The best thing about Sleeper, Awake is undeniably the characters. They’re so human: flawed, yet lovable, genuinely good people. I felt that, through reading them, that I befriended them. Dr. Bob Rich handles the multiple points of view as skillfully as George R.R. Martin handles his epic cast in Game of Thrones, but where Martin is brutal, Dr. Rich is compassionate. I enjoyed this approach with much relief: let me tell you, books like this are gold for a sensitive reader. It was wonderful to read an eyes-wide-open, character-driven story that presents truths about our humanity and mortality in a gentle, yet involving way. I also liked seeing multiple views of the story through such diverse, interrelated characters. All the complexities of love, kinship, need and desire were sensitively yet succinctly explored, making the story gripping. These are characters I really felt for!
Characterization’s not the only thing I loved about this book, though! The setting is some 1500 years in the future, with a unique, vivid and believable culture nothing like our own, though sprung from it. This makes it wonderful and disturbing in turns. To guide you through it there’s sweet Flora who was put into cryogenic sleep in our time, and is completely bamboozled to find herself awakened over a thousand years later than she expected. It’s thrilling to discover it all alongside her. Imagine our world if the health of the population improved with every generation. Imagine a future with so much abundance that money is long forgotten and everyone has everything they need and want. Imagine a society where unconditional assistance and healthcare can be provided with a thought. It’s a vividly imagined reality where the environment is perfectly restored and delightfully pristine, where people like you and I are equipped with comfortable travel that doesn’t pollute, and there’s adventures for anyone brave enough to take them, not just for the rich. Combine that with characters so diverse and personable I wish I had them in my life, and I was totally there!
But… Would it disturb you to discover this future utopia is enabled by the neural connection every person has to a global computer, an artificial intelligence? It bothered me at first. What about that Jesus has been replaced by a disabled genius scientist whose inventions improved human welfare far beyond what any man (or god!) had done before him? It certainly bothered me to discover that competition for the right to reproduce had replaced competition for resources… until I watched my new friends’ lives unfold and saw how this system brought out genius and caring in prospective parents. It was an answer to getting people to willingly cherish their children, apply themselves to work they loved, and contribute to society. My suspicion that these unexpected, if believable caveats would devolve into dark themes ended up only revealing my distrust for other people and our popular storytellers. Sleeper, Awake gave me a pleasant surprise, remaining intelligent without ever taking the well-trod, paranoia-inducing path of technological evil. Dr. Bob’s take on benevolent technology was refreshing without being naive, a genre bend I’d love to see more of.
After a roller-coaster ride with my new friends in a new world, undergoing everyday (and often dangerous) adventures, I left the final pages of Sleeper, Awake feeling hope. If Dr. Rich can imagine a positive future, then surely we could create it. Here’s a humanity that not only survived catastrophes and climate change, but who enjoy a bright and thriving time without any sign of ending. Dr. Rich doesn’t write away human problems — his characters have unique weakness and strengths, after all — but he does write us as a species in balance, focusing less on struggle and more on simply living. I know I’d live that way if I could!
My biggest criticism? I wished it was longer. I wished it kept on going! Not that Sleeper, Awake is particularly short. I just liked it that much.
Sleeper, Awake is an intelligent, fascinating adventure containing a reassuring vision, which elegantly explores the kind of future we secretly wish for. It’ll make you fall in love and make your heart race without ever relying on war, righteousness or evil as plot excuses. Anyone who loves the world and dreams of making society a better place for whole humans will find plenty to like in these pages. And anyone who wants a gripping sci-fi adventure that stays positive and enlightened the whole way through will be delighted!
Stephanie Black is a Unicorn Wizard, author, artist, horsewoman, gardener, birdwatcher, healer, lover and mother. She believes life is miraculous and the future’s as bright as you believe.
She says being intelligent, opinionated and sensitive makes for a dangerous emotional life. And she really does see unicorns.