4.5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
WWW:Wake is a contemporary hard sci-fi coming of age story. Apparently it is the first in a trilogy, but I was rather surprised to learn this, since this book stands so well on its own. This is one of the best hard sci-fi books I have read. I’ve read quite a lot of sci-fi dealing with the emergence of machine intelligence, but this is first one I found at all believable or well thought out. The human side isn’t neglected, either, as it often is in hard sci-fi; the author also does well here. The characters are vivid and unique, deep without a great deal of exposition. The author does a great job of condensing an intrinsically complicated story until it is both manageable and quick moving. With the exception of one brief scene (fairly PG, but non-consensual, groping) which might disturb some readers who are sensitive to such things, I would unhesitatingly recommend WWW:Wake to anyone with even a passing interest in sci-fi; I doubt you will be disappointed by this book.
Caitlin Dector is a well-adjusted teenaged blind math genius. When a technological breakthrough in Japan gets her into a test program to restore her vision, she begins to see more than the study’s inventors thought possible and begins to sense an emerging intelligence coming from the web. Caitlin must learn to navigate through the hazards of high school, the complexities of a world now painted in visual detail, and an internet that has growing form of intelligence within it.
This is one of the most unique protagonists I have ever seen. Rendering the world through the perspective of blindness alone is a staggeringly complex task that the author does very well, but honestly the depiction of the protagonist as a math genius is just as good or better. This is a character that continuously behaves in delightfully unpredictable ways that are completely in character. The supporting cast isn’t quite as intriguing, but they are still strong, unpredictable characters that actually have motivations you can relate to.
The story is surprisingly engaging. I mean, someone coming to terms with sight for the first time isn’t exactly inherently action-packed, but perhaps because of the strong characters I found myself fully invested throughout the entire book. It’s nice to see hard sci-fi where the characters aren’t just passive observers. The characters really contribute to the story throughout, and it’s very clear why things are happening to these characters in particular as individuals rather than anyone else.
I call this a coming of age story in the initial description, and I have to say this is also one of the best treatments of that genre I have seen in a long time. The story follows the usual format of an initially helpless protagonist who is subject to the wishes of her parents and society, but where many other coming of age stories fail is giving the protagonist increasing choices about their fate later in the story, and this book really excels in that area. There is a real evolution from the protagonist as a passive child doing what she is told to a burgeoning adult who is taking responsibility to make sure what she thinks is important actually happens.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
Although it is far future sci-fi as opposed to contemporary sci-fi, I thought the closest match to the strength of the protagonist was in Charles Stross’s Iron Sunrise.