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Admirers of his previous fiction might be forgiven for feeling that, with his new novel Wake (the first in his much-ballyhooed new contract with Penguin Canada), Toronto science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer has turned an unfortunate corner. While his impressive oeuvre has established Sawyer as one of our most visionary writers (with 41 awards, including a Hugo, a Nebula, and a Campbell, to prove it), Wake reads more like second-rate Michael Crichton. Fifteen-year-old Caitlin Decter has been blind her entire life, and has developed an impressive facility with navigating both the physical world (her room, her school) and the virtual one (she has an online prowess that would leave most sighted webheads in the dust). Having recently moved with her family from Texas to Waterloo, Ontario, Caitlin is gradually settling into her new life when she is contacted by a Japanese professor with an irresistible offer: he has been working on a computer-based system that might restore her sight. The implant doesn’t allow Caitlin to see the physical world, but plunges her into a surreal universe that she quickly realizes is a visualization of the Internet. She is not, however, alone in this universe: something is coming to life within the Web, building not only awareness and intelligence, but sentience. As Crichton did, Sawyer has a gift for synthesis. The science underlying Wake includes cutting-edge biology, theories of consciousness, linguistics and mathematics, computer and evolutionary sciences, and so on. There are times when the sheer amount of information is daunting, but Sawyer carefully leads the reader through the connections he has imagined. Unfortunately, as is often the case with Crichton, the science frequently overwhelms the story, and at such times Wake adopts the tone of a reader-friendly lecture, rather than a satisfying work of fiction. Sawyer also shares Crichton’s tendency to use characters as mouthpieces for his concepts (and his personal grievances: the anti-CanLit and “sci-fi should get more respect” hobby horses are frequently trotted out), rather than as fully developed individuals. Minor characters (such as a friendly, not-so-bright blonde named Sunshine) are little more than clichés, and even Caitlin herself is half-formed. The Crichton comparisons falter, however, when one looks at the narrative itself. Despite overwhelming amounts of scientific information and weaknesses in characterization, a Crichton novel always succeeds as pure storytelling, with a keen sense of pacing and an inexorable drive. Not so Wake, which is a largely passive work. Yes, things happen, and on a global scale, with secondary storylines including a bird-flu outbreak in China, a Chinese government crackdown, and the developing intelligence of an ape in the U.S., but incidents do not a story make, and Wake is largely moribund on the page. All of this should be a concern for us Sawyer fans. It’s certainly a departure from his usually impressive work, and one has to bear in mind that Wake is the first novel in a trilogy: there is much ground to be covered and foundations to be built. As a novel, however, it should still be able to stand on its own. I’m willing to give Sawyer the benefit of the doubt, based on the quality of his body of work, but I’m concerned about the next two books in the trilogy.
"Almost alone among Canadian writers, he tackles the most fundamental questions of who we are and where we might be going — while illuminating where we are now." -- National Post
"Sawyer continues to push the boundaries with his stories of the future made credible. His erudition, eclecticism, and masterly storytelling make this trilogy opener a choice selection." -- Library Journal
"Sawyer's take on theories about the origin of consciousness, generated within the framework of an engaging story, is fascinating, and his approach to machine consciousness and the Internet is surprisingly fresh." -- Booklist
"WAKE is, in the words of its heroine, made out of awesome." -- McNally Robinson Bookseller review
"Wildly thought-provoking...The thematic diversity—and profundity—makes [WAKE] one of Sawyer's strongest works to date." -- Publisher's Weekly, Starred Review
I loved the 3 books, it's anticipation at it's best, and has that human touch.
working in projects I realize how much organization helps avoid pain and efficiencies make... Read more
I am not a great science fiction fan - but I love everything Sawyer has written. This book is part of a trilogy and I recommend you read all three. Read morePublished on March 30 2013 by JOANNE B.
Sawyer is a remarkable writer. I used to read classical SF and I stop for many years. Sawyer brought back my attention to Science Fiction. Read morePublished on Feb. 10 2013 by lucian_blaga
Like all of Mr. Sawyer's books, this one is a joy to read, full of interesting ideas and written with far more human insight and foresight than is common to the genre. Read morePublished on March 24 2011 by Howso
I'll read most anything Sawyer writes because his ideas are fascinating and original, but I'm beginning to lose my enthusiasm after reading this. Read morePublished on Feb. 20 2011 by Amazon Customer
When I read the back of this book which told of a girl somehow connecting to the consciousness of the Internet I was somewhat skeptical. Read morePublished on May 22 2010 by Columbus
This should be a great book, but it's not.
I really enjoy near future science fiction and while the premise of an emergent intelligence based in the internet isn't new,... Read more