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Friday, August 20, 2010

The Hugo Nominees for Best Novel: "WWW:WAKE", by Robert J. Sawyer (Reviewed by Fabio Fernandes)

If the world of science fiction literature were similar to the music industry, Robert J. Sawyer could fit in the label of "easy reading". This is a compliment: just another day I've noticed that Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward's project She & Him is sometimes labeled as "easy listening", even though they are really considered an indie folk band. Maybe the (sometimes) mellow sounds made by Ward and the (quirky but beautiful) voice of Deschanel are so easy to stick in the ear that people who run the lounges of air companies or whoever create these post-reasonable labels end up calling them "easy listening".

It's the same with Sawyer. Read Rollback (which I reviewed here). Read Flashforward. And that's just two examples: The Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy is a pretty good example of an easy reading series: a storyline with one major plot and simple, straightforward characters revolving around it, usually having to deal with the effects with technology gone awfully wrong - or, in some cases, awfully right, which can be the same thing (remember that saying, be careful of what you wish for?)

The Helen Keller epigraph that opens the novel pretty much sets the tone of the story: "What a blind person needs is not a teacher but another self." That will be exactly what you will get: a story of a blind person who will find not a teacher, but another self. Then the science fiction enters the stage.

Caitlin is a young Canadian blind girl who gets offered a unique chance from, Kuroda Masayuki, a neuroscientist of the University of Tokyo: to get an implant that could restore her vision working the signal processing in her primary visual cortex. So far, not very impressive as far as science fiction goes, some of you may be thinking. But in her case, the experience goes right - far beyond right, you could say.

Because the experiment wakes up a sentient mind in the implant via the Web - the very first and true artificial intelligence. And that intelligence starts its learning process at the same time Caitlin starts her vision training. The intelligence - which does not have a name, in fact which does not understand the concept of name, but struggles to comprehend it along the novel and even manages to label Caitlin, referring to her as Prime.

It is a long, painstaking - and sometimes even painful - process, for both sides. And for us as readers as well, for we see their POVs alternating, but they never get in touch with each other. Caitlin doesn't even know that this entity exists - although she suspects there is something novel happening, for she can't controle her implant every time she wants. The intelligence is doing that in its way to emergence.

The story ends in a climax, when the intelligence finally manages to reveal itself to Caitlin, with a simple but impossible question for her to answer: "Who am I?" A question that probably will be answered in the next volume of the trilogy, WWW:Watch, but you will have to read it. I haven't.


Sarah said...

This looks interesting. I'm always looking for new finds :) Great review.

Fabio Fernandes said...

Thank you!

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