Lightreads's Reviews > WWW: Wake

WWW by Robert J. Sawyer
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's review
Aug 02, 2010

did not like it
bookshelves: disability, fiction, science-fiction

I loathed this book. Its Hugo nomination makes me cringe. This morning I came out of my room with a happy Labrador bouncing around my feet and the sunshine pouring in, and my roommate said, “good morning!” and I said, “I hate this book.”

A congenitally blind teenager is fitted with a neural implant to restore her sight, but first it lets her see the internet, where something is coming alive.

There are a lot of things wrong with this book: cardboard writing, pacing issues, characterization of a teenaged girl so off-key it was painful, including Livejournal entries that were so tone deaf it was embarrassing. But that’s not the point here.

This book got off on the wrong foot with me before it even started. The acknowledgements note a deafblind man who touched the author’s life. Because, as we all know, the value of people with disabilities is measured by their ability to inspire able-bodied people to flights of limping philosophy about what it all means. Obviously.

Things did improve for a while. Sawyer clearly did a certain amount of research about practicalities – his blind protagonist uses Jaws and keyboard commands, has a USB Braille display, etc. It’s funny how your expectations become more demanding when someone puts out the minimum effort. If Sawyer had written some helpless, computer illiterate blind girl, I would have dropped the book, called him a couple uncomplimentary things, and forgotten about it within the week. But since he did do the bare minimum, all of the ways he failed become way more important. A nitpicky example: protagonist is IMing at one point. Her friend says “see you later” and protag thinks that she probably actually wrote “c u,” but she can’t tell the difference. Er, no. “See you” and “c u” are absolutely distinguishable auditorially – I’m listening to the difference right now, and it’s huge. That sort of fail where the book has a surface layer of proper technology, but absolutely no experiential depth to it.

And then we really swung into things. Let me summarize:

Book: *projects piles of able-bodied bullshit onto blind protagonist, who obviously wants to be cured because that’s what disabled people want, and who thinks about everything she’s missing all the time even though she’s been blind since birth and vision is frankly irrelevant to her sensory experiences at this point*

Me: *sigh*

Book: *all she really wants is to know what “beautiful” means*

Me: I’m blind and I know what beautiful means and I have been moved by beauty fuck you.

Book: *extended passages of awful writing from the point of view of an emerging intelligence*

Me: *rubs temples* *perseveres*

Book: *protag has only one disabled figure to relate to, and absolutely no connection to blind culture or history. Because Helen Keller is who idiot able-bodied authors can be bothered to Google.*

Me: *pours a drink*

Book: *focuses on language in that obnoxious wink wink way able-bodied people do when they think they’re being “sensitive” and they’re actually just being ablest assholes. E.g. “She wasn’t blind, so to speak, to the implications of what she was reading.*

Me: *bangs head gently into wall for a while*

Book: *random incident of sexual assault so that the protag can tell teenaged boy that she doesn’t have to see to be able to see right through him. The point eventually emerges that the boy has ruined his chances of scoring with the protag, not that, oh wait, that was sexual assault.*

Me: *weeps quietly*

Book: *Has a character explain how autism is nothing to be ashamed of, even though they have kept it a secret in this family and never talk about it and she can’t even bring herself to say the word.*

Me: *numb acceptance*

Book: *a doctor explains to protag that she’s lucky to have been blind because her gifts with math could have come with inherited autism, but hey maybe they did and her blindness . . . cured her? Because autism is about not making eye contact seriously I don’t even fucking know anymore. The phrase “dodged a bullet” was used. Because that’s not an ablest metaphor for disability.*

Me: *emits wounded vowel sounds, emails a blind autistic acquaintance and says “fuck!” a lot*

Book: *cutesy anecdote about how blind girl didn’t know white people aren’t actually “white.”*

Me: Yes she did. Being a sentient human being over the age of eight who can fucking read. She also knew there were green apples as well as red, having gone to fucking preschool.

I could go on. More than I already have, I mean.


Don’t lie, you missed me, really.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
August 1, 2010 – Finished Reading
August 2, 2010 – Shelved
August 5, 2010 – Shelved as: disability
August 5, 2010 – Shelved as: fiction
August 5, 2010 – Shelved as: science-fiction

Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

I missed you! I loathe Sawyer's books, and can't tell why he keeps getting nominated/winning awards. I presume he hands out coke and free bjs at WorldCon.

message 2: by Christy (new) - added it

Christy Wow. I have this on my to-read list because of its Hugo nomination, but this just sounds terrible.

I was going to say that I'm likely to avoid it after this review, but who am I kidding? I'll read it just to see how bad it is.

Lightreads Ceridwen, I would actually rather believe he does "party tricks" for votes than that there are that many people who actually like this sort of thing. *shudders*

Lightreads Christy, there might be some sort of redeeming value in the last ten percent or so, when the plot shows up. Or in the attention paid to the neurology of vision -- someone who had only tactile understandings of a line wouldn't actually recognize it, visually. But other than that? *twitches*

message 5: by Brownbetty (new)

Brownbetty On the one hand: ouch.

On the other, your review made me cackle with glee.

message 6: by Michael (new)

Michael Yes, we did miss you!

message 7: by Ellen (new)

Ellen The book does indeed sound horrible. And, I thought those born born blind who are restored to sight had to a) learn how to see - it's not instinctive, and b) often find it disruptive and not a welcome addition to the rich world they've created already.

Lightreads Ellen -- yeah, sight restoration is an interesting neurological problem. The book notes it in a few interesting ways, like how she didn't recognize what a line was as a visual experience, having only tactile knowledge of it. Then it handwaves it all for convenience.

Frustrating, because there's actually some interesting tech developments to brainhack the lack of neurological paths to cope with sensory input. See the brainport, which encodes visual data into impulses sent to a tiny circuit board placed under the tongue. It rewires sensory processing over time. I could not make that up if I tried.

message 9: by Ladymidnight (new)

Ladymidnight I love your reviews!

message 10: by Kaia (new)

Kaia I was suspecting while I was reading that the father was autistic, but I'm really glad I didn't read far enough to get to the part where it was confirmed, since the book already offended me on so many levels as an autistic person.

Maciej Aaand lets not mention that level of scientific writin in this, oh, science-fiction book, is beyond horrible...

message 12: by Yaaresse (new) - added it

Yaaresse I read about 40 pages and started having the same reactions you outline here, almost in the same order.

Jnleduc Sorry, can't say I missed you, don't know who you are but I found your review perfectly encapsulating of how I felt. The only reason I kept reading was because of the hard science facts. I don't know why it has achieved such accolades.

Jnleduc Since I can't edit my comment, I might also add I found it a letdown when two parallel plots were introduced but never fully was a let I missing something?

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