they’d visited doctor after doctor, but nothing had worked, and she’d resigned herself to a life of—no, not of darkness but of nothingness.
But she was Calculass! She was a genius at math and deserved to go to a great university, then work someplace real cool like Google. Even if she managed the former, though, she knew people would say garbage like, “Oh, good for her! She managed to get a degree despite everything!” —as if the degree were the end, not the beginning. But if she could see! If she could see, the whole wide world would be hers.
“Is what he’s saying possible?” her mom asked.
Caitlin didn’t know if the question was meant for her or her father, nor did she know the answer. But her dad responded. “It doesn’t sound impossible,” he said, but that was as much of an endorsement as he was willing to give. And then he swiveled the chair, which squeaked a little, and said, “Caitlin?”
It was up to her, she knew: she was the one who’d had her hopes raised before, only to be dashed, and—
No, no, that wasn’t fair. And it wasn’t true. Her parents wanted her to have everything. It had been heartbreaking for them, too, when other attempts had failed. She felt her lower lip trembling. She knew what a burden she’d been on them, although they’d never once used that word. But if there was a chance . . .
I am made out of awesome, my ass, she thought, and then she spoke, her voice small, frightened. “I guess it couldn’t hurt to write him back.”
The awareness is unburdened by memory, for when reality seems unchanging there is nothing to remember. It fades in and out, strong now—and now weak—and strong again, and then almost disappearing, and—
And disappearance is . . . to cease, to . . . to end!
A ripple, a palpitation—a desire: to continue.
But the sameness lulls.
Wen Yi looked through the small, curtainless window at the rolling hills. He’d spent all his fourteen years here in Shanxi province, laboring on his father’s tiny potato farm.
The monsoon season was over, and the air was bone-dry. He turned his head to look again at his father, lying on the rickety bed. His father’s wrinkled forehead, brown from the sun, was slick with perspiration and hot to the touch. He was completely bald and had always been thin, but since the disease had taken hold he’d been unable to keep anything down and now looked utterly skeletal.
Yi looked around the tiny room, with its few pieces of beat-up furniture. Should he stay with his father, try to comfort him, try to get him to take sips of water? Or should he go for whatever help might be found in the village? Yi’s mother had died shortly after giving birth to him. His father had had a brother, but these days few families were allowed a second child, and Yi had no one to help look after him.
The yellow root grindings he’d gotten from the old man down the dirt road had done nothing to ease the fever. He needed a doctor—even a barefoot one, if a real one couldn’t be found—but there was none here, nor any way to summon one; Yi had seen a telephone only once in his life, when he’d gone on a long, long hike with a friend to see the Great Wall.
“I’m going to get a doctor for you,” he said at last, his decision made.
His father’s head moved left and right. “No. I—” He coughed repeatedly, his face contorting with pain. It looked as though an even smaller man was inside the husk of his father, fighting to burst out.
“I have to,” Yi said, trying to make his voice soft, soothing. “It won’t take more than half a day to get to the village and back.”
That was true—if he ran all the way there, and found someone with a vehicle to drive him and a doctor back. Otherwise, his father would have to make it through today and tonight alone, feverish, delirious, in pain.
He touched his father’s forehead again, this time in affection, and felt the fire there. Then he rose to his feet and without looking back—for he knew he couldn’t leave if he saw his father’s pleading eyes—he headed out the shack’s crooked door into the harsh sun.
Others had the fever, too, and at least one had died. Yi had been awoken last night not by his father’s coughing but by the wailing cries of Zhou Shu-Fei, an old woman who lived closer to them than anyone else. He’d gone to see what she was doing outside so late. Her husband, he discovered, had just succumbed, and now she had the fever, too; he could feel it when his skin brushed against hers. He stayed with her for hours, her hot tears splashing against his arm, until finally she had fallen asleep, devastated and exhausted.
Yi was passing Shu-Fei’s house now, a hovel as small and ramshackle as the one he shared with his father. He hated to bother her—she was doubtless still deep in mourning—but perhaps the old woman would look in on his father while he was away. He went to the door and rapped his knuckles against the warped, stained board. No response. After a moment, he tried again.
