WWW.Wake by Robert Sawyer
Posted August 31, 2010on:
I’ll give Sawyer one thing, he knows how to grab you with some good opening chapters. He excels at moving the plot along and keeping readers interested. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have zipped through the first 200 pages of http://www.Wake in one day!
Caitlin, aged 15 is a blind math genius. She obsessively reads about Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan while surfing the internet in braille and using voice recognition software to post on her livejournal. Other than that, Caitlin is your pretty average high schooler. She wants to go to college, is desperate for her father’s approval, thinks boys might be interesting, and can’t live without the internet.
When she received a communication from a Japanese doctor that technology might exist to help restore her vision, they fly to Tokyo for the operation. Dr Kuroda installs an implant behind Caitlin’s eyeball, which sends signals to a computer, which processes the signals into some thing recognizable, and the signals get sent back to the implant in the hope that Caitlin’s brain will be able to read them correctly. After a few hits and misses, they achieve success. Along with some else, something unexpected.
Sometimes Caitlin sees the real world, sometimes she sees the internet. How can one “see” the internet? Sawyer visualizes it nicely – websites are spheres, the more popular or larger the site, the larger and brighter the sphere, and links to sites are fading lines from one sphere to another. Seeing the internet is pretty cool, until you realize something is staring back.
Something in the internet awakens, and slowly but surely learns what it is and where it is. It is gaining awareness at a frightening speed. It knows its only link to humanity is Caitlin, but how can it communicate with her?
Meanwhile, we’ve got a few rather more dramatic plot lines that weave in and out of the main story. In rural China, a deadly bird flu is spreading fast, and the government has to act fast to stop it. They do everything they can to stop the spread of the deadly strain, which includes cutting off internet communications with the rest of the world. Hackers suddenly become even more suspicious of their government. Also, in Southern California, primate researcher Shoshana works day in and day out with Hobo the Chimp. Hobo is smarter than he has any right to be, and harbors a dark genetic secret.
I felt like I was always waiting for the next chapter about Quon Li and Sinanthropus in China, or Shoshana and Hobo in California. As the novel progressed, Sawyer seemed to give these story lines less and less attention, and I had hoped it would be the opposite.
I’ve previously read Sawyer’s Mindscan and Hominids, and similar to http://www.Wake, they were fast moving, provocative stories that kept my attention. I’m used to Sawyer writing adult stories, starring adults doing adult stuff, so I was surprised to find http://www.Wake had such a YA feel to it. Caitlin is a great character, and I enjoyed what she went through, but I was always looking for a little more depth, a little more drama, a little more intensity. Once I realized the intended audience is young adult, I was able to forgive Sawyer for simplifying things down.
On the plus side for the YA thing, this novel is sure to send anyone who reads it racing to wikipedia for a survey course on Temple Grandin, Information theory, Conway’s Game of Life, Shannon Entropy, Flowers for Algernon, Stephen Wolfram and Flatland. And anything that gets people interested in learning more about anything, is a good thing in my book.
It saddens me to say that by the end of http://www.Wake, everything just started feeling contrived and predictable. Sure, the “web” prescence is getting smarter and more interested in things, and how it experiences the world as compared to webspace is interesting in a Flatland-in-reverse kind of way, but the web as an intelligent character just didn’t keep my attention. http://www.Wake is the first book in a planned trilogy, and book two, http://www.Watch recently hit shelves. For my money though, I’ll probably pick up the next book in Sawyer’s Hominids series.