Friday, August 19, 2011

WWW: Wake (Book)

Consciousness. Expanding Awareness. An Epidemic. Eyepod. WebSight. Phantom. Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller. Cellular AutomataZipf's law. Asperger Syndrome. Bicameralism

WWW: Wake, nominated for the 2010 Hugo and Campbell Awards, is a story about expanding consciousness. Robert J. Sawyer’s novel describes the cognitive awakening of a fifteen-year-old girl, a chimpanzee-bonobo hybrid, and a cyber-intelligence. This is the type of science fiction I love. Sawyer fills the novel with science and technology. At the same time, he creates characters that I can care about.

Briefly, the main storyline is about Caitlin, a teenager who has been blind since birth because of a disorder involving the way her retinas and brain communicate. After a doctor performs an experimental procedure to attempt to restore her sight, the first thing she sees is the World Wide Web (nodes, routing, etc.)—she has been using the web since she was eighteen-months-old. Eventually, she also gains physical sight. Sawyer shows how she gradually adjusts. One of the unexpected effects is that she realizes her dad, a respected physicist, has Asperger Syndrome. She retains her WebSight and comes to see a phantom in the web. The second plotline is about the expanding awareness of this phantom. To control public reaction, a major country temporarily creates a firewall isolating it from the rest of the world. The phantom becomes aware that part of him is cut off from another part of him. This awakens his consciousness. The third storyline is about Hobo, a research chimp who uses sign language and occasionally paints. After the researchers put him on a web conference with another sign using chimp, something in Hobo’s thinking process changes. He begins to understand the concept of representing the three dimensional world in two dimensions. To add to this idea of awakening consciousness, Sawyer weaves in the story of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller and the ideas in Julian Jaynes’s book Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

I was drawn into the story and don’t want to leave, even after I have finished the book. Fortunately WWW: Wake is the first book in the WWW Trilogy.

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