Wake by Robert J. Sawyer
Robert J. Sawyer is a Canadian author who has won the Hugo and Nebula awards for various works previous to Wake. To non-Science Fiction geeks that probably doesn’t mean a whole lot, but those of you comfortable in your nerdom will recognize these awards as something to be quite proud of. I’ve never read any of Sawyer’s other works so I was totally unbiased while reading this book while lounging by a pool on a 28-degree day in January. Wake is the first book of the World Wide Web trilogy which will have two more contributions in relatively short order (I hope).
Wake begins in Waterloo, Ontario where Caitlin has just moved to from Austin, Texas due to her father taking a position at a technology company. Much like any young teenager she’s having difficulty adjusting to life in Canada: the climate, the larger school, the new girl stigma and mostly her new surroundings. You see Caitlin is completely blind and has been from birth. She and her parents have tried many experimental treatments and surgeries but all to no avail. It isn’t much of a detriment for Caitlin though, as, at the age of fourteen, she’s a genius and has developed a staggering understanding of the world around her. She excels at everything she tries, is a whiz with mathematics, but her best talents are on the World Wide Web. Through the use of tools made specifically for the blind such as braille keyboards and reading software, she can use the internet with more dexterity than most sighted people. She remembers all of the links and complex pathways of the net and, for lack of a better term, generates a map in her head of where she’s been and how to get there.
One day Caitlin receives a strange e-mail from a doctor in Japan regarding an experimental surgery for which she appears to be an ideal candidate. This surgery would implant a microprocessor onto Caitlin’s optic nerve that would interpret the visual signals it receives and pass them on to her brain. She would also wear a small wi-fi router/processor on her belt to receive and transmit data and firmware to and from Japan via the internet. Caitlin has nothing physically wrong with her eyes, it is the way the signals are moved to her brain that causes her blindness. After some deliberation Caitlin and her family decide to go to Japan to try the surgery. The procedure is performed with a minimum of complications and the time comes to turn everything on. Nothing.
Caitlin convinces the doctor to let her keep all of the equipment for a while to see if something may miraculously happen. One day when she’s walking home from the school dance she sees intermittent bright flashes. Pitch black then milliseconds of bright white. She sees lightning. After conferring with the doctor they decide to do a software upgrade. During this upgrade something strange and wonderful happens. Caitlin can see a series of bright lines that all interconnect and sometimes have bright globish things flying up and down the lines. She talks about this to the doctor about this as it only happens when her processor is in a particular mode. The doctor is at a loss and has made no progress on her vision so they just leave it as is. One day, in science class, Caitlin is looking at this wonder when she switches back to the other setting and…she can see! The doctor immediately flies to Waterloo to investigate her newfound vision (both kinds) and upon consideration, they learn that Caitlin can not only see the physical world now, but also the internet. The actual information on the Internet as it flows back and forth from node to node. But there’s something else, something just in the background. Caitlin, the doctor, and her father do some test on this mysterious occurrence and it turns out that it is intelligent. As Caitlin goes about her day to day routine, she begins to notice things, kind of like feedback loops in her software. One time she actually sees a picture of her face transmitted back to her. They run the intelligence tests again and find that the mysterious static has grown more intelligent almost as if its alive and sentient! The revelation that Caitlin comes to leaves her stunned at the possibilities that now exist.
Overall I found the book to be quite good but it does start off rather slowly. What I will say is that the detail and level of research Sawyer must have put into the technology that a blind person would use is rather impressive. Nothing seems out of place in Caitlin’s world, whether it’s the speech reading software or even the surgical implant she receives. He also delves into some pretty complex mathematics which I can’t really call real or imagined (mostly because I’m lazy and won’t look it up) but he does an excellent job of relating these complex theories to the reader. I found Caitlin to be quite endearing and she has a sufficiently dry wit that I could easily relate too. All told, I enjoyed the first book of the trilogy enough to continue on through the next two books, whenever they may be published.
This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of admin’s reviews, do check out his blog, Welcome to Stabbymart.
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