Audiobook Review: WWW:Wonder by Robert J. Sawyer

6 05 2011

WWW:Wonder by Robert J. Sawyer (Conclusion of the WWW Trilogy)

Read by Jessica Almasy, Marc Vietor, Oliver Wyman, and Anthony Haden Salerno

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Wonder if a fitting conclusion to the WWW series, one which will stick with me for a long time.

Grade: A-

Wonder. I think that was the perfect title for this, the third entry in Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW series, about an emergent consciousness on the internet. I think much of science fiction today has lost its sense of Wonder. So many books today take the many wonderful things that science has to offer us, and present them in a perverted formed, not used to uplift us, but to hold us down by oppressive forces. Science Fiction is full of dystopian, apocalyptic scenarios, of science used as weapons. It is almost assumed that any great break through we have will be used as a tool to hold us down, and only enrich the greedy or power hungry. It seems that a sense of wonder in what science can do, even among those who are fascinated by it, has been lost. I miss those days when I can look up are the stars and wonder what it will be like when humanity grows beyond Earth, and begin colonizing other planets, without wondering how the first interstellar war will begin. Yet, Sawyer has truly created a novel that glories in the beautiful possibilities of the future, with science as our guide.

There are so many things to like about Wonder, I doubt I can cover them all. Wonder ends one of the most beautifully produced, and endless thoughtful science fiction trilogies in audiobook form today. It’s nice to see an author embrace the audio form, to the extent that he actually has the emergent entity WebMind choose his official voice based on one of his favorite audiobook narrators, Marc Vietor.  Wonder examines both the good and evil in mankind, yet, one of my favorite things about the book is that its main antagonist, Peyton Hume, wasn’t an evil man. In fact, his intentions were good, and on a personal level, I could almost sympathize with him. For people of my generation, Artificial Intelligence will always be viewed with a bit of skepticism. We have been indoctrinated by so many images of the harm it can do. Yet, an interesting parallel is that typically it’s the AI entity actually has good intentions that leads to harm. In that way, Peyton Hume embodies what we fear, that someone will feel that our survival depends on having our free will taken away. I also enjoyed Sawyer’s evenhandedness in political discussions. I am what I like to call an extreme moderate, and sometimes feel brow beaten in novels by people pushing an agenda. Yet, while I feel Sawyer has well developed beliefs many of which I may not share, what he seems to value most, like me, is open, honest respectful discussion. All in all, Wonder if a fitting conclusion to the WWW series, one which will stick with me for a long time.

Again, the audiobook version of this book is brilliantly produced. Narrators Jessica Almasy, Marc Vietor, Oliver Wyman, and Anthony Haden Salerno handle the prose perfectly, each taking a different POV and integrating Marc Vietor’s voice of WebMind throughout. Again Jessica Almasy is the star of the show in an expanded role both as the main POV Caitlin Decter, and also handling the Hobo subplot. Her narration is spot on perfect, and she finds the right inflections and rhythm for each character. Oliver Wyman, a personal favorite of mine, voices the POV of the WATCH group and of Peyton Hume, and does it with his typical professionalism. Salerno handles the China subplots well, and was a solid addition to the cast. All together, Audible has produced one of the best science fiction listening experiences available today with the WWW trilogy.

Audiobook Review: WWW: Watch by Robert J. Sawyer

18 04 2011

WWW: Watch by Robert J. Sawyer

Read by Jessica Almasy , Marc Vietor , Oliver Wyman , Jennifer Van Dyck

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thought: WWW:Watch is thought provoking science fiction at its best, and the audiobook enhances the experience with its dead on performances.

Grade: A-

WWW: Watch is the second book of Robert J. Sawyers WWW Trilogy. I listened to the first book in the series, about an emerging consciousness on the web, about a year ago, in 2010. I found it to be a fascinating opening for a trilogy. WWW: Wake was only my third Robert J. Sawyer novel, having read Hominids a while back, and listened to the audio version of Flashforward before the start of the television series based on the book.  I loved Flashforward, much more than its ill fated television version, and had mixed feelings on Hominids. Yet, I decided to listen to WWW: Wake based on one fact, no matter whether I agree with what he is saying, Robert J. Sawyer always makes me think. I love science fiction that challenges our preconditions and prejudices, as long as it’s not in that condescending, “I have more degrees than you” sort of way. Sawyer definitely uses the medium of his science fiction to shine a light on social, and scientific issues yet, keeps it well contained within the bonds of his stories, so as to not distract from the fact that reading science fiction is supposed to be entertainment.

Sawyer started off the book, in his introduction, by promising us that unlike most trilogies, the second book would not be the weakest. Luckily he lived up to his promise. WWW: Watch builds well on the promise of WWW: Wake, allowing us a more complete and satisfying tale. Watch again brilliantly takes on a topic that most people wouldn’t even consider up for discussion, whether the Orwellian vision of Big Brother actually fits into our culture, and whether “being watched” is an inherent evil. Sawyer makes a very wise decision in allowing the consciousness Webmind to develop with the guidance of a brilliant but naïve 16 year old girl named Caitlin. For us older, more jaded beings that grew up on Asimov and Terminator movies would not be so readily willing to accept the idea of a benevolent electronic consciousness.  Sawyer assembles a cast, from Caitlin to her autistic father, to a Bonobo chimp hybrid named Hobo, who are capable, for their various reasons, of accepting Webmind for what he truly is, and not what we would fear he could become. One of the reasons Watch improves over Wake, is that all the subplots that Sawyer built so nicely in Wake, finally begin to come together, readying us for the payoff in the final novel, WWW: Wonder.

WWW: Watch is a brilliantly produced, multi-narrator audiobook along the lines of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Oliver Wyman and Marc Vietor are narrators I am quite familiar with and handle their parts perfectly. Yet the true star of this production is Jessica Almasy who is responsible for the Caitlin POV. Almasy handles Caitlin perfectly. Caitlin is a transported Texan living in Canada. Almasy perfectly blends the two accents, with a subtle southern twang that builds as she gets excited, and full of Canadian idiosyncrasies. Caitlin has just the right levels of wonder and naiveté in her voice, yet, when she is discussing something that she is confident in, that naiveté bleeds out and she becomes the women she will be someday. WWW:Watch is thought provoking science fiction at its best, and the audiobook enhances the experience with its dead on performances.