Review: Wonder

Robert J. Sawyer

Penguin Books, out now

As Webmind’s involvement with human affairs grows, his potential for good and ill starts to be realised…

If you’ve not read the first two books in Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW trilogy, then it’s advisable, but not vital, to do so before you jump into this, one of his best works to date. Sawyer fills in the details in broad strokes as necessary (rather than in a “Previously on…” format), but there’s little time to breathe as events continue to unfold briskly – every so often, Sawyer reminds us just how short a space of time the trilogy is set over, notably on one occasion when the consciousness that sprang from within the internet, Webmind, points out that something he did that might be seen as wrong was “days” ago, effectively the far distant past for him.

The various plot strands are fully interconnected in this final volume: the teenage Caitlin, the ape Hobo,  and the Chinese whistleblower Wai-Jeng find their lives continue to be altered by their involvement with Webmind, while Peyton Hume of the WATCH team tries to find a way to curtail the intelligence’s power. With the disappearance of various hackers who might be able to shut Webmind down– and blood found at the scene of one such vanishing – the question remains: is Webmind as beneficial as he makes himself out to be? A rather chilling section of the novel would suggest that the potential for danger remains in a reworking of themes from the classic Star Trek episode “The Enemy Within.”

The multitude of references to pop culture continue in this novel, with the 1970s Buck Rogers TV version inspiring one of the most striking visual images in the story when Webmind addresses the United Nations (and one of the best gags in the book, which Sawyer gives to Jon Stewart). And equally, fundamental questions are discussed: does human morality really improve with every generation? Will future generations regard our attitude to abortion in the same way we look at those who kept slaves? The vast array of characters Sawyer has created allows him to present different sides of arguments with equal validity without the book suddenly feeling as if it’s become a didactic – and provides some new insight into his characters along the way.

Sawyer maintains a dialogue with his readers, and some of the discussions over the first two novels has fed into the resolutions here; world events have also caught up with some of the predictions seen in those volumes and are referred to (and I suspect the reference to Bin Laden’s capture may well be excised before the paperback edition). There are many books that claim to be about “the day after tomorrow”; this one really feels as if it is.

With so many books and films still promoting the idea of “artificial” intelligence negatively (including the recent Robopocalypse, where interestingly the antagonists are all referred to as Rob), it comes as a pleasant change to read something which acknowledges the dangers but applies logic to the situation.

Verdict: The conclusion to one of the best SF trilogies of modern times.  9/10

Paul Simpson

Click here for our review of Wake / Watch

Order this through Amazon: WWW: Wonder

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