This sounded like an incredibly interesting read. I have always been fascinated by the idea of information structures becoming sentient. This was a great book that delves into deep topics of consciousness and humanity while still providing a very approachable and engaging story. I listened to this on audio book and it was one of the best audio books I've listened to yet; they provided different readers for different parts of the book and did an excellent job with the whole thing.
This story has a lot of threads to it, but the main one follows Caitlin a fifteen year old mathematical genius who is blind. Caitlin is contacted by a Japanese scientist who thinks he can help her to see; in the beginning she does start to see but what she sees is not what she expects to see. Entwined with her story is the story of the World Wide Web; the Web is gaining some sense of self and is beginning to recognize itself as an entity. Additional side stories are the story of an orangutan hybrid who can paint, a Chinese dissident who blogs about the injustice of the Chinese government, and an outbreak of a very contagious strain of bird flu.
This is a fascinating book. Sawyer deals with the "curing" of Caitlin's blindness and the awareness of the Web in ways that are realistic and believable. I was absolutely intrigued by how the Web gained a sense of self and started to draw conclusions about the world around it. I was impressed with how methodically this was laid out and at how much sense it made.
The overlying theme throughout this book is that of the emergence of consciousness. This theme runs through Caitlin gaining the ability to see, the Web realizing that it is part of a bigger world, and the monkey realizing he can form images with paint. The Origins of Consciousness is a book that is frequently referenced as are Helen Keller's books.
I don't want to make this sound like a text book though...it really isn't. It is a very engaging story. The characterization is extremely well done and the plot is very engaging and propels the reader through the book. It was a very hard book to put down. Caitlin is an intelligent young woman who is easy to relate too. She has to go to school and has problems with boys; but her main drive is to understand things. I think she is a person a lot of young women, and people in general, can relate to. I loved that such a great character is bringing us into all these deeper topics. Many of the side characters were also intriguing and well-done.
I really loved this book. You don't get a ton of closure at the end of it. So it is definitely a "to be continued" type of thing. Although it didn't end in an annoying cliffhanger either. I am planning on starting the next book WWW: Watch soon. There really isn't anything I would change about this book.
I highly recommend this book to anyone with even a hint of curiosity. It does an excellent job of using interesting characters and a great plot to bring up complex issues, such as the origin of consciousness, the emergence of artificial intelligence, and the way data is processed by the human brain.