Book Review: Wake by Robert Sawyer

Wake by Robert J. Sawyer 4 out of 10 stars (4/10)

I’ll read most anything Sawyer writes because his ideas are fascinating and original, but I’m beginning to lose my enthusiasm after reading this.

Sawyer has brilliant, intriguing ideas, and he conveys them well – it’s the main reason I’ll read most anything he publishes. Unfortunately, each new book appears to be pandering to the masses: simple reading level, shallow characters with some gimmick to keep one’s interest, cultural references that are like ad placements… this story felt like filler to a bigger story, maybe detailed in its sequels. I devoured it quickly, but it’ll be forgotten quickly too.

Here’s a summary of the novel from Quill & Quire, which includes an accurate review I think:

Having recently moved with her family from Texas to Waterloo, Ontario, Caitlin is gradually settling into her new life when she is contacted by a Japanese professor with an irresistible offer: he has been working on a computer-based system that might restore her sight. The implant doesn’t allow Caitlin to see the physical world, but plunges her into a surreal universe that she quickly realizes is a visualization of the Internet. She is not, however, alone in this universe: something is coming to life within the Web, building not only awareness and intelligence, but sentience.

I know Sawyer can write brilliantly – many of his short stories (from Iterations and Identity Theft: And Other Stories) are as engaging as his novels, but they’re succinct and tight; and his website has wonderful essays. Maybe the novel-form gives him too much leeway for throwing in unnecessary cliches and cultural references as filler. One has to wonder if he’s paid for the endorsement-like tidbits he includes.

I have little interest in reading the sequels to Wake: WWW: Watch and Wonder (WWW, Book 3). Maybe I’ll pick them up if I see them in the Bargain Bin.

Note: This review has also been posted on amazon.ca.

Books I Read Recently

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This is a well-written biography of Bill Watterson, the author of the best comic strip ever, Calvin and Hobbes. The author writes about Watterson’s reclusiveness a lot, describing how few interviews are given. Martell interviews lots of friends and people who know Watterson, and provides an interesting portrait, although you don’t learn a lot if you’ve read all of the Calvin and Hobbes books; however, I do recommend this if you’re interested in the man behind the comic.

A Midnight Clear by William Wharton 9 out of 10 stars (9/10)
This is a semi-autobiographical story about an American squad on a mission around Christmas in 1944 – World War II. It’s a powerful tale about war and humanity – a classic. Highly recommended. The movie is worth watching, too. The author, William Wharton, writes touching, readable, poignant stories and non-fiction. We’ve posted a lot about William Wharton.

The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment by A. J. Jacobs 7 out of 10 stars (7/10)
This is fun non-fiction about a guy who does social experiments with himself as the main subject: impersonating a movie star; saying whatever is on your mind; pretending to be a woman… he doesn’t come across as narcissistic, although he makes fun about that. His self-deprecation and awareness of his reputation as one who does odd things in the name of journalism is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. I did get tired of his experiments towards the end, but he has enlightening observations about his experiences. A good read.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski 7 out of 10 stars (7/10)
This is a wonderful story about a boy, his family, and the dogs he grows up with. The boy is mute: he can’t talk, but he can hear and speak sign-language. Their family breeds dogs, dogs you wish you could own. The story has sections that are better than others – it seemed the author threw more variety in the tale to keep himself and the readers entertained – it seems deliberate. I found myself not caring about some of the story and then engaged in others. “Dog people” may enjoy this more than authors: there’s a lot about breeding, training, and dog behavior, which was fun to read. Not a great book, but good.

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins 9 out of 10 stars (9/10)
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Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama 7 out of 10 stars (7/10)
An autobiography of Barack Obama written before he become President of the United States, it describes how he was raised, worked hard, went to university after various jobs, then slowly became involved in politics – how his work experience and mentors influenced him. Obama is a wonderful writer and he makes his story interesting, although I grew bored when he went on about his extended family in Africa – too many damn names to remember.

King Leary by Paul Quarrington 6 out of 10 stars (6/10)
This amusing novel is about hockey, which may turn you off right there and I thought the same – but it won the CBC Canada Reads competition in 2008, which compelled me to try it. It’s about a former famous hockey player hired to advertise ginger ale. I laughed a lot at times, but I also found it dragged often too. It’s well-written and amusing, but I grew tired of the characters half way through.

Books I Read Recently

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Engrossing, well-written novel about a sheriff tracking down a killer who’s after someone that stumbled on some drug money in the middle of a desert. I wouldn’t want to see the well-reviewed movie if it portrays the violence in the book.

Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer 7 out of 10 stars (7/10)
A science-fiction novel that won the Hugo and Nebula Awards. As I’ve written before, Sawyer comes up with brilliant ideas, but his mainstream writing style is boring, plus he fills his books with too many popular cultural references; I got tired of coming across them. Still, I couldn’t put the damn thing down.

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle 4 out of 10 stars (4/10)
Another Canadian (Sawyer above is one), Oprah popularized this. I couldn’t get past the first 50 pages. Mumbo-jumbo garbage about living one’s potential in society, trying to acheive personal fulfillment. Someone told me to just read Chapter Four, but I haven’t; what I read turned me off completely.

Books I’ve Read Recently

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  • A Crack In The Edge Of The World by Simon Winchester 7 out of 10 stars (7/10)
    Interesting tale of the rise and fall (via an earthquake in 1906) of San Fransisco and its surrounding area. You’ll learn how the American Pacific coast was settled and how San Fransisco came to be. Interesting for history buffs, which I’m not.
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    King wrote this in the early 70s, which it feels like, too, if you’ve read his earlier works. Predictable yet intense ending, but it isn’t horror. It’s about a guy (Blaze) who kidnaps a baby and how he (i.e. Blaze) came to be who he is. Some memorable scenes, like the blueberry picking chapter, but nothing classic here.

Books I’ve Read Recently

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