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Canadian author writes international science fiction

By in Culture

The first book in Robert J. Sawyer’s new trilogy is different than anything he’s ever written.

Wake deals with taking a scientific leap of imagination, watching as the World Wide Web gains consciousness. But that’s not where the difference lies; Sawyer’s books are always imaginative, fresh and engaging. The difference is in the characters.

When any author makes a change in their writing style, it can be scary for the fans. Luckily, Sawyer has made a seamless switch.

While many of his novels deal with international subjects, most of them deal mainly with Canadians. This novel follows characters from a wide variety of backgrounds: Canadian, American, Japanese and Chinese.

He also strays from his usual stock character of a middle-aged, male scientist. One of the most important characters is a young, teenage girl who also happens to be blind. And he does a great job relating the world from a teenage girl’s perspective, something I imagine would be difficult for a 49-year-old man to accomplish.
The change I liked the least, though, is that the main characters are not Canadian. Sawyer is a Canadian science-fiction writer and one of my favourite things about his stories is the unapologeticly Canadian characters.

The characters live and work in Canadian cities and never explain or apologize for their location. It’s refreshing to know the places written about and it makes a Canadian reader feel that much more a part of the story.

To be fair, the story is still partly based in Canada but the main character is an American who has moved to Canada and constantly makes annoying comments about Canadian culture.

For example, the main character writes this in one of her blog posts: “And the building is three stories tall. Actually, it’s three storeys tall, this being Canada and all. Hey, how do you find a Canadian in a crowded room? Start stepping on people’s feet and wait for someone to apologize to you.”

Although, perhaps I only find them annoying because I am Canadian; maybe to an American reader, the comments would be necessary or interesting. But Sawyer is Canadian! Is he qualified to make these seemingly outside observations? Are they simply for the benefit of American readers, to make the novel more appealing to them? It kind of smells like a sell-out to me.

At any rate, the book is fantastic. Sawyer always finds a way to draw readers in. He makes the sometimes complex science behind the plot understandable and fills the characters with personality and life.

Much of the story focuses on the Web, including websites, blog posts and emails. Sawyer does a good job describing the information within those formats without being tedious or seeming unrealistic.

The story moves between different locales and situations, beginning with a blind, teenage girl in Canada who is starting at a new school, then jumping to a disaster in China. Throw in a Chinese hacker, some ape scientists from California and the World Wide Web as a conscious entity and you have three distinct plot lines that seem as though they will never meet. Even three quarters of the way into the book, the connections are only starting to become clear.

One thing is certain; if the rest of the trilogy is the same calibre as Wake, it’s going to be a great series. But it’s going to be a long wait for the next installment, due out in 2010.

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