No one here had much; there was little theft because there was little to steal. He suspected the door was unlocked. He called out Shu-Fei’s name, then gingerly swung the door open, and—
—and there she was, facedown in the compacted dirt that served as her home’s floor. He hurried over to her, crouched, and reached out to touch her, but—
—but the fever was gone. The normal warmth of life was gone, too.
Yi rolled her onto her back. Her deep-set eyes, surrounded by the creases of her aged skin, were open. He carefully closed them, then rose and headed through the door. He shut it behind him and began his long run. The sun was high, and he could feel himself already beginning to sweat.
Caitlin had been waiting impatiently for the lunch break, her first chance to tell Bashira about the note from the doctor in Japan. Of course, she could have forwarded his email to her, but some things were better done face-to-face: she expected serious squee from Bashira and wanted to enjoy it.
Bashira brought her lunch to school; she needed halal food. She went off to get them places at one of the long tables, while Caitlin joined the cafeteria line. The woman behind the counter read the lunch specials to her, and she chose the hamburger and fries (but no gravy!) and, to make her mother happy, a side of green beans. She handed the clerk a ten-dollar bill—she always folded those in thirds—and put the loose change in her pocket.
“Hey, Yankee,” said a boy’s voice. It was Trevor Nordmann—the Hoser himself.
Caitlin tried not to smile too much. “Hi, Trevor,” she said.
“Can I carry your tray for you?”
“I can manage,” she said.
“No, here.” She felt him tugging on it, and she relented before her food tumbled to the floor. “So, did you hear there’s going to be a school dance at the end of the month?” he asked, as they left the cashier.
Caitlin wasn’t sure how to respond. Was it just a general question, or was he thinking of asking her to go? “Yeah,” she said. And then: “I’m sitting with Bashira.”
“Oh, yeah. Your Seeing Eye dog.”
“Excuse me? ” snapped Caitlin.
“I—um . . .”
“That’s not funny, and it’s rude.”
“I’m sorry. I was just . . .”
“Just going to give me back my tray,” she said.
“No, please.” His voice changed; he’d turned his head. “There she is, by the window. Um, do you want to take my hand?”
If he hadn’t made that remark a moment ago, she might have agreed. “Just keep talking, and I’ll follow your voice.”
He did so, while she felt her way with her collapsible white cane. He set the tray down; she heard the dishes and cutlery rattling.
“Hi, Trevor,” Bashira said, a bit too eagerly—and Caitlin suddenly realized that Bashira liked him.
“Hi,” Trevor replied with no enthusiasm.
“There’s an extra seat,” said Bashira.
“Hey, Nordmann!” some guy called from maybe twenty feet away; it wasn’t a voice Caitlin recognized.
He was silent against the background din of the cafeteria, as if weighing his options. Perhaps realizing that he wasn’t going to recover quickly from his earlier gaffe, he finally said, “I’ll email you, Caitlin . . . if that’s okay.”
She kept her tone frosty. “If you want.”
A few seconds later, presumably after the Hoser had gone to join whoever had called him, Bashira said, “He’s hot.”
“He’s an asshole,” Caitlin replied.
“Yeah,” agreed Bashira, “but he’s a hunky asshole.”
Caitlin shook her head. How seeing more could make people see less was beyond her. She knew that half the Internet was porn, and she’d listened to the panting-and-moaning soundtracks of some porno videos, and they had turned her on, but she kept wondering what it was like to be sexually stimulated by someone’s appearance. Even if she did get sight, she promised herself she wouldn’t lose her head over something as superficial as that.
Caitlin leaned across the table and spoke in a low voice. “There’s a scientist in Japan,” she said, “who thinks he might be able to cure my blindness.”
“Get out!” said Bashira.
“It’s true. My dad checked him out online. It looks like he’s legit.”
“That’s awesome,” said Bashira. “What is, like, the very first thing you want to see?”
Caitlin knew the real answer but didn’t say it. Instead, she offered, “Maybe a concert . . .”
“You like Lee Amodeo, right?”
