Wake, by Robert J Sawyer

Buy from Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, or IndieBound

Author’s website
Publicate date – April 14, 2009

Summary – (Taken from GoodReads) Caitlin Decter is young, pretty, feisty, a genius at math-and blind. Still, she can surf the net with the best of them, following its complex paths clearly in her mind. But Caitlin’s brain long ago co-opted her primary visual cortex to help her navigate online. So when she receives an implant to restore her sight, instead of seeing reality, the landscape of the World Wide Web explodes into her consciousness, spreading out all around her in a riot of colors and shapes. While exploring this amazing realm, she discovers something-some other-lurking in the background. And it’s getting more and more intelligent with each passing day…

Thoughts – Caitlin is a teenager who suffers from a peculiar form of blindness, in which the signals from the eyes to the brain get scrambled and so the brain cannot interpret what’s being seen. Thanks to an implant meant to help her gain sight for the first time, she inadvertantly ends up being able to see the Internet. And the Internet is not only developing awareness of itself, but also of Caitlin, and the world around her.

My first impression of this book is that Sawyer clearly did a lot of research in setting up the premise and the plot. You can really feel the effort that was put into making this story — in which the Internet itself gains sentience and learns to communicate with a blind teenager — as realistic as possible. Kudos to Sawyer for that; it made reading this book very enjoyable.

Though I do have to say that there were quite a few infodumps scattered throughout the story. Understandably so, as very often characters run into concepts that it’s obvious most people won’t be familiar with, and so in order for it all to make sense, information has to be provided. This was usually done by having one character or another explain things to Caitlin, the book’s protagonist, so that large explanations were given to the reader as easily as as in-character as possible. Still, very often it felt like I was slipping into a Sophie’s World-style novel, in which was the purpose was more to educate than anything else.

The book explores many high-minded themes, but none more strongly than that of a developping consciousness. Sawyer draws parallels between the Internet and humanity as a whole, gaining awareness and understanding of itself and its surroundings, acquiring the ability to introspect, and to communicate. It’s a fascinating look at how awareness forms, though Sawyer does bring into the mix a rather controversial theory involving all of humanity gaining self-awareness at roughly the same time (which there are countless arguments against). Still, in spite of the controversy, the theories presented in the book are fascinating, and make for good reading.

The characters were interesting, well-rounded and fleshed out, and felt very much like real people. Sawyer managed to capture the voice of an intelligent teenage girl quite well, and threw in enough ‘Net culture references to add to the believability (let’s face it – most of us have had an account on LiveJournal at one time or another).

I did have a few issues with the characters and their presentation, however, but they were relatively minor. Dr. Kuroda, for example, spoke excellent English and was capable of using slang and jargon… except on multiple occasions where less obscure references went right over his head and had to be explained to him by Caitlin. It seemed odd every time this happened, as he had no trouble using other forms of colloquial speech, and the only reason I can think for this is that the author had to emphasize his “foreigness” every now and again so that we as the readers didn’t forget that he wasn’t a native speaker of English.

My second issue in terms of characters had less to do with characterization and more with an assumption made. With Caitlin’s father presenting on the austistic spectrum, Kuroda comments that it’s lucky Caitlin didn’t do the same, as it’s a common condition in those with heightened IQs and math talents (there’s a correlation, at any rate). He then postulates that she might have escaped austism due to her blindness, as austistic people have great difficulty making eye contact, and she never had to. Knowing what I do about autism, this is like saying a person with a nose can’t ever get a cold. The eye contact issue is a symptom of the condition, and only one symptom. Not having to make eye contact does not negate other common symptoms of ASDs, such as compulsive behaviour, or a lack of comprehension of social norms and interpersonal relationships. Caitlin may not be autistic, but it would have nothing to do with her blindness.

But when most of my issues with a book are fairly minor and nitpicky, overall you know the book is good. Very informative, well-thought out, and Sawyer’s writing style was smooth and even, with fantastic pacing. My biggest regret at the moment is that I can’t get my hands on the second book of the trilogy at the moment, since the ending was such a cliffhanger and I really want to know what happens next.

If you’re a fan of speculative fiction, then this is definitely one book you need to make a point of reading.

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