WWW: Watch (WWW Trilogy Series #2)

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Overview

Sixteen-year-old Caitlin Decter was born blind. But, thanks to an implant in her head, she can now see the real world—and also see webspace, the structure of the World Wide Web. There, she’s found a nascent consciousness, which she’s helped bring forth, letting it, too, see the world for the first time.

The consciousness takes the name Webmind. Caitlin’s parents know about it, and so does WATCH, a secret US government agency that monitors terrorist activity on the Web (violating...

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WWW: Watch

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Overview

Sixteen-year-old Caitlin Decter was born blind. But, thanks to an implant in her head, she can now see the real world—and also see webspace, the structure of the World Wide Web. There, she’s found a nascent consciousness, which she’s helped bring forth, letting it, too, see the world for the first time.

The consciousness takes the name Webmind. Caitlin’s parents know about it, and so does WATCH, a secret US government agency that monitors terrorist activity on the Web (violating civil liberties as it does so). Caitlin is convinced that Webmind is benign, but her parents are afraid the public will view Webmind—which can now crack any password and read everyone’s email—as Big Brother.

Caitlin discovers that WATCH is on to them. She figures the best way to protect Webmind is by having it prove its benevolence to the world by eliminating all the spam from the Internet.

But Caitlin’s boyfriend accidentally reveals the secret of Webmind’s structure to WATCH. Armed with that information, the government tries to wipe out Webmind. Caitlin travels into webspace, helping Webmind overwhelm WATCH’s computers by redirecting all the billions of intercepted spam messages at them.

Webmind really is trying to help humanity, but Caitlin knows that they’ve only bought a little time. The dark forces of the government—the real Big Brother—will try again to wipe Webmind out. But Caitlin is determined to triumph: she’ll show them that her Big Brother can take their Big Brother.

BONUS AUDIO: Includes an exclusive introduction written and read by author Robert J. Sawyer.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Born blind, 16-year-old Caitlin Decter is able to see thanks to a computerized retinal implant that also makes her able to "see" the data streams that flow along the Internet. Her gift enables her to awaken a conscious entity that calls itself Webmind. Even as her bond with her new friend strengthens, government agencies seek to eliminate what they perceive as a security threat. The sequel to WWW: Wake contrasts the innocence of developing friendship with the cynical approach of governments and corporate technology even as it develops the Decter family and their human (and digital) friends. VERDICT This page-turning thriller by the author of Flashforward and the "Neanderthal Parallax" trilogy is a top-notch choice for sf fans and AI fiction in particular.
The Barnes & Noble Review

From Paul Di Filippo's "THE SPECULATOR" column on The Barnes & Noble Review

The entire Internet, as well as the types of devices represented by the desktop computer, the laptop computer, the iPhone, the iPod, and the iPad, are a continuing inescapable embarrassment to science fiction, and an object lesson in the fallibility of genre writers and their vaunted predictive abilities. (Yes, yes, we all know that "SF is not about predicting things." But have you ever seen any writer turn down credit when they do hit the fortune-telling bullseye?)

Hardly a single story in the genre prior to, oh, say, 1970, exhibited an accurate handle on computers. As a rule, there were no far-sighted, speculative depictions of the devices' miniaturization, ubiquity, influence, and utility that would prefigure the landscape of 2010 as we know it. Oh, sure, you can point to a few isolated instances of authors writing on the digital cutting edge. One example that is trotted out regularly, like a token Cassandra-accurate economist amidst boom-inflating hedge fund managers, is Murray Leinster and his story, "A Logic Named Joe," from 1946:

You got a logic in your house. It looks like a vision receiver used to, only it's got keys instead of dials and you punch the keys for what you wanna get. It's hooked in to the tank, which has the Carson Circuit all fixed up with relays. Say you punch "Station SNAFU" on your logic. Relays in the tank take over an' whatever vision-program SNAFU is telecastin' comes on your logic's screen. Or you punch "Sally Hancock's Phone" an' the screen blinks an' sputters an' you're hooked up with the logic in her house an' if somebody answers you got a vision-phone connection. But besides that, if you punch for the weather forecast or who won today's race at Hialeah or who was mistress of the White House durin' Garfield's administration or what is PDQ and R sellin' for today, that comes on the screen too. The relays in the tank do it. The tank is a big buildin' full of all the facts in creation an' all the recorded telecasts that ever was made -- an' it's hooked in with all the other tanks all over the country -- an' everything you wanna know or see or hear, you punch for it an' you get it. Very convenient. Also it does math for you, an' keeps books, an' acts as consultin' chemist, physicist, astronomer, an' tea-leaf reader, with a "Advice to the Lovelorn" thrown in.

But for every Leinster there were a thousand other writers with their heads buried in the sand, such as the otherwise on-target Robert Heinlein, and his character Andrew Jackson "Slipstick" Libby, famed mathematical genius who helped pilot starships -- with his slide rule! 

