Usual disclaimer: good science-fiction is good sociology, and Robert J. Sawyer is one of my favorite scifi writers (along with fellow Canadian Robert Charles Wilson). WWW: Watch is the second volume in the WWW trilogy (the first volume, WWW: Wake reviewed here). I have to say that I enjoyed this one more than I did the previous volume. I would confess that, while reading Wake, I skimmed some passages (especially the emerging consciousness parts).
In Watch, the emerging consciousness come into his (since it’s decided to make it masculine… hmm) own and starts to deal with the complexities of humanity. At the same time, it’s becoming more present attracts the attention of the agencies of the Surveillance Society, especially from the US. And a decision is quickly made by the US President and his representatives, WebMind (the name the entity is given) has to be destroyed. I am guessing its survival will be at the heart of the third volume.
For now, in Watch, Webmind gets busy absorbing information and trying to put it to good use. There is no doubt that Sawyer is fascinated by the ethical questions raised by the emergence of a virtual consciousness and how this reflects upon humanity. Although, as a sociologist, the “everything can be explained by game theory” meme can get a bit annoying and a gross simplification of human relationships.
The first volume also wove together other storylines: Hobo the half-chimp / half-bonobo. We find that story again in Watch. However, the Chinese storyline is remarkably absent from Watch. I’m guessing, it will be picked up in the third volume. It might be a matter of economy of storylines as the introduction of Watch (the US spying agency) takes quite a bit of space here. There is also more involvement from the characters of Caitlin’s parents.
As with Wake, Watch is still organized around the character of Caitlin Decter, the blind American teenager who gets her sight back thanks to a device from a Japanese scientist. Actually, she got more than her sight back. She can also “see” the web. In Watch, there is still quite a bot of space dedicated to her struggling with viewing and how it affects her relationships with her parents and friends… and boyfriend (the least interesting part of the book… but teenagers are notoriously uninteresting in that department).
Again, the most interesting part of the book, beyond being a great story, deals with questions of dealing with an Other, the nature of consciousness and human relationships. The book seamlessly weaves together great storytelling, science-fiction, philosophy and science and that makes it a real page-turner, again, more so, in my view, than Wake.
Needless to say, I can’t wait for the third volume.