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WesternSFA
www: WONDER
by Robert J. Sawyer
Ace Books, 2011, $25.95, 338 pages
Release Date: April 5, 2011

www: WONDER follows www:WAKE and www: WATCH. These three books constitute a genuine trilogy – not a massively large single story that got published in three volumes, not a “trilogy” that expands into an unending series, but an actual trilogy like the Greek playwrights used to construct, each with its own thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, each contributing its part to a story arc; the ending is definitively The End, and a most satisfying one it is. All together, they make for one of the best SF reading experiences to come along in the last 3 years. I simply cannot say enough good things about these books – just, WOW!

If you haven’t already discovered how good a writer Sawyer is, this is a great time to discover him, and to share the adventure. This series, with its young heroine, qualifies as SF/Young Adult cross-genre, and makes for an excellent gift set.

There are three subplots that develop and intertwine in these books. First, Caitlyn Decter, 15-years-old and blind from birth, good at math and science with a strong online persona, is invited to participate in an experimental surgery that might make her sighted. Second, the world-wide web is developing sentience. And third, a bonobo-chimp hybrid named Hobo is at the heart of a research project studying cross-species communication. The potentials of cross-boundary communication is the theme at the heart of the trilogy.

In this, the third volume, Caitlyn, her friends, and family are trying to protect a still fragile Webmind from Government agents who want to shut it down while they still can. Webmind has some good ideas on how to demonstrate his benign nature, and he wins lots of friends as he uses his information sorting and synthesis skills to help humanity. Even so, said agents are ungrateful and terminally paranoid. While the US government tries to directly destroy the basis for Webmind’s existence, the Chinese government erects a firewall that effectively divides Webmind in two separate entities – with disastrous results, for the parts are considerably less than the whole.

I refuse to provide spoilers, because the revelations are brilliant, and each reader deserves the chance to discover this treasure trove for him/herself. Not only are the plotlines intriguing, the characters are wonderful. These include Caitlyn’s mother, an expert in Games Theory; Caitlyn’s dad, a mathematical genius who happens to have Asperger’s’ Syndrome; Hobo, who confronts no less an August body than the United Nations, and tells members the truth about themselves; and Wai-Jeng, a hacker who risks his life to make communication possible in Communist China. How can you not love a book in which a nerd with Asperger’s is one of the heroes?!?

The book was published weeks before a certain international event that had huge political ramifications, but other events, such as the 2012 election, are anticipated with unusual warmth – even heat. It is increasingly rare for SF to take on politics with any directness; but with all the leverage and censorship politicians exert on scientific endeavors, it is past time for writers to return the compliment.

For all the book is sheer fun to read, it is hugely informative. Very, very few writers provide an education along with their story; Sawyer is one of the best. I hope he gets a Hugo nomination for this one. ~~ Chris Paige

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