01/12/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Gollancz. 360 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-09407-9.
check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk
Robert Sawyer's latest novel, 'Wake', core story is that of blind teen-ager Caitlin Decter being offered an implant that will give vision in one eye by Masayuki Kuroda from Japan, seeing her as a good choice for the experiment. It takes a while in adjusting the software and her head to interpret the signals but initially it gives a vision of the signals off the Internet before she sees the real world. Sawyer's take on what it is to be blind and using other senses to compensate is a joy to behold. The best observation is that those born blind given vision can't actually read English because all they are familiar with is Braille. Saying that, should such a technology be created, I hope unlike Sawyer's character, it doesn't require a young blind mathematical computer genius to be the recipient.
What does confuse the story somewhat and isn't used are sub-plots about China concealing blocking the Internet while it deals with a fatally infected population in their territory and a chimpanzee sign-talking to an orang-utan and getting geared up to doing some serious portraiture. No doubt there is some metaphor in there but if you were expecting them to be resolved within the story or Caitlin's involvement then this isn't a typical part of the plot.
Sawyer does have an arresting style of writing that makes you read until the end and his research shows throughout so it's a great learning curve experience. Whether the sub-plots are there to mirror how real life plays out will have to be left to you to decide. For those who aren't familiar with Sawyer's work but seeing his name in the opening credits of 'Flashforward' would probably find this an interesting introduction to his work but I hope they use it as a stepping stone to his other books.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA