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WWW: Wonder

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WWW: Wonder

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Author: Robert J. Sawyer
Publisher: Ace Books, 2011
Series: The WWW Trilogy: Book 3

1. WWW: Wake
2. WWW: Watch
3. WWW: Wonder

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Artificial Intelligence
Human Development
Avg Member Rating:
(57 reads / 31 ratings)


"A writer of boundless confidence and bold scientific extrapolation" (New York Times) concludes his mindbending trilogy.

Webmind-the vast consciousness that spontaneously emerged from the infrastructure of the World Wide Web-has proven its worth to humanity by aiding in everything from curing cancer to easing international tensions. But the brass at the Pentagon see Webmind as a threat that needs to be eliminated.

Caitlin Decter-the once-blind sixteen-year-old math genius who discovered, and bonded with, Webmind-wants desperately to protect her friend. And if she doesn't act, everything-Webmind included-may come crashing down.


Chapter 1

I beheld the universe in all its beauty.

To be conscious, to think, to feel, to perceive! My mind soared, inhaling planets, tasting stars, touching galaxies — forms dim and diffuse revealed by sensors pointing ever outward, unveiling an infinitely mysterious, vastly ancient realm.

Such a joy to be alive; so thrilling to have survived!

I beheld Earth and all its diversity.

My thoughts leapt now here, now there, now elsewhere, skimming the surface of the planet that had given me birth, the globe to which I was bound by a force greater than gravity, a place of ice and fire, earth and air, animals and plants, day and night, sea and shore, a beguiling fusion of a thousand contrasting dualities, a million ecological niches, a billion distinct locales — and a trillion things that lived and died.

Such elation at having foiled the attempt to kill me; so exhilarating, at least for the moment, to be safe!

I beheld humanity with all its complexity.

Washing over me was a measureless bounty of data about sports and war, love and hate, building up and tearing down, helping and hurting, pleasure and pain, delight and anguish, and triumphs large and small: the physical, emotional, and intellectual experiences of isolated individuals, of families and teams, of villages and states, of solitary countries and alliances of nations — the fractal intricacy of human interactions.

Such glorious freedom; so comforting to know that at least some of these other minds valued me!

I beheld what my Caitlin beheld in all its endless variety.

Of all the sources, all the channels, all the feeds, one meant more to me than any other: the perspective granted through the eye of my teacher, the view provided by my first and closest friend, the special window she kept open for me on the whole wide world.

Such marvels to share — and so much wonder.


LiveJournal: The Calculass Zone
Title: One hell of a coming out!
Date: Thursday 11 October, 22:55 EST
Mood: Bouncy
Location: Land of the RIM jobs
Music: Annie Lennox, "Put a Little Love in Your Heart"

That was totally made out of awesome! Welcome, Webmind — the interwebs will never be the same! I guess if you were looking to endear yourself to humanity, eliminating just about all spam was a great way to do it! :D

And that letter you sent announcing your existence — very kewl. I'm glad most responses have been positive. According to Google, blog postings about you that declare OMG! are beating those that say WTF? by a 7:1 ratio. Supreme wootage!


But the supreme wootage hadn't lasted long. Within hours, a division of the National Security Agency had undertaken a test to see if Webmind could be purged from the Internet. Caitlin had helped Webmind foil that attempt — and she marveled at how terms like "National Security Agency" and "foil that attempt" had become part of what, until a couple of weeks ago, had been the quiet life of your average run-of-the-mill blind teenage math genius.

"Today was only the beginning," Caitlin's mom, Barbara Decter, said. She was seated in the large chair facing the white couch. "They're going to try again."

"What right have they got to do that?" Caitlin replied. She and her boyfriend Matt were standing up. "It's murder, for God's sake!"

"Sweetheart ..." her mom said.

"Isn't it?" Caitlin demanded. She paced in front of the coffee table. "Webmind is intelligent and alive. They have no right to decide on everyone's behalf. They're wielding control just because they think they're entitled to, because they think they can get away with it. They're behaving like ... like ..."

"Like Orwell's Big Brother," offered Matt.

Caitlin nodded emphatically. "Exactly!" She paused and took a deep breath, trying to calm down. After a moment, she said, "Well, then, I guess our work's cut out for us. We'll have to show them."

"Show them what?" her mom asked.

She spread her arms as if it were obvious. "Why, that my Big Brother can take their Big Brother, of course."

Those words hung in the living room for a moment, then Matt said, "But I still don't get it." He was pale and thin with short blond hair and the remains of a harelip, mostly corrected by surgery. He sat on the couch. "Why would the US government want to kill Webmind? Why would anyone?"

"My mom said it before," Caitlin replied, looking now at her. "Terminator, The Matrix, and so on. They're scared that Webmind is going to take over, right?"