“Totally. She’s got the best voice ever.”
“She’s coming to Centre in the Square in December.”
Caitlin’s turn: “Get out!”
“Really. Wanna go?”
“I’d love to.”
“And you’ll get to see her!” Bashira lowered her voice. “And you’ll see what I mean about Trevor. He’s, like, so buff.”
Excerpted from "WWW: Wake"
Copyright © 2010 Robert J. Sawyer.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The contrast between the AI groping its way into existence & sentience while the main character herself goes from being blind since birth & living in a world of sounds, textures, & distances into being sighted is made more striking from the occasional glimpses into the lives of other people operating with sight since birth where their worlds are full of colors, shapes, art, etc. The combined contrasts does a great job of being something I can point to for helping people understand what the sudden shift in my world was a few years ago after a massive & near fatal CVA affected me. As an IT professional, I greatly enjoyed the fact that the author uses real world tech references (facebook/twitter/aim/etc) when applicable to the characters & their lives rather than inventing technobabble. The places where things are simply made up with regards to the AI aren't given pages of useless "look how impressive I can be" technobabble making it all the more enjoable from the lack of grating "it doesn't work that way dammit" inconsistencies.
I've been searching for a good Sci-Fi series, and it seems I've finally found one! Enjoyed the book immensely and even learned a few new things!
"Caitlin Decter is young, pretty, feisty, a genius at math and blind. Still, she can surf the net with the best of them, following its complex paths clearly in her mind. When a Japanese researcher develops a new signal-processing implant that might give her sight, she jumps at the chance, flying to Tokyo for the operation. But Caitlin's brain long ago co-opted her primary visual cortex to help her navigate online. Once the implant is activated, instead of seeing reality, the landscape of the World Wide Web explodes into her consciousness, spreading out all around her in a riot of colors and shapes. While exploring this amazing realm, she discovers something, "some other" lurking in the background. And it's getting smarter..." In addition to Caitlin's story are a couple of seemingly unrelated events in other parts of the world. In China an outbreak of the bird flu (H5N1) is handled by the Chinese government by culling the humans that are infected as well as shutting the country off from the rest of the outside word by cutting its internet and phone connections to hide their transgression. Elsewhere, in a research facility, a Bonobo/Chimpanzee hybrid that can use ASL (American Sign Language), produces art that defies what they are "supposed" to be capable of. Youtube videos and political strife follow. Thirdly, a growing intelligence on the world wide web begins to take form. It strains to come to terms with itself and its surroundings, yet it begins to evolve. And, like Annie Sullivan, reaching down into the depths of Helen Keller"s mind, Caitlin makes a connection with this web-based entity and strives to teach it. I consumed this book. Like with his Neanderthal Parallax novels, I completely empathize with these characters. They lift off the page and pull you along with them, particularly Caitlin. Her ability to "see" through people and her edgy humour are brilliantly achieved and you can"t help but admire her strength of character and resolve. The use of biological terms and technology are meshed throughout the story in a way that it isn"t dumped on you. (It should be noted that I have a biology and information technology background, so I felt like this book was written for me. But with that said, the way he reveals the information would easily engage anyone without this knowledge.) There are wonderful parallels and references to Helen Keller and her rise to awareness from the dark place in which she once lived as well as timely topics and subject matter that is deftly interwoven in the story. He engages in real world debates (i.e. the intelligence of apes and their ability to use sign language, the cross-breeding of species, the potential self-awareness of the internet, etc.) and employs throughout some some witty references and poignant gibes. It is obvious that Mr. Sawyer took his time to research well before writing this and it is no wonder he was won such honours as the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. This is a fantastic beginning to a much anticipated series. It ends well, but leaves you hungering for more. I very much look forward to what will come in the next novel and how Mr. Sawyer is going to engage me further in the coming books, WATCH and WONDER. Whether you are a science fiction aficionado or not, add this book to your Must Read list. It will not disappoint.
I read the first two books in this series in a matter of days, could not put my Nook down. Great character development and movement throughout.
