8.4.10

Wake


Robert J. Sawyer, Wake, Viking Canada, 2009. 356 pgs.

Here we have one of Canada's most successful authors. Sawyer has written 19 novels, and numerous short stories. He has won over 40 awards for his writing, including all three of the top SF awards available (Hugo, Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award). He is the author of FlashForward which is now a popular TV series in its first season. Personally, I have read and enjoyed quite a few of his books, beginning with Calculating God and moving on from there.

Wake is the first book in a planned trilogy (which I didn't find out until after I had started the book... I normally hate to read series before they are completed, because I tend to get into them and then they require patience; and while I am an incredibly patient person, I hate waiting! It's so frustrating!) which explore consciousness and being. This particular novel follows four story-lines (though the first two take up the majority of the novel): the story of a blind girl, Caitlin, who gets a an implant that, while intended to restore her vision, intially allows her to see the web. The story of a being growing on the web that, in interacting with this blind girl, is stimulated into consciousness and learning. The story of an ape hybrid and the researchers working with it as it proves to be the world's smartest primate. Finally, the story of an outbreak of deadly bird-flu in China which results in massive government censorship and the death of thousands of people.

All three of these stories explore the consequences of changes which effect society, focusing on the reactions of humanity to these changes. Upon seeing the amazing results of Caitlin's implant, her doctor/researcher, Dr. Kuroda, is immediately concerned with patents and making money. When the being on the web is discovered, the adults do not realize what it is and are wary that this might be some NSA or CIA secret they have stumbled upon; Caitlin, understandably worried about the reactions people would have to the truth, hides this new found being. Meanwhile, the reaction to the ape is that he ought to be sterilized or castrated, and in China information is prevented not from going out, but from getting in.

As a polemical exploration of change, consciousness, being, and our reactions to these things, Sawyer's book is thought provoking and well done. Personality conflicts bring out different sides of the issues and add excitement to the narrative, but they are not what the book is really about. I think it is fair to say that the real focus of the book is just on how amazing science and technology are.

Sadly, as a narrative, the book had some fairly glaring weaknesses. The stories themselves fail to link together in any meaningful way, other than the fact that they explore similar topics. Furthermore, the personality conflicts and technological events, while interesting, fail to appropriately fuel the novel. The descriptions themselves, of a blind girl learning to see, and of a new being emerging on the internet, quickly change from being provocative to repetitive and then to boring. Now, I know that this is the first book of a trilogy, so presumably conclusions are yet to come; but I still hoped for some kind of ending to this book, and there isn't one. The book ends where any chapter might have; its a natural enough break, but not and ending.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, but if you haven't read Sawyer, read something else first. Also, maybe wait until the rest of the series comes out. The only exception is for SF fans. If you are an SF fan, then by all means, pick it up. You will enjoy it.

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