Author: Robert J. Sawyer
Being a young American girl just starting a new life in a Canadian city might be a complicated undertaking all in itself, but since Caitlin is blind, it becomes even more so. As we slowly get introduced to Caitlin’s life, which is full of interesting details about blindness that are obvious when mentioned but that sighted people seldom think of, two things start to happen. First, Caitlin is contacted by a scientist who claims he can wake Caitlin from her life-long blindness. Second, the reader becomes aware that there is another somewhere, which is also stirring in its sleep.
In my mind, Wake by Robert J. Sawyer (the second book I read by him, after Hominids) is about three things: Caitlin, blindness and information/computer science. The first bit feels much like cover for the rest of the story and is little more than a framework, but as such, it works pretty well. Caitlin’s life is interesting, but only insofar as it carries the story forwards in other areas. Her blindness makes this very interesting, not least because being almost blind in one eye, I think I’ve thought about complete blindness more than most people.
The technology involved in giving her the sense of sight also have some interesting side effects. Since she needs the internet to download updates to her implant, lots of data is being shuffled around and she becomes aware that she can actually see the internet. Through a long process, aided by a Japanese scientist, the reader and Caitlin set out on a long voyage that covers areas such as cellular automata, artificial intelligence, information theory, linguistics, computational statistics and much more.
This journey is Sawyer’s forte. He is extremely good at describing these various topics and make them come together and form a meaningful plot. Even though I haven’t studied natural sciences since high school, I’m quite serious when I say that this book made me interested enough to spend hours reading articles on information theory and related topics. Having a smart but young main character is a good choice, because it allows the author to introduce these fairly complicated topics to a beginner without making the reader feel too stupid (although this is of course dependent on the education background of the reader).
In short, Wake combines a couple of really interesting themes. He weaves them together into what is the first part of a trilogy, and even though I truly hate series of books, it is likely I will read the remaining two books when they are published (the second is already out). However, I won’t go on reading because of the brilliant plot, because of Sawyer’s ability to make science come alive and become interesting. Just like this kind of science fiction is meant to do.
Why not read on for the plot, then? As I said, it works as a framework, but that’s really not enough for a really good novel. For instance, there is a complete lack of antagonists in the story, which means that apart form experiencing new things and talking about cool science, not much happens. There are various complications with Caitlin’s implant and some minor social events, but they all fade into the background, perhaps rightly so.
To sum things up, this book is partly science fiction at its best, but it also lacks vital parts to become a masterpiece. This book inspires and makes me want to know more, but rather about the topics rather than the story and the characters. Four snails seem to be a good compromise. Wake has been nominated to this year’s Hugo Award, so it remains to see what other people think about it even though my own mind is already settled.