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

No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy 8 out of 10 stars (8/10)
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.

A Review Of “End Of An Era” By Robert J. Sawyer

End Of An Era by Robert SawyerEnd Of An Era by Robert J. Sawyer
Rating: Rating: 8 out of 10 stars (8/10)

Dinosaurs are fantastical creatures that once existed. How cool is that?! Stories about dinosaurs are cool too, if told well. End Of An Era is a fun, quick read about scientists travelling to the Mesozoic, hoping to figure out why dinosaurs became extinct, when they discover that aliens had something to do with it. The story has elements of Robert Heinlein’s classic The Puppet Masters, along with interesting facts about dinosaurs, and a compelling story.

All of Sawyer’s books are interesting to read, and I’ve read most of them. My main complaint is his writing style: it’s simple; he seems to intentionally write with little imagery or style, using colloquialisms and cultural references too much. Yet, his ideas are fascinating, and he knows how to get his point across. I’ve read most of his books more than once; they are fun to read.

(Note: I reviewed Sawyer’s Calculating God previously.)

A Review Of “Calculating God” By Robert J. Sawyer

Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer
Rating: Rating: 8 out of 10 stars (8/10)

This is a science-fiction novel about aliens trying “to discover why God has behaved as he has and to determine his methods”. Due to cataclysmic events occurring simultaneously on different planets and the fact that life exists, the aliens think the universe was designed. When they arrive in downtown Toronto they ask to see a paleontologist to help them gather evidence of how life evolved on Earth, to further their theological “facts”. It’s a compelling start to the story, a skill the author excels at.

What I liked:

  • Thoughtful ideas and dialogue about religion, faith, and God. This isn’t a religious novel; it’s a science-fiction story about the concept of creatures of such intelligence and control that they can manipulate stars. The protagonist is an atheist, so he’s incredulous about the aliens’ beliefs, trying to understand how intelligent beings can believe in a God, a God that permits cancer to exist, among other tragedies.
  • Fast-paced, visual story. It’s easy to picture the setting and circumstances; most everything takes place in a museum with only few characters.
  • The ending. A lot of reviews I’ve read didn’t like the novel’s ending; and although it’s predictable, it brings closure. The book makes you question why life evolved: with the chance of it occuring being so complicated and remote, there had to be some design behind it; yet you don’t get the impression the author is pushing any view onto the reader – it’s up to you to decide how to interpret the three radically different views presented (atheism, theism, and strict fundamentalism).
  • Cool title.
  • Fun for readers familiar with Toronto, where the novel takes place.

What I didn’t like:

  • Pop-culture and product references. You could argue it gives a sense of time and place, but I can’t help think that the author’s getting paid for those endorsements, and that sours my appreciation of his work.
  • Clumsy writing style, but I suspect that’s part of its success: like Dan Brown’s over-rated novels, its style has mass-appeal.

Sawyer has been called Canada’s Michael Crichton; he writes fast-paced, easy to read novels that tend to grab your interest from the first page. I’ve read most of his works, and I’ll continue doing so; I like his ideas and they’re an interesting, quick read; they’re good novels for when you’re on the road.

Rating: 81/100.