I very much enjoyed this trilogy of books. It is the story of an artificial intelligence spontaneously emerging on the internet. A new lifeform is suddenly born. Because this entity is discovered by a teenage girl, aspects of these books can have the feeling of "young-adult" or "teen-lit." However, that does not interfere with the level of entertainment these stories provide. There is a great deal of science and philosophy presented here, as well as much information about the internet and its history. These novels are thought-provoking. Be sure to read Wake, Watch, and Wonder in the proper order. You will have a good time. Michael Travis Jasper, author of the novel "To Be Chosen"
Sawyer addresses emergent phenomena in the internet in a great novel. A kinder, gentler Neuromancer.
Blind teenage mathematical genius Caitlin Decter is a wonder with her effortless ability to surf the Internet. Her brain compensating for her lack of sight has embellished her other senses enabling her to easily travel the web. Caitlin is euphoric with the experimental implant that will enable her to see. However, instead of normal vision, the processor placed inside her allows her to "see" the Web. As she explores her new cyberspace imageries, she realizes another sentient being exists. Caitlin begins to believe that every minute the other seems more aware of its cyber environs and perhaps much more. This "webmind" has become aware of an external existence outside the internet dimension. This is a terrific opening act as Robert J. Sawyer introduces his readers to the complex WWW though his two lead characters, the teen heroine and the webmind. The story line is much more complex and diverse than described above as the explorations by Caitlin and the webmind lead the audience to all sorts of places around the world such as the Chinese freedom bloggers as the new conscience learns globalization of its dimension. Extremely well written and complex making Tron look like pre-school, this is a terrific first tale in what looks like will be a great trilogy that is also being serialized in Analog (started in November and ending in March). Harriet Klausner
This book is probably one of the best books I have read. All of the logic makes perfect sense, the scientific reasoning actually can be used in this context, and it also amusing. I hope that someday this technology is available. If I could, I would give more stars. -Zayne
I read this trilogy shortly after discovering Robert J. Sawyer. When I first saw the series WWW, I didn't expect much-it seemed like too much of a gimmick with the name of the series and the idea behind the story. Once I started reading Wake, it didn't take long to fall in love with the story and characters. I have recommended these books to a number of people. I am sure many who would normally not care for science fiction would find this a wonderful series to read.
I read the first toe of this series back-to-back and wanted more. You can be assured, I will be getting book three. Really great books! Science fiction is not my thing, but this isn't really hare core sci fi. It's a great story!
WWW:Wake takes you on a journey of discovery as one teenage girls dream to obtain sight, leads her into a world everyone in a technological society experiences, but none actually see. Care and deliberacy are evident in the evocative first person experience of the wonders and revelations of a newly found sense of the world around you. The pacing is good for the most part and the characters are well developed and believable. The reader will find themselves emotionally engaged with the main character Caitlin, her struggles, setbacks and triumphs. Along with the main plot, there are two divergent secondary story arcs that are not resolved, and as many have noted, the bird flu plot feels especially empty, as while you can see how it may be connected to the main plot in the future, it adds nothing of value to experiences in this book. A worthwhile read for any fan of science fiction, or anyone who can appreciate how so much of who we are, is dependent on how we experience the world outside ourselves.
WWW:Wake is the first book of a (scheduled) trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer. It was also my introduction to this author. It was good enough to make me want to go out and find everything else written by this author, and here's why: WWW:Wake takes a standard science fiction theme (what is intelligence/sentience) and makes you look at the concept and the world around you in a whole new way. It starts out with multiple plot lines, some of which connect in unexpected ways in this book and others which will probably connect later in the trilogy. The first main character you meet is Caitlin Decter, a blind teenager who explores the world through the internet. The title refers to her awakening though a surgery intended to give her sight, as well as the possible 'awakening' of two other characters. The novel deals with how different people perceive the world, the differences between sight and perception, and how knowledge can change what we see and what we think about it. In addition, the book challenges ideas about how we learn. Personally, I am really looking forward to seeing where Sawyer takes this in the next book, WWW:Watch.
