As the title implies, WWW: Wake is about an artificial entity on the internet gaining sentience. This AI itself is one of the two main point of view characters. The other is a blind girl named Caitlin Decter.
Caitlin undergoes an experimental surgery to give her sight. At first, nothing happens. Then, she gains an ability to actually see the internet when her seeing apparatus is downloading content. Eventually, they figure out how to give her actual sight, but she retains the ability to see the internet, and she can toggle back and forth between the two modes.
The Chinese government needs to contain a crisis, so they cut the internet within China off from the internet outside of China. This maiming starts the AI’s first steps toward consciousness. It notices Caitlin looking at the internet, and starts watching her. It gets to see the outside world with her, and it learns from observation. Then Caitlin notices it and sends it to learn from the internet, and the book ends with the two of them trying to figure out what to do next.
At its core, WWW: Wake is very much a book about ideas. The themes of artificial intelligence and what it means and the parallels with Helen Keller’s life were fascinating, and like all of the exposition in the book, delivered very organically.
There are sections from other characters’ points of view, and I made the mistake of caring about those characters too much. There are situations in China that we never revisit after their internet is back up. There are primate researchers whose story is thematically related to the AI waking up, but I wanted to see a stronger connection with the main plot. The forays into other points of view slowed the pacing down, and I felt like it took a really long time before Caitlin and the AI started communicating.
However, of all of the Hugo nominees that I’ve read so far, this is my favorite. I was engaged in the story from the very first page. I cared about the characters, I learned things about the world we live in (I’d never heard of the cyc), and I was completely swept up in the story. Overall, I give it a 4/5, with a star for appealing to my taste.