Saturday, September 25, 2010

CBII Book 20: Watch - Robert J. Sawyer

I speak three languages: English, Sarcasm and Hyperbole. I’m a really big fan of the last two and can probably speak them better than my native tongue. Unfortunately my trilingualism has repercussions. One of which is that some people think that I’m joking when I’m not and not joking when I am. I’m pretty sure that the ones that can’t tell the difference are the same ones who engage in rampant asshattery and are responsible for putting the “nant” in ignorant. I can’t confirm this at the moment, but I’ve applied for a government grant and hope to have some bona fide research to back up my claims.
The entire reason for this inane prelude is so that you understand that I am being absolutely honest when I make the following statement: to this day, I don’t believe I’ve read a more brilliant and moving example of science fiction literature than Robert J. Sawyer’s Watch.

This is the second instalment of the World Wide Web trilogy and the second book of Sawyer’s that I’ve read and reviewed. I reviewed the first book, Wake, some time ago and, while I thought it took some time to get going, it was definitely worth the read as it was very well written and engaging on the back end. I will admit that I felt a little trepidation purchasing Watch (hardcover books are not inexpensive these days) because baby needed a new pair of shoes. In hindsight, I have no issue with having my youngest walking through life’s dog-dookie without the protection of a sole.

The World Wide Web is sentient. Via her optical implant, Caitlin Decter can actually see information flow as it moves through the internet. The being that Caitlin has names Webmind is now far more intelligent than even the smartest of humans and begins to dabble in other peoples lives via the internet. Fortunately for humanity, Webmind has decided to use its abilities to aid the human (and not so human) race; unfortunately for Webmind, the American secret services have also taken notice and are not so convinced. Now it is up to Caitlin and her genius parents to devise a way to keep Webmind safe from those who would see him destroyed but to also let the world know that he is alive, watching, and maybe save a life or two in the process.

The previous synopsis is an extremely simple outline of what Sawyer’s book is about. I must keep it that way as I feel that giving away any spoiler, no matter how minor, would do an excellent work a great disservice. Sawyer manages to explain very complex ideas that are of both the ethical and scientific variety with an easy simplicity without making it seem as though he’s talking down to the reader. He deftly juggles the intertwining threads of various themes, lives and questions without ever getting them knotted. But where I feel Sawyer truly shines in his second entry to the trilogy is how he is able to provoke a stunning feeling of empathy within the reader. This is not only extended to Webmind (though that would be impressive enough) but also to a Chimpanzee/Bonobo hybrid named Hobo. I have no reservation in stating that at certain points in the book, a warm tear may have caressed my usually frosted soul. Truly, Sawyer’s Watch is an excellent addition to the genre and a brilliant lesson in humanity as learned from a machine.

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