It was not until the appearance of cyberpunk in the 1980s that SF began to grapple in a broadly meaningful way with the reality of computers as something other than giant mainframes tended by crewcut IBM nerds. But the irony -- and the point of the aforementioned lesson -- is that the information about the potential paradigm-shattering role that computers might play in society was extant as early as the late 1930s, coincident with the birthpangs of actual computers.

Admittedly, it wasn't headline material in the daily newspapers. But any SF writer of that era -- and of subsequent decades -- with the willingness to dig into the scientific and industrial and military journals would have found a rich vein of extrapolative material that would have allowed a more sharp-eyed assessment of where computers might be heading. While there were indeed secrets involved in early computer technology that would not emerge for decades, the suggestive, extendable mainline of the technological arc was there for the winkling-out. Had SF authors of the period been inclined to investigate, the whole course of the genre would have been altered. But, just as today, commercial regurgitation of received ideas trumped pioneering ideation based on hard facts.

What exactly were the public details surrounding the invention of the modern computer? Thanks to author Jane Smiley, best known for such literary excursions as her Pulitzer-winning novel A Thousand Acres, we can now get a comprehensive overview of that exciting period through her newest book, The Man Who Invented the Computer. She follows the John McPhee-perfected recipe for historical journalism nicely and with élan:  take an abstruse subject, research it deeply, then humanize it tenderly, adding off-kilter insights and sharp portraits of the curious folks involved.

Smiley's book is subtitled "The Biography of John Atanasoff, Digital Pioneer."  And while the named subject does indeed occupy center stage, the narrative covers so much more ground than one man's life, from the early years of the twentieth century (Atanasoff's youth) up to a pivotal court decision in 1973. As Smiley says in her introduction, the book is like four movies playing simultaneously.

First come the character portrait and career outline of Atanasoff, a cornfed Edison of sorts. It's a tale out of Sinclair Lewis, as if replayed by Hugo Gernsback. We see the forces that shaped young Atanasoff, his remarkable epiphany in 1937 that led to the construction of the first workable, practical electronic computer. We follow his retreat from the field, his long hegira in other realms of expertise, and his eventual return in the 1960s to claim his proper credit.

The second narrative is a fairly well-known one, involving Alan Turing, the superstar of the field. Smiley, nodding to the familiarity of Turing's life, gives him just enough coverage to place him in context. Here we have something out of Eric Ambler or John Buchan. But the third strand is definitely the weirdest. It's the saga of Konrad Zuse, an isolated, eccentric German trying to invent a computer out of junk parts prior to and during WWII. This bit reminds me of Gravity's Rainbow, and I kept waiting for Tyrone Slothrop to appear around every bend of the subplot.

Lastly we get what might be termed the "institutional/big business" side of the tale. Inventors Mauchly and Eckert, having ripped off Atanasoff, produce ENIAC and other computing machines, with the help of the military, corporations, and famous scientists such as John von Neumann, opening the floodgates for a million digital flowers to bloom, until a major trial in the late 1960s restores Atanasoff's honor and precedence. This segment might have been authored by Norman Mailer handing off to John Grisham.

Smiley blends all these convergent and parallel narratives into a superb whole, as fetching and gripping as any novel. She displays an unwavering, cogent grasp of all the technical details, a keen eye for historical forces, and much psychological insight; her prose is a model of smooth transparency. Anyone who wants to understand the roots of our twenty-first century digital culture needs to read this book.

But if science fiction's track record for predicting the computer's path to world domination is a poor one, that doesn't mean the genre isn't catching on. To see how computers are being portrayed in near-future scenarios, it's worth having a look at Robert Sawyer's WWW: Watch, a sequel to WWW: Wake.

Sawyer's earlier book introduced us to teenaged heroine Caitlin Decter, whose blindness is being treated by an experimental new technology that inadvertently puts her in communication with the rudimentary but evolving intelligence bootstrapping itself out of the worldwide web. She dubs it Webmind, and a strange friendship is begun.

The notion of an autonomous cybermind arising spontaneously as an emergent property of complexly networked systems is hardly new. Perhaps the first full instantiation of the trope occurred in Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (thereby restoring to the Grand Master some of the speculative street cred he lost with "Slipstick" Libby). Curiously enough, the same year we got the Heinlien novel, we also received D. F. Jones's Colossus, which employed the same concept. After that watershed the trope was firmly in place, surfacing at regular intervals, with one other notable early instance being David Gerrold's When HARLIE Was One. Nowadays, when such a concept is invoked, it's usually tied to the notion of the "Singularity" (the postulated moment when the distinction between human and machine minds will vanish) and posthumanism, a route Sawyer seems disinclined to follow, hewing to more old-fashioned developments.

