Wake by Robert J. Sawyer

Posted by on Aug 5, 2014 in Book Reviews, Ontario | 0 comments

WakeSummary: Fifteen year-old Caitlin has been blind since birth, but after a move to Waterloo, Ontario for her dad’s job, she receives an email from a Japanese scientist named Dr. Kuroda, who thinks he can restore her sight. The installation of this device has unintended side effects as instead of being able to see the world around her, Caitlin is able to see the World Wide Web. The device interpreting the signals coming through her visual cortex becomes a conduit for a growing web consciousness, and Caitlin is the first to realise there is something out there. Drawing inspiration from Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan, Caitlin educates the presence she originally calls Phantom, gaining her sight after a software upgrade and having to learn how to visually read herself. Her openness and determination give the presence a solid start, birthing a new life form into the world.

Number of Pages: 354

Age Range: 16-18

Review: If author Cory Doctorow’s books are a teen’s guide to the technological present, then Robert J. Sawyer’s books are the guide for our technological future.

Sawyer is normally an adult science fiction writer, but his World Wide Web (WWW) series features main character Caitlin, a fifteen year-old girl journeying from blindness to sight literally and metaphorically. While the first book is more technical and textbook-like in nature, the second and third are quite insightful about Caitlin’s experiences, Webmind’s development, and the world’s reaction to both.

There’s a lot going on in Wake that I haven’t covered in the summary; namely Hobo’s story, the atrocity in China as an outbreak of bird flu threatens the country, and Caitlin’s reading choices. All share a theme of change and emerging consciousness as Sawyer recounts our human history of becoming aware compared with that of Hobo’s and Webmind’s. I love the connection with Helen Keller’s story, and Sawyer’s subtle clues that more people will be afraid than accepting of these new sources of intelligence.

I count Sawyer’s book as teen because if Phantom (aka Webmind) had almost any other mentor besides a teenage girl used to thinking outside the box, the reaction would have been one of fear instead of acceptance and help. Caitlin is a a very open and intelligent character who has personal experience with exclusion which informs her choices and helps aid Webmind’s birth. Growing up blind and transitioning to sight as well as living with an autistic father have contributed greatly to making her this way.

I’ve read Sawyer’s entire WWW series out of order, which I think actually works better for teen readers. If you’re adult reader, read the trilogy in order. But if you’re a teen, start with the second book, Watch, because while Wake is excellent, it is more of a novel long introduction. The real action starts in Watch which works well because it is also a stand alone novel. Nothing will be lost on the reader if they haven’t read Wake first, and going back to find out how everything started will be all the more satisfying.

Recommended for teen science fiction lovers.

Memorable Quotes:

“When they’d received the Lawgiver statue, Shoshana had sought out the original five ‘Planet of the Apes’ films. The statue appeared only in the first two (althought the Lawgiver was a character in the fifth film, played by none other than John Huston). But it was the third film that had put Shoshana on the edge of her seat as she watched it on DVD in her cramped apartment.

In it, a talking female chimpanzee was to be sterilized, if not outright murdered, along with her chimp husband. The president of the United States, played by that guy who’d been Commodore Decker on the original ‘Star Trek,’ said to his science advisor, played by Victor from the ‘Y&R,’ ‘Now, what do you expect me and the United Nations, though not necessarily in that order, to do about it? Alter what you believe to be the future by slaughtering two innocents, or rather three, now that one of them is pregnant? Herod tried that, and Christ survived.’

And the science advisor had said, absolutely cold-bloodedly, ‘Herod lacked out facilities.'” – Reflection on the Planet of the Apes movies from Wake by Robert J. Sawyer, page 137

“Caitlin thought again about her father, so inaccessible, so cold, so trapped in his own realm. She now had her wondrous eyePod that let her overcome her inborn limitations – but there was no comparable device for autism; he was still stuck in his own kind of dark. She didn’t know how to reach out to him, and she had even less of an idea how to reach out to this strange lurking other.

Still, she did know one thing: if she tried and failed with the other, it couldn’t possibly hurt as much.” – Caitlin from Wake by Robert J. Sawyer, page 288

“As a bright red apple filled her screen a though crossed her mind that made her smile: she was indeed offering up the fruit of the tree of knowledge to the innocent phantom. Of course, that hadn’t gone so well the last time – but, then again, Eve had lacked her facilities…” – Caitlin from Wake by Robert J. Sawyer, page 317

Wake by Robert J. Sawyer is published by Viking Canada, (2009).

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