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4.0 out of 5 stars
Wake: Book One In The WWW Trilogy
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Showing 1-4 of 4 reviews(2 star). See all 13 reviews
on January 1, 2011
Much of what goes into a review, if we're honest, is about personal taste and preference, bringing to that our own world view. In a way, it's that latter point that underpins Sawyer's much-acclaimed novel, Wake.

I have to admit I wanted more. And by more I don't mean quantity. Not even do I necessarily mean quality. What I wanted was more depth. But, again, that's a point of personal preference.
Still, it was that superficiality, that lack of depth, that kept me from completely engaging with the story Sawyer crafted. There were pages, even whole chapters, spent on geek-speak, which for geeks is great (I am reminded of the quartet of Big Bang Theory), but which for me caused a complete arrest of the plot, action, and character development, to the point I found myself skimming. Again, I must mitigate that statement with the caveat this is purely personal taste. I know, simply from the astonishing sales numbers for the novel, there are thousands out there who would disagree with my point of view.

This is my review, however, and so I can only bring to that review my own perspective.

Having said all that, I found the underlying concepts of the story - an awakening artificial intelligence, and the moral issue of allowing artificial intelligence to propagate - concepts which have been dealt with previously. And so, if I'm going to read about something that has previously been explored, I'm hoping for something new to be introduced to the discussion. Again, that lack of depth, that lack of uniqueness, left me hungry.

It wasn't until the last 10% of the book I found myself absorbed by relationship dynamics and characterization, and the tension around that relationship. Much of the emotional depth of that last 10% could have been infused throughout the previous 90%, and had that been achieved, the fact little new had been added to the lexicon of artificial intelligence would have been completely mitigated by a profound story about defining relationships between alien species.

But, then, maybe that's an entirely different story than the one Sawyer wished to tell.

Would I recommend Sawyer's novel, Wake? Sure I would. If you love SF and aren't interested in the touchy-feeling aspects of literature, then yes Wake is for you. If you want something else, if you're looking for profundity and provocation, then no, Wake isn't for you.
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on February 20, 2011
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.

Sawyer has brilliant, intriguing ideas, and he conveys them well - it's the main reason I'll read most anything he publishes. Unfortunately, each new book appears to be pandering to the masses: simple reading level, shallow characters with some gimmick to keep one's interest, cultural references that are like ad placements... this story felt like filler to a bigger story, maybe detailed in its sequels. I devoured it quickly, but it'll be forgotten quickly too.

I know Sawyer can write brilliantly - many of his short stories (from Iterations and Identity Theft: And Other Stories) are as engaging as his novels, but they're succinct and tight; and his website has wonderful essays. Maybe the novel-form gives him too much leeway for throwing in unnecessary cliches and cultural references as filler. One has to wonder if he's paid for the endorsement-like tidbits he includes.

I have little interest in reading the sequels to Wake: Watch and Wonder (WWW, Book 3). Maybe I'll pick them up if I see them in the Bargain Bin.
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on July 13, 2009
Warning: This review is heavy on spoilers.

Can you think of any cultural, intellectual or behavioral differences between a Japanese academic and a blind teenage girl from Texas? Robert Sawyer can't.

In "Wake," virtually every character has the same voice. They also share the same sense of humor (cliches and puns, mostly) despite coming from opposite ends of the planet. They all know enough science and mathematics (yes, even the public school student!) to push the plot forward when it's convenient.

The novel has more than one preposterous concept. If you have even a basic understanding of how the Internet differs from the World Wide Web, you will have to push it to a dark corner of your brain to get through this book without throwing the book out a window.

For example: The blind protagonist is upgraded via a computer chip behind her eye to regain her sight. When she first starts to see, it is during a software update. Instead of seeing the world, she visualizes the web. Yes, not the Internet, but the web!

She sees it as a graph, where nodes represent web sites and edges represent links between them. Somehow this happens while downloading one program from one server in Japan. How this program magically contains a visualization of the entire web is never explained.

The scientists suggest that because she has spent so much time surfing the Internet, her malleable brain cells have learned to visualize the web instead of vision. Yes, you heard me right: someone who was used to navigating web sites through screen reading software somehow gained the ability to visualize the entire web while downloading one program, because she was so good at surfing!

Later on, the protagonist discovers an intelligent being that lives on "the web." When first confronted with the evidence, the characters discuss zombie packets which could just be forwarded from router to router endlessly, and that could provide the building blocks for artificial life.

So wait, Sawyer understands enough about the workings of the Internet to suggest a theory based on packets and their TTL (time to live) headers, but then switches back to "Web" mode when discussing where the being lives? Are we supposed to believe that the being is only made up of packets that are part of HTTP streams? No, of course not. Sawyer is trying to blind us with the science of the Internet so that we can make the leap of faith from web to Internet depending on whether it's convenient for the story.

At one point, the protagonist decided to teach the AI. She gives it a link to Wikipedia, and it devours the entire site in a matter of hours, and then waits obediently for her to teach it about Project Gutenberg. Did it not occur to Sawyer that Wikipedia links to other sites, including Project Gutenberg? You'd think that by starting with a site as large and in depth as Wikipedia that the AI would find its way to virtually anything else on the Internet. It could and would follow whatever links it wanted, without having to wait for her to lead it on.

I could go on about other things this novel did that bothered me, but I feel like I've given enough to give you an idea of its contents.

I should say, however, that my girlfriend pointed out to me that if I hated the book so much, I wouldn't have finished it so quickly. Indeed, there is something about Sawyer's writing that makes it easy to digest and to keep turning the pages.

Ultimately, I was left dissapointed.
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on May 12, 2010
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, it is interesting. The author appears to have done his homework, introducing many concepts related to the complexity of information and the structure of the internet and discusses. That in itself might be textbook interesting, but if you're doubting that it will make for an interesting story, you're not too far off the mark. It kind of reads like a textbook. When the author does get into any sort of character building it comes off as tacked on and cheesy in a soap opera-ish way. Granted the characters are cast as run of the mill suburbanites, but they must have some interesting qualities and history, no? The main plotline is about a girl who regains her vision through an artificial implant (another interesting concept, and likely not too far out there), but even that doesn't feel exciting. I get the feeling that the actual experiences of someone regaining their sight after never having it was one of the only not-well-researched portions of this book. Perhaps there aren't many cases to study...

Previously I've read Sawyer's "Calculating God" and enjoyed it. There were was still the battering of Canadianisms, but I have to say in "Wake", it just felt over the top, and I am Canadian. He went so far to mention "Future Shop" as where a new computer was bought. Why is that relevant? Why would you possibly expound on something as mundane as purchasing a desktop PC in a book about emerging Artificial Intelligence? Who knows. Anyhow, Calculating God was good, lighthearted Sci-Fi. Not my favorite by any means but definitely better than this one.

I'd like to give him another chance, a Canadian, near future science fiction writer tackling themes around information technology and artificial intelligence. I expected to love this book. I didn't even really like it.

I may give watch a chance and see if the story get's deeper, but I think I've got a few others to read first. I'd recommend checking out Charles Stross if you're interested in the themes of this one. It's definitely further out there, and "lighthearted" isn't a word I'd use, but it's good stuff.
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