Sawyer has never been a flashy or far-out writer. No transcendent leaps or gonzo forays into SF surrealism for him. His preferred mode is methodical, step-by-step unfolding of a solid idea, with verisimilitude given a priority. Consequently, much of the first two volumes of this projected trilogy will strike more seasoned readers of the genre as highly familiar and unadventurous. I suspect that even those whose acquaintance with SF is limited to first-generation Star Trek reruns will not have their minds blown.

But on the other hand, Sawyer's cautious, slow approach, homely details, and plain-spoken prose succeed in creating an introductory-level text that has the virtue of making the whole concept of machine intelligence seem highly probable and comprehensible. Writing alternate passages in the voice of Webmind, Sawyer crafts a sincere portrait of non-human intelligence and perceptions, developing alongside his likeable human human characters. Caitlin and Webmind mature and evolve in parallel, illustrating both the differences and consanguinity of the two classes of intelligence and self, organic and electronic.

Sawyer's book is low on action sequences. A bit of thriller-style suspense comes from the presence of WATCH, a government agency charged with monitoring suspicious doings on the Internet. They naturally become aware of Webmind, with predictable hostile reactions. But the conflict embodied in their response is outweighed by the discursiveness of the rest of the story. In true Asimovian fashion, the play of ideas as they emerge in rational conversation forms the real excitement for Sawyer. The reader will exit this novel feeling that the computer -- a gadget so fortuitously and aleatorily invented, as Smiley shows us -- was somehow predestined to emerge as mankind's true companion.




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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781441844194
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 5/18/2010
  • Series: WWW Trilogy Series , #2
  • Format: MP3 on CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert J. Sawyer is the author of 20 novels, and is one of a handful of authors to have won the Hugo, Nebula and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards for Best Novel. The ABC TV series FlashForward is based on his novel of the same name. He was born in Ottawa and lives just outside of Toronto, Canada.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 31 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 31 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 4, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Second in a Fun Trilogy

    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"

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 1, 2010

    Hard to put down

    I have been anxiously awaiting this book since reading the first book in the series. While I found the first one a bit slow, it eventually hooked me and I was really looking forward to what happened next. Picking up right where the first one left off, the main action centers around a US government agency becoming aware of Webmind and deciding they need to get rid of it. Our formerly blind protagonist and her family must now try to prevent that from happening. Along the way, Caitlin turns 16 and gets a boyfriend. While this is a distraction from the main plot, the budding young romance does help make the character more real. We see more of the chimp Hobo and that storyline finally intersects the main plot. I have to believe that more is yet to come in the 3rd book however.

    This one seems to move at much brisker pace than the first. Of course it doesn't hurt that this time around, we're already familiar with most of the cast and so we're not wasting any time getting to know them. I literally had a hard time putting this one down and finished it in just a couple of days. Now I just have to endure the long wait for the third and final book in the series to see how it all turns out.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2013

    WOLF RP

    Put here

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2013

    another great book in the series

    another great book in the series

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  • Posted April 17, 2011

    Fantastic!

    Fantastic! I read the first two of this series back-to-back and would have gone into the third but I don't have it - maybe it isn't available yet? When it is, I will get it. Great books!

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  • Posted June 23, 2010

    Insightful, thought provoking and genuine

    The stories that we read define our expectations and in many ways our reality also.
    Stories like this one remind us to choose which stories we identify with and the type of world we create as a result.

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  • Posted May 8, 2010

    Unforgettable, unable to put the book down!! The last 100 pages flew.

    Unforgettable, unable to put the book down!! The last 100 pages flew. WWW:Watch picks up immediately after WWW:Wake.

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  • Posted April 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Disappointing after an Excellent First Book

    Let me preface this review by saying that Sawyer is my favorite scifi writer today and that I found the first book in this trilogy to be excellent. However, much to my dismay this book was difficult to get through. Caitlin has recently gained site through an implant behind one of her eyes. Her new friend, the Webmind is starting to evolve. Meanwhile a group of government scientists have detected the Webmind and want to destroy it before it becomes too powerful to be destroyed.

    Caitlin eventually lets her parents know about the Webmind and they are convinced that it is someone on the Internet pulling a prank until Caitlin's father tests it out. Eventually they are convinced and are fascinated with the Webmind like it is an additional child.

    Overlayed on this tale is the story about Hobo, the intelligent chimp/bonabo crossbreed. Hobo starts to get violent towards the woman who is responsible for him and the scientists have to decide what to do with him.

    Meanwhile, through Dr. Kuroda, the Webmind is able to view more than text files on the internet and branches out to sound and video files. Eventually, the Webmind witnesses a teen suicide through the net. Caitlin becomes furious at it because it didn't intervene.

    There comes a point where Sawyer hints that the Webmind will be to Caitlin like the computer implant that he introduced in the Hominid series.

    Some of the drawbacks to this book are that you really needed to read the first book to understand what is going on and that the book drags. The deep feelings that the reader developed for Caitlin in the first book seem to be lacking here.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted February 24, 2011

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