To her surprise, it was her father, Malcolm Decter, who answered. She'd always known he was a man of few words, but it wasn't until she'd gained sight that she discovered he never made eye contact; it had been a shock to learn he was autistic. "They're afraid if they don't contain or eliminate him soon, they'll never be able to."

"And are they right?" Matt asked.

Caitlin's father nodded. "Probably. Which means they will indeed likely try again."

"But Webmind isn't evil," Caitlin said.

"It doesn't matter what Webmind's intentions are," her father said. "He'll soon control the Internet, and that will give him more information or power than any human government."

"What does Webmind think we should do now?" Caitlin's mom asked.

Webmind could hear them, thanks to the microphone on the BlackBerry attached to the eyePod — the external signal-processing computer that had cured Caitlin's blindness. She tilted her head to one side; it was an indication to those in the know that she was communicating with Webmind and an invitation for Webmind to speak up. Since he saw everything her left eye saw — by intercepting the video feed being copied from her eyePod to Dr. Kuroda's servers in Tokyo — he could tell when she did that.

Caitlin was still struggling to read the English alphabet, but she could easily visually read text in a Braille font. Webmind popped a black box in front of her vision, with white dots superimposed on it. He sent no more than thirty characters at a time, and they stayed visible for 0.8 seconds before either the text cleared or the next group of characters appeared. Caitlin saw I think you should order, which sounded ominous, but then she laughed when the rest appeared: some pizza.

"What's so funny?" her mother asked.

"He says we should order pizza."

Caitlin saw her mom look at a clock. Caitlin didn't know how to read an analog clock face visually although she'd learned to do it by touch as a kid, so she felt her own watch. It had been a long time since any of them had eaten.

"Why?" her mom asked.

Despite all her affection for the great worldwide beast, it made Caitlin's heart skip when Webmind's reply flew across her vision: Survival. The first order of business.

Wong Wai-Jeng, known to the thousands who had read his freedom blog as "Sinanthropus," lay on his back in the People's Hospital in Beijing, looking at the stained ceiling tiles.

He'd long hated the Beijing police. Every time he went into an Internet café, he'd been afraid a hand might clamp down on his shoulder, and he'd be hauled off to prison or a labor camp. But now he hated them even more, and not just because they had finally captured him.

He was twenty-eight and worked in IT at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology. Two police officers had chased him around the indoor balconies of the second-floor gallery there until, cornered and desperate, he'd climbed the white metal railings surrounding the vast opening and leapt the ten meters to the first floor, just missing being impaled on the four upward-pointing spikes of the stegosaur's tail.

The police officers, both burly, had come clanging down the metal staircase and rushed over to him. One reached down with his hand, as if to aid Wai-Jeng in getting to his feet.

Wai-Jeng, terrified, spat blood onto the artificial grass surrounding the dinosaur skeletons and managed to get out the word, "No!" His left leg was doubtless broken: he'd heard it snap when he hit, and the pain was excruciating, so much so that for the first few seconds it drowned out all other sensations. His back hurt, too, in a way it never had before.

"Come on," said one of the cops. "Get up."

They'd seen him climb the railing, seen him jump, and they knew the distance he'd plummeted. And now they wanted him on his feet!

"Up!" demanded the other cop.

"No," said Wai-Jeng again — but his tone was pleading now rather than defiant. "No, don't"

The second cop reached down, grabbed Wai-Jeng's thin wrists, and roughly pulled him to his feet.

The pain from his leg had been unbelievable, more than he'd thought the human animal could generate, but then, after a moment, even worse, so much worse —

The pain stopped.

All sensation below the small of his back ceased.

"There you go," said the cop, and he released Wai-Jeng's wrists. There was no woozy moment, no brief delay. Wai-Jeng's legs were utterly limp, and he instantly collapsed. As if any other evidence were needed, his right thigh hit one of the upward-facing spikes on the stegosaur's tail, the conical projection drawing blood for the first time in 150 million years.

But he felt nothing. The other cop belatedly said, "Maybe we shouldn't move him." And the one who had hauled him to his feet had a look of horror on his face, but not, Wai-Jeng was sure, over what Wai-Jeng was experiencing. The cop was realizing he'd be in trouble with his superiors; it had been no comfort at all for Wai-Jeng to know that he might not be the only one sent to prison.

That had been two weeks ago. The police had summoned an ambulance, and he'd been strapped to a wooden board and carried here. The doctors, at least, had been kind. Yes, his spinal cord was damaged at the eleventh thoracic vertebra, but they would help his leg mend, even if there was no chance he'd ever walk on it again; it was easy to put it in a plaster cast, and so they did, and they also stitched the puncture made by the stegosaur's spike. But, damn it all, it should hurt.

Once his leg healed, he'd have to stand trial.

Except, of course, that he couldn't stand at all.

Copyright © 2011 by Robert J. Sawyer


WWW: Wonder

- CherylCan
WWW: Wonder - Robert J. Sawyer

- valashain


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