www.Wake – Book Review
Yes this is November. Yes that means that I have been busy juggling work, job applications and the yearly Nanowrimo challenge. Does this mean I haven’t read anything? Well, not quite. I have read, though considerably less than at other points in the year. What I have been reading has been largely ridiculous and thus not worth the bother of writing a review (or too embarrassing to admit that I read that trash).
The book I am reviewing today is www.Wake by Robert J Sawyer. It came highly recommended by a person at work. The individual was so enthusiastic that they mentioned this book on some half dozen occasions over the past year. Even though they know I am more of a fantasy and less of a sci-fi reader.
Well, partly out of boredom and partly out of stress I borrowed www.Wake from the library. I was told it was a story about a blind girl who had an implant that let her interface with the internet where she discovered intelligence (AI). It was a stupid sounding plot. It was also strangely misleading.
So what was the story about? Well it is about a corner of the internet gaining consciousness. It is also about an orangutan-bonobo hybrid demonstrating the ability to learn language and starting to paint in perspective. And yes there is also a blind girl, who undergoes a procedure designed to correct her vision problem. There is also a conspiracy/cover-up in China just to add more tension. In short there is a lot going on. While most of the secondary strands are simplistic they all contribute to the ideas of flow of information, self-awareness and identity.
The book is first and foremost well-written. The plot progresses at a reasonable pace. A lot work is done to build realistic and complex characters. Even more time is spent trying to develop different perspectives. I really liked the geeky math-based humour that actually had me laughing as I read.
A number of interesting and potentially controversial ideas are raised. I am of two minds about this. On the one hand it might get people thinking, which is always a good thing. On the other hand, real science doesn’t support these ideas. The idea that humans did not gain true consciousness until some 1000 BC is ludicrous. The arguments put forth for this idea (researched while I was reading the story) are easily countered by the simple fact that other civilizations existed around the world with written language. The book has an ape capable of meaningful communication – which real life has failed to produce. The concerns about the ape being a hybrid is really questionable. Most interspecies hybrids are sterile – which is why we have different species. While these points might be fun to think about or even talk about, they don’t hold up to modern science.
My other complaint comes from the authors efforts to make the story Canadian. There is nothing wrong with writing about Canadians. However, this one felt like he was trying too hard. Each Canadian-ism felt like it was being shoved in my face. The writing was smoother when Sawyer forgot he needed to reinforce the idea the story took place in Ontario and instead focused on the characters and their personal struggles.
Also, the birth of AI in the internet is silly. I may know next to nothing about programing, but this was clearly science-magic. AI is fine for a story. While I don’t personally find it compelling, others I understand like reading about it.
Summary: it is a well-written book. I enjoyed it despite all my complaints. That said, I have zero interest in the sequels that round out the trilogy so don’t expect more on this topic. Now back to my own sad scribbles.