I really enjoyed reading this but I have to agree with other reviewers about the Chinese bird flu plot segment. It didn't really go anywhere. I expected it to be picked up and referred to later in the novel but it was simply left hanging; I understand that the plotline existed only to service the greater story but it was intriguing enough that it would have been interesting to see it be relevant to the main plot in some other way. I thought Caitlin's experience with sight and her adaptation to it was a bit faster than I'd have expected. Other patients who've gained sight have had serious difficulties adjusting.
This book was accidentally given to me and I am glad it was. Caitlin is a truly engaging character and her journey to sight is particularly touching. The only issue I have with this book (spoiler ahead) is the Chinese bird flu segments. I felt that at the end of the book they were more like filler instead of an integrated part to the plot. I understand how the events in China lead up to the consciousness of the internet (my terms) but then it sort of ended abruptly and there was no resolution. I was also uncomfortable with the harsh, unfeeling and cold portrayal of some of the Chinese characters. Their emotions (or lack thereof) do make the book more engaging, but like I said earlier, no resolution, no finality. Do read this book, it is really very, very good, just be prepared for wanting more.
Robert Sawyer has become one of my favorite authors. I really enjoy the different take on the world along with the science that is explained in his books. I am ready to find out where Mr. Sawyer will take Catlain and her connection to WWW.
When I heard Robert J. Sawyer was going to be publishing a new novel in Analog magazine, I subscribed right away. I've been lucky enough to be following him most, if not all, of his career and he is also very good at writing back to fan mail, even as his status has climbed to the top! As someone who has grown up involved in computers since cassette-tape interface, no storage memory, to 16k being a large amount, BASIC programming at age 8, yadda, yadda, yadda, it's been fantastic to learn so much about our technological age & its future possibilities (remember when the tri-corder was a dream? We now have cell phones :D) via SciFi. WAKE (now WWW: WAKE) is such a phenomenal read, quick read that kept me thinking about Caitlin's character, the internet as an entity, bonobo's intelligence, hackers, control of the internet by various powers that be, political science in the media, and so much else (I don't want to give any more away). My 2nd grade students loved hearing my summaries from the "Wake" installments. They really got hooked on my anticipation of the next Analog & of the story's content! If you have read and enjoyed ANY science fiction book or not, you will most likely be on the edge of your set, the tip of your pillow or biting your nails while reading this thought-provoking novel. Now, my pre-school daughter needs her daddy away from the computer. :>
I was so thrilled to get an early copy of this book shipped to me by the author himself. Thanks Robert! The book didn't disappoint. Caitlin, a teenager blind from birth is a math genius and an internet whiz. She is a candidate for a special procedure being offered by a scientist in Japan that may give her a chance to see. Caitlin undergoes the procedure, which has different results than were expected. One of them being that another apparent life form is brought to a type of consciousness. As the book progresses some parts of each chapter are told in first person by the new life form. As it starts to slowly learn, what it tells becomes more complex. As an aside, a hybrid ape named Hobo has apparently picked up some independent art interpretation skills that no other ape has ever had. I don't want to give too much of the rest of the plot but two books are discussed a great deal throughout and a lot of the plot seems to paralell. One talks about the two halves of the brain being united in the first human to create self-awareness and the other is about the teaching of Helen Keller by Anne Sullivan. Not all is resolved by the end of the book and it looks like that this book will have at least one sequel. I can hardly wait for it. This series looks as good as the Hominid trilogy that Robert so masterfully presented. Thank you Mr. Sawyer for another intriguing series!
A blind girl is given an "eyepod" to try to restore her sight by direct electronic input to the optic nerve. At first, she sees only the world wide web, and struggles to make sense of it. After some tweaking, she can see, but a "presence" on the internet senses her, and she it. A fascinating story that keeps you turning the pages, told with lots of humour and great ideas. There are also parallel stories where China deals with an outbreak of bird flu by culling, and a chimp/bonobo cross paints a picture of one of his keepers, and the reactions of others to these events are told.
