Wake (Robert J. Sawyer novel)
Cover of the Canadian first edition of Wake
|Author(s)||Robert J. Sawyer|
|Publication date||April 7, 2009|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|Pages||354 pp (first edition)|
Wake, also called WWW: Wake, is a 2009 novel written by Canadian novelist Robert J. Sawyer. It is the first installment in the WWW Trilogy and was followed by two sequels, Watch (2010) and Wonder (2011). An audio book was released on 7 April 2009.
Wake details the spontaneous emergence of an intelligence on the World Wide Web, called Webmind. It gains sentience through the efforts of Caitlin Decter, a 15-year-old blind girl who gains sight through a new treatment that allows her optic nerve to correctly decode the visual signals from her retinas. Caitlin struggles to understand and communicate with the emerging technological intelligence, as she is its only contact to the real world. Subplots involve a deadly disease outbreak in China and its cover-up, and a chimpanzee–bonobo hybrid, Hobo, whose perception of the world is altered after a web call with an orangutan.
Sawyer developed the initial idea for Wake in January 2003 when he wrote in his diary about the emergence of consciousness on the World Wide Web. The novel was named a 2010 Hugo Award nominee in the category for Best Novel.
Wake is set in 2012. The principal character is Caitlin Decter, a 15 year-old girl who has been blind from birth. The Decter family have moved from Austin, Texas to Waterloo, Ontario after Caitlin's father, Malcolm, receives a job at the Perimeter Institute. Shortly after moving, Caitlin receives an email from Dr. Masayuki Kuroda, a scientist whose specialty is "signal processing related to V1." Dr. Kuroda believes that her blindness is caused by her retinas miscoding the visual information and offers to install a signal processing device behind her left eyeball, which he believes will unscramble the data and give her sight in that eye. The device sends the visual data to a miniature computer, dubbed an "eyePod", which reprocesses the signals and send them back to the implant in her eye. The correct visual data is then passed on to her optic nerve, theoretically granting her sight. In duplex mode it sends and receives the signals, and in simplex mode it only sends them. Caitlin and her mother, Barbara, fly to Tokyo for the procedure. Although her pupils now react to light, Caitlin is still unable to see. The Decters return to Canada while Dr. Kuroda works on a software update for his device, hoping that will grant Caitlin vision.
A bird-flu outbreak with a mortality rate of at least 90% has begun to spread through China at an epidemic rate. Dr. Quan Li, a senior member of the Communist Party, recommends the President order a culling of an estimated ten to eleven thousand people living in the infected area through the use of an airborne chemical agent. The President agrees and orders that the Changcheng Strategy, which cuts off all telephone, satellite, and wireless communication with the rest of the world, be enabled so that word of the culling does not spread beyond China's borders. Wong Wai-Jeng, a freedom blogger who is known online as Sinanthropus, attempts to circumvent Internet censorship in China along with many other hackers. Collectively they learn about the bird flu outbreak. Several days after the enacting of the Changcheng Strategy, the President of China is convinced by Zhang Bo, the Minister of Communications, to restore communications. The moment they are back up, Sinanthropus posts a blog, informing the world of the bird flu outbreak and the culling that occurred. He is tracked down by the police and, while attempting to flee, breaks his leg and is captured.
The first software update Kuroda attempts is a partial success. Although Caitlin can still not see the outside world, it enables her to visualize the World Wide Web while the update downloads when the eyePod is in duplex mode. Dr. Kuroda speculates that the data being transmitted between the eyePod and his server in Tokyo is being interpreted by her optic nerve, allowing her to see this. He decides to travel to Waterloo to work with Caitlin on the implant more directly. In the interim, he suggests sending the retinal feed from her eyePod to his Tokyo server through Jagster, a fictional search engine, so that he can monitor how she reacts to different inputs. He dubs her ability to visualize the internet "websight". Caitlin notes that, along with websites and links, she can visualize a background in websight that looks like a chess board. Dr. Kuroda speculates that the background is made up of cellular automata, which Caitlin suggests is caused by corrupted packet loss. Several Zipf plots are run of the cellular automata, which has a negative one slope. The Decters, Dr. Kuroda, and Anna Bloom, a network cartographer, realize that means the cellular automata contain intelligent content, which Anna suggests is secret communications from the National Security Agency. They decide to keep investigating the cellular automata discretely.
In San Diego, California, Shoshana Glick, an ape-language researcher and graduate student, works at the Marcuse Institute, a primate research centre. Hobo, a chimpanzee-bonobo hybrid, communicates by sign language. Doctor Harl Marcuse, the owner of the Institute, sets up a connection with the Miami Zoo. Hobo communicates with an orang-utan named Virgil in the first interspecies webcam call. The Marcuse Institute and Miami Zoo agree to announce the chat jointly, but the Miami Zoo leaks word of it to New Scientist, who go to the Georgia Zoo - Hobo's birthplace - for information on him. Georgia Zoo, fearing about the contamination between the captive chimpanzee and bonobo bloodlines, demand Hobo be returned to them so that he can be sterilized. Hobo paints a portrait of Shoshana, surprising everyone at the Institute as it had been believed that chimpanzees could only paint abstractly. Dr. Marcuse theorizes that the communication with Virgil had shown Hobo "how three-dimensional objects could be reduced to two dimensions." The Marcuse Institute decide to record Hobo painting a second time and then go public, believing that the outcry over sterilizing him would force the Georgia Zoo to back down from their plans. The Georgia Zoo issue a lawsuit, planning to castrate Hobo.
