Wonder (book, Robert Sawyer, 2011)


Author: Robert Sawyer

Publisher: Gollancz

Final W in WWW trilogy

Our second AI novel this month caps off Robert Sawyer’s trilogy about Webmind, a non-human intelligence that emerges spontaneously from the internet.

Sawyer has a list of plaudits longer than an orang utan’s arm, but it’s hard to see why from this novel. Wonder reads like a so-so episode of a slightly above average SF TV show – slickly executed, but with its high SF and intriguing real-world info crassly juxtaposed with supporting character “arcs” that reek of “Geek Power” wish-fulfilment – teen sexual awakenings, the challenges of autism, the power of genial hackers. This is a world where people can be talked out of their deeply held convictions with reasoned argument, and bullies defeated with tech.

When we’re peeking into Webmind’s motivations it’s excellent stuff. Sawyer has a Michael Crichton-esque gift for near-future tech speculation, but the sideshow soap opera has you thinking constantly of Knight Rider, ALF or, worse yet, Metal Mickey.

Furthermore, there’s a thick strand of contradictory North American liberal thought throughout, where personal freedom is paramount, but can only be realised under Webmind’s enlightened despotism. This is at its most noisome when Webmind overthrows the government of China. If we were Webmind, we’d start our revolution closer to home…

Sawyer has a habit of dropping in chirpy sub-clauses into his sentences – like this one! – which add an air of amateurishness to his otherwise solid authorship, while an unlikely five-billion-year-hence coda undoes what little magic’s left. Disappointing.

Did you know?

Robert Sawyer has won forty-four awards for his fiction, so what do we know?


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