I absolutely love this series! For the last year or three, I've struggled to find books to read that I could do better than plod through, bored, but the WWW series is that rarest of beasts for me: a series I fly through in short order. I read this book a week ago, and I've already sailed through book 2 and am about to embark on book 3, pausing for the day only so I don't stay up too late again.
This series is perfect for me, because I get so tired of the Same Old Boring White Guy sci-fi. This series centers around a blind teenage math whiz girl named Caitlin who gets vision for the first time in her life via an implant in her eye, but a series of learning-curve moments along the way mean it doesn't work at first, showing her instead a visualization of the world wide web. At the same time, we follow the awakening of an emergent AI (eventually named Webmind) as it struggles through the pre-lingual stages of consciousness in a world it doesn't understand. Its stumblings eventually lead it to Caitlin, where it's able to see the world through her eyes once the flaws in the programming of the implant are corrected (but she retains the "websight" when the implant is in a different mode). It reaches out to her, and once she realizes what it is, plays Anne Sullivan to its Hellen Keller by teaching it language and so many other things.
I think by far my favorite parts of this book and its sequels is how well Sawyer narrates the points of view for Webmind and Caitlin. With Caitlin, he does an amazing job of painting a vivid picture in our mind of what life as a blind person is like for her, and even once she's seeing again, her experiences while she was blind inform her present and help to illustrate not only many things that sighted people might not realize about blind people, but also gives us a greater appreciation for sight via the unique experience of seeing it through the eyes of someone who is seeing for the first time in her life. All without being preachy, without talking down to the readers, or the like; it, like Webmind's emergence, is fascinating and beautiful and really puts you in that perspective. (I especially love this because I'm a writer myself, and the book I'm currently working on has a blind character in it, so it doubles as research for me!)
As to Webmind, Sawyer portrays it -- rather, *him* -- with equal beauty and finesse, avoiding lots of the old and tired cliches and tropes about AI's. It's not like the things are normally in sci-fi; this thing has a full range of emotions, especially a sense of wonder and joy. It takes time to figure things out, too - it doesn't just wake up one day completely self-aware and knowing everything; it's a learning curve. It's like we see it going through the entire evolutionary process of intelligence at a pace measured in weeks or months instead of millions of years, but from its point of view (which we're seeing), it's a slow process. A process that is frequently frustrating to it. Even once it learns language -- even in the second book -- it still runs into things that confuse it, and makes mistakes.
I also love this book because of its diversity! Blind main character, even if she doesn't stay that way, and her years of previous blindness don't just magically evaporate when she gets her sight. Nay, she struggles to learn about and adjust to this whole new world of vision right along with Webmind, and her unique perspective helps drive along the plot in ways that include insights she's able to give to other characters. But she's human, with her own flaws and foibles. (So is Webmind!)
But the diversity goes well beyond that. Her best friend is a Muslim girl who wears a hijab, the doctor who helps give her her sight is an obese Japanese scientist, much of what starts Webmind's initial forays into consciousness is events in China with Chinese characters that are very three-dimensional despite most of them only being in the first book, another scientist she comes into contact with is an Israeli woman, Caitlin's father is a scientist on the autism spectrum, and her mother has a doctorate in Economics but put her career aside to care for Caitlin (with plans to resume that career as soon as she can). Also, in the side plot about Hobo the chimp, one of the primatologists who cares for Hobo is in an interracial lesbian relationship with a black woman who is also a scientist (in another field).
Caitlin's father being autistic is also handled really well (and I say this as an expert on the subject, since I'm autistic myself). There were clues all through the book, but they were subtle clues, clues that could have been attributed to issues with having a blind daughter. Caitlin herself thinks so, too, until her mother explains the truth. I didn't figure it out myself until then, either, that's how caught up in her point of view I got. I'm glad to know he wasn't just being a jerk (albeit a mild one) about having a blind daughter.
So yeah, it has everything I love, in no particular order: 1. Well-rounded characters who are diverse ethnically, by their sexuality, by their neuro-status, by religion, by level of ability or disability, and by gender. 2. A well-written, interesting, non-cliche AI that is human in the ways that count but isn't just a mechanized caricature of a human; a machine intelligence with a full range of emotions and empathy and its own unique point of view. 3. Governments being the bad guy, but in a realistic way and not in a cartoonish or overdone way. 4. Puns! And other funny moments ranging from "hee hee" to gut-bustingly hilarious. 5. Realistic conflict. 6. Well-done romantic relationships without the romance dominating the story or making me want to skip ahead. 7. Fascinating ideas about consciousness, math, science, and other stuff, ideas that really make me think, along with cool facts about computers and the Internet that I didn't know before. 8. The author making it a point to counter several tropes about AI's without being ham-fisted about it. 9. The science and math stuff is easy to understand even to a math dunce like me, and fits organically into the story. 10. A great balance of drama, character relationships (not just romantic), cool ideas, and humor. 11. It's optimistic, and there just isn't enough optimistic sci-fi in the sci-fi world today, so that's refreshing.
In conclusion, if this sounds at all interesting to you, I highly recommend you read it as soon as you can. I had this book on my Amazon wishlist for years before I decided to look for it as an ebook from the library to read it, and my only regret about this book series is not doing that sooner! Scratch that. My only two regrets are that, and the fact there's only three books in this series!
(PS = It was written around 2009-ish, so some of the computer/Internet stuff is a little dated. Wolfram Alpha still being called Mathematica Alpha, BlackBerrys still being popular, stuff like that. I don't think it detracts from the story at all, though.)
This was cross-posted from https://fayanora.dreamwidth.org/1417314.html
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