Dr. Kuroda sets up a final software patch. While at school, Caitlin decides to take a break from her work and switches the eyePod to duplex mode so she can look through websight. It fails to load and, disappointed, she returns the eyePod to simplex mode. She sees several lines crossing her field of vision and is surprised when she realizes that they are the edge of a lab bench and that she can now see. Barbara picks Caitlin up from school and informs her about the patch. Malcolm runs Shannon entropy graphs on the cellular automata to gauge how complex the information in them is. He shows Caitlin how to run it, and they discover that the information has little complexity. Dr. Kuroda holds a press conference, announcing the success of his invention that has made Caitlin able to see. Caitlin receives an electric shock which crashes the eyePod. She reboots it in duplex mode and sees a mirrored representation of her face in websight.
An intelligence has spontaneously emerged on the Web. Cleaved in two when the Changcheng Strategy was enacted, the restoration of communications by China causes the two halves to coalesce, and it gains in intelligence. The intelligence can view Caitlin's eyePod feed. It believes that her vision is an attempt to communicate with it and, when her eyePod was rebooted, it sent an image of Caitlin in an attempt to communicate back. As Caitlin begins to learn how to read letters, the intelligence believes it is a further attempt to communicate and learns with her. When she switches to duplex mode, it takes that act to be a reward for its learning progress. Caitlin believes it to be "visual noise" as a result of gaining sight. Dr. Kuroda looks at the information on his server, and Caitlin realizes that the information is her reading exercises being bounced back to her. She then runs another Shannon entropy scan, realising that the information in the cellular automata has increased in intelligence. Caitlin deduces that the information is trying to communicate with her and decides to help it. Dr. Kuroda feels it is now time to return to Japan and informs her that, as she can now see, he will remove the duplex setting from her eyePod. Caitlin convinces him to keep it as is so that she can continue to see websight. She runs another Shannon entropy plot and realizes that the intelligence has increased yet again. She continues with her teaching efforts, leading the intelligence to different websites so that it can continue learning. She runs the Shannon entropy a fourth and fifth time and finds that the intelligence is double that of human complexity.
The intelligence contacts Caitlin via email and wishes her a happy birthday. It thanks her for helping it to learn and invites her to communicate with it through instant messenger. She asks it what she should call it, and the intelligence replies "Webmind". Webmind and Caitlin decide to go forwards together.
Wake was conceptualized on 10 January 2003, when Sawyer said in his diary "Wrote 300 words explaining how I was going to expand Shed Skin into a novel to be called Skins, and, after wracking my brain for a couple of hours, came up with an idea that I liked for a second novel: consciousness emerges on the World Wide Web. Admittedly, not completely original (Clarke's short story Dial F for Frankenstein comes to mind), but I checked on Amazon.com and Google, and couldn’t find any book that had actually done this." It was planned as a single novel, but was later expanded into a trilogy.
Sawyer noted that Wake contains themes of "the nature of perception and how it shapes our view of reality; how much humans are in fact programmed by evolution, and whether humanity can overcome that programming; and what, if any, value consciousness has." He added that he was "very interested in trying to find a new synthesis, a new approach to the question of what happens once something more intelligent than we are emerges here. Is there a way out of the standard science-fictional paradigm that has us subjugated or wiped out, as seen in The Matrix and The Terminator, and going all the way back to Colossus: The Forbin Project and before? Is there a compelling argument to be made for us being able to continue, with our essential humanity intact, once true AI is on the scene?"
Wake was serialized in the November 2008, December 2008, combined January–February 2009, and March 2009 issues of Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine. It was published in April 2009 by Penguin Canada's Viking imprint. In the United States it was released under the title WWW: Wake. The book was followed by two sequels, Watch (2010) and Wonder (2011).
An unabridged audiobook was released by Audible Frontiers on 7 April 2009, coinciding with the date of American publication. The Wake audiobook has a runtime of 12 hours and 13 minutes. The voice cast includes Jessica Almasy, Jennifer Van Dyck, A.C. Fellner, Marc Vietor, and Robert J. Sawyer.
- DeNardo, John (9 April 2009). "SF Signal Interviews Robert J. Sawyer". SF Signal. Retrieved 14 October 2011.
- Sawyer, Robert J. (9 December 2009). "Jagster lives!". Retrieved 12 July 2011.
- Sawyer, Robert J. (3 October 2011). "Finished with the WWW books". Robert J. Sawyer's blog. Retrieved 14 October 2011.
- Robert J. Sawyer (2008). "Analog Science Fiction and Fact November 2008 issue description and table of contents". Retrieved 7 November 2008.
- Sawyer, Robert J. (7 April 2009). "Wake audio book released". Robert J. Sawyer's blog. Retrieved 14 October 2011.
- Jessica Almasy, Jennifer Van Dyck, A.C. Fellner, Marc Vietor, Robert J. Sawyer (7 April 2009). Wake (Audiobook). Audible Frontiers.
- "The 2010 Hugo and John W. Campbell Award Nominees". AussieCon 4. 4 April 2010. Retrieved 4 April 2010.