Monday, March 28, 2011

Review: Wake

Author:  Robert J Sawyer
Pages: 354
ISBN: 978 0 575 09408 6
Buy it from The Book Depository

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 when a Japanese researcher develops a new signal-processing implant that might give her sight she jumps at the chance.

And sees a whole new world. Her brain has co-opted her visual cortex to help her navigate online, when the implant is activated Caitlin sees not our world but the riotous landscape of the Web, exploding into vivid reality around her.

And discovers something, some other. Inhuman, immense and getting smarter…
Wow!  Now this is what all YA novels should be like.  After reading the mediocre I Am Number Four I was reluctant to try another novel aimed at YA readers.  I’m glad that I gave Wake a chance.  It simply blew me away with the huge ideas and issues it tackles.  This is definitely a novel that will appeal just as much to adult readers.

Wake is the first novel in the WWW series.  Like other Sawyer novels Wake draws heavily from real science as a starting point.  It does an excellent job explaining how the worldwide web works by seamlessly interweaving the technical info into the storyline in an understandable manner.  Having a background in IT I was surprised to see how well (and accurately) Sawyer explained things like packets, IP addresses, binary and the network infrastructure of the Web.

I found myself engrossed in the story and the themes explored (coping with blindness, emerging intelligence, how we perceive the world and mathematical formulas of all things!) had me Googling for hours to find out more – I actually learned a thing or two!

The 15 year old Caitlin is a believable character and I quickly found myself empathizing with her plight and sharing in her exhilaration about the possibility of being able to see again.  It looks like Sawyer did some extensive research about living with blindness.  The insights he gives about Caitlin's day to day life and how she copes with her disability is very well done.  You often find yourself exclaiming "I never thought of that!". Unlike other YA novels Wake does not resort to any clich├ęs or hyperbole of “popular” teen tropes. 

The issues it explores - privacy, consciousness, intelligence and freedom of information, are all relevant in our modern society and it is tackled in a superb fashion.  It's intelligently written  and educational at the same time, but never feels preachy or dumbed down.

The real draw card for me was the concept of Webmind, an emerging machine intelligence on the WWW. The progression in how it perceives itself and the world around it makes for thought-provoking reading.  I can definitely see something similar to this taking place if true AI ever emerges.  The relationship between Caitlin and Webmind is also very interesting and holds the promise of lots of angles to explore in the rest of the series. 

The Verdict:
This should definitely be on the top of your to-read list.  It’s amazingly well done and those with a geeky tendency will absolutely love it.  I can’t wait to get my hands on the other novels in the trilogy to see where Sawyer goes with the story. 

Rating: 8.5/5

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