In our ongoing effort to read all the Hugo nominated novels for 2010, we continue with Robert J. Sawyer‘s WWW:WAKE (Amazon). Maybe it’s just us, but it seems like Sawyer is consistently nominated for the Hugo for “Best Novel”. Does this mean his books are always awesome? For many people, yes.
But not for us.
WAKE is equally fascinating and frustrating. Enjoyable yet boring. It has moments that read like a simple YA novel, and others that go on like that boring university class you fell asleep in. If it bothered you just reading this paragraph, you will understand how we felt reading the whole book.
WAKE, the first book in an advertised SF trilogy, is mainly about 15 year-old Caitlin Decter. She was born blind, and early into the novel she is contacted about an experimental procedure that may cure her blindness. It should be fairly obvious that the procedure will work. While Caitlin goes about having her sight restored, the other main plot of the novel (which was actually a series of installments originally published in Analog) is about the emergence of an intelligent entity from the World Wide Web. Lastly, there are two sub-plots about a plague in China, and a chimp that has learned to sign and paint. Caitlin’s story and that of the AI entity mesh together well, but the rest feels like an afterthought. Perhaps this will be cleared up in the sequels.
Really, the biggest problem with WAKE is that it feels like a jumble of interesting ideas that didn’t blend together as intended. It also feels like Sawyer lost sight of telling the story so he could have his characters discuss–for the reader’s benefit in “maid & butler” fashion–the scientific ideas that spawned the idea for the story in the first place.
Caitlin’s story never reaches a balance. Her “teenager in a new school” portion of the story is stale. Her “I’m a whiz-kid” segments don’t blend well with the other portions. By the end of the novel, Caitlin is relied on (however unintentionally) to solve problems other individuals of vast intelligence find baffling. Not to mention, every problem is solved with casual ease… in a few minutes. To us, if solving problems and mysteries of this magnitude is this simple for the characters in WAKE, then these characters should have solved every other major problem in the world. In a day. In a sense, it was reminiscent of the problems we had with the younger characters in Card’s EMPIRE series–there is no sense of realism to them. In WAKE, Caitlin is the main PoV, and since her character doesn’t grab us, we have problems with the story. The minor characters follow suit. They were all, to us, flat. They were only there to serve as a vehicle for the scientific ideas that Sawyer wanted to discuss.
And guess what? A lot of you will be OK with this. If you like the way Sawyer writes, you will absolutely love this book. If you like the “teacher-classroom” styled discussions that go for pages upon pages, you will love this book. This is an “idea book” masquerading lightly as a character and story-driven novel. If you liked FLASH FORWARD and ROLLBACK, you likely won’t have much issue with WAKE.
What Sawyer does well, even though for us it grew tiresome, is make everything easily understandable. The concepts that a lessor author may struggle to define clearly, Sawyer helps us understand with ease. Perhaps this is why his readership is so high. Kudos.
Would we read the sequel, WWW:WATCH? Maybe. WAKE wasn’t bad at all, but we have come to expect better stories and characters. Again, readers of Sawyer’s other work will love this, and perhaps consider it one of his strongest efforts. Those same readers will be way excited to read the sequel.
But for us? Mediocre. Deserving of the Hugo? At this point, we would understand if it won, but we are still pulling for China Miéville’s CITY AND THE CITY.
- Recommended Age: 16+. Sometimes way younger. Sometimes older. It's remarkably inconsistent in its tone.
- Language: Yup. A fair amount.
- Violence: Not really
- Sex: Some teenage discussions on it, but that's all.