The ideas in this book were quite interesting and I was definitely drawn into all the three of the main story lines. I just didn't enjoy Sawyer's writing style all that much. I've read a couple of his other books and have felt hints of this, though never as strongly as in Wake.Maybe it's because I live in Waterloo region (the primary setting for this novel), but I couldn't get over the feeling that he was "name dropping" with many of the locations and people that were thrown into this. It always seemed to feel forced; like he was mentioning places simply to assert his Canadianism - as if he were trying to play to the "hometown Canadian" crowd. Did writing that the breakfast sausage was from Schnieder's or that the cookies were from mennonites in St. Jacobs really add anything to the story?I also didn't buy his take on a 15-year old girl. Most of Caitlin's internal dialog and conversation felt more like a middle aged man's impression of a young woman rather than an actual 15 year old. I found myself rolling my eyes at much of it.All that said though, I still thoroughly enjoyed the ideas presented and will certainly be on the lookout for the followup novels in this trilogy. I'm hopeful that Sawyer's writing style matures along with Caitlin.
Another page turner taht is very enjoyable to read. Kind of funny that in retrospect there was not that much groudbreaking to remember from the book, but still so much fun to read. Looking forward to the evolution of the trilogy.
Though the story is compelling, and the discussions of technology, information theory and so on are plausible enough to rope you in, I felt the book fell short on a number of other important scores. None of the characters are terribly in-depth, and the dialogue and internal monologue attributed to the main character (a teenage girl) sound stilted and awkward--the kind of thing you'd expect a teenage girl's out-of-touch father to think of how his daughter sounded, which is fine for a regular father, but I expected a lot more from the winner of so many sf awards. Also, the way the "coming to consciousness" of the webmind entity is depicted leaves a lot to be desired. This is partly due to the inherent difficulties in understanding such things (how might a non-rational, non-conscious thing come to be conscious?), but Sawyer does not handle it terrible adeptly or with great subtlety.
This is certainly not the best writing by Robert Sawyer. There is some interesting background information about consciousness but the chapter preambles are extraordinarily tiresome. Then there are a couple of odd ball side stories thrown in which, to me anyway, just muddle the main dialog.This is the first book of the www trilogy, and, hopefully, the next volume will come closer to the excellent writing he has done for prior works.
Nice concept, intriguing back-line stories but at the end it gets a little-bit monotonous. And the AI is learning a bit to fast. Still wondering how the next part will be.
A very intriguing story about a blind girl who gains sight of the web and of the real world through an implant. This implant lets her discover an artificial intelligence forming in the world wide web. The story is clearly geared towards a second book and even though the main plot comes to a nice conclusion, some of the sub-plots end a bit abruptly. The audio recording is amazing with multiple narrators and discreet sound effects.
For a start let me adapt a line said by one of the characters in the story, to let you know how I really feel for this book. Here is goes:This book is made out of awesome!!Why?Well... the concept - the idea - that an artificial intelligence or a non biologic, digital life form CAN evolve by itself, CAN learn and develop on its own, has already been introduced in the movie version of "I, Robot" - not to be mistaken with Asimov's work with the same title, even though there are similarities - but this is truly something new. Or for me, at least, the mere thought of the birth of a digital entity is...Amazing!The book is really easy to read, yet keeps one's vocabulary "fit and in shape", as it introduces the reader to a few scientific and mathematical facts and theories in a way that will keep you pinned to your chair/bed/couch/wherever you read...And the best thing: the characters are alive! Unlike many sci-fi novels I have read before (well, the number is not that high, but it keeps counting...), the characters do have a life; they do have thoughts, not to mention feelings. They don't just follow procedures, "voices form gods or higher entities", calculations or the environment, but they do get happy, they do cry and get sometimes really upset, and puzzled even by events they cannot understand.And Sawyer wrote this all down so well that sometimes it made my heart shrink...No, that's not the word...Yes! Yes! Yes, it got squeezed!But still there is another... a better word...Oh, got it!My heart got so overwhelmed... yes... overwhelmed... emotionally overwhelmed not by sorrow, but by joy, that I found myself wiping teardrops off my cheeks as I felt really happy for Caitlin in one particular scene, where she...Oh! But you have to read it for yourself to fully understand... :)To feel what I felt... For this book really is made out of awesome!