BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Paul Munro is a communications specialist who is sent off to a distant moon to try and discover why the base is having issues with communications between it and Earth. While there, he sees humanity for what it has really become.
PROS: Author John Dickinson has some ingredients to a good novel here: a strong theme of changes in how society functions runs through the novel as Munro looks back on Earth and adapts to his new home, coupled with some hard science fiction that helps give the novel some framework in which to work.
CONS: WE is undermined by sloppy writing, poor, wooden characters and a plot that ultimately isn’t satisfying.
BOTTOM LINE A young adult novel with an interesting premise, but one that is undermined by its execution.
John Dickinson’s story WE is a young adult novel that sees its main character, Paul Munro into the depths of space as a communications specialist for a remote scientific outpost far from Earth. At the start, Munro has been severed from a dominant global communications network, the World Ear (WE): something akin to the popular social networking site Facebook, implanted into a person’s head, allowing communications between people at vast speeds, with the ability to gather information as fast as can be thought up. Due to the conditions of the moon where he has been sent, he’s unable to utilize the World Ear, and is left cut off from the rest of human society, with three others also stationed on the moon. The eight year journey out to the base took its toll on Munro, and his fellow scientists who arrived beforehand, wasting away his body, and essentially banishing him from Earth and the World Ear. The transition leaves him bitter and paranoid as he adapts to life on the base, and while separated from Earth, comes to realize the true nature of the World Ear, and what has happened to the Human race.
The central message within the story revolves around technology and its impact in human society. As Munro leaves Earth unexpectedly, he is completely severed from everything that he has known, and has a difficult time adapting to a much slower form of communications: the spoken word. While separated, he’s surrounded by several other team members who have been disconnected for a longer period of time, and who have far different views on how they see the World Ear – it’s a much more harmful and dangerous tool for humanity to use on a regular basis. This sort of storyline is nothing new in Science Fiction, and Dickinson does a good job at articulating exactly how it functions, and just how people come to depend upon it.
The book is a noble attempt to create a hard-science fiction novel for the young adult market, and Dickinson weaves in quite a bit of hard science to the story, from creating a fairly alien and hostile environment to the travel times of signals. This sort of story is a good one, I think, for a generation that largely seems uninterested in reading and learning some of these basics, and hopefully, some young reader will be inspired to look beyond the story for more information on the world around us.
That being said, the book is undermined by an incredibly weak story with fairly poor writing and even poorer characters. It’s unfortunate, with some of the good things going for the book. While reading this novel, I learned about halfway through that it was marketed to the Young Adult demographic, which helps to excuse some aspects of the book, but not very many. Indeed, there is a large and growing market for young adult books, with some incredibly well written, thought out and conceptualized stories for young adults, demonstrating that these books can stand toe to toe with their counterparts destined for older readers. The writing in WE is weak and at points, frustrating to read. Amongst one of the most important lessons that can be learned for writing is for an author to show what is happening, not telling the reader what is going on, something that Dickinson never applies in this story, with long passages telling the reader what is going on. While this might be the case because the book is classified as Young Adult, it is not an excusable error for any level of reading.
From the beginning, I had some issues with the story. The protagonist, Paul Munro, is abruptly taken from Earth, separated from the World Ear and sent out to this outpost, an eight year trip that cripples him, but at no point did I really believe that Munro was either the best candidate for the job, or adequately prepared for it. He never seemed prepared or ready – even willing – for this sort of position, and I would have imagined that anyone being sent out on a fairly important mission, as this seems to have been, would be properly prepared for such a thing – Munro, a communications specialist, cannot even talk, having either forgotten or never learned, yet picks up the ability and the English language quickly enough to interact with the rest of his base. Once on the base and able to move around, I still could not entirely believe that Munro was suited for the job – he drops into paranoia rather quickly, and has numerous issues with his fellow teammates. Furthermore, he is wholly unprepared for the job, which makes little sense to me: wouldn’t someone being sent off for a mission be prepared, trained and vetted for years prior to an important mission? None of those things happen, and our protagonist is essentially bundled up and shipped off without warning. For me, that killed the believability of the story, and Munro never becomes a relatable, or likeable character, and I found myself wishing that I’d picked up something else to read.
Other issues are present with the story. While the technology and its impact on human culture storyline is more prevalent in the story, it is not a consistent one, and is dropped in favor of another plot involving the station’s mission: first contact. While neither plot is bad in and of itself, the execution of the story leaves a lot to be desired, as neither one is given the proper amount of focus or attention at any part of the story. In an ideal world, the two stories would be better intertwined, with one plot working to fulfill the other one, imparting the reader with some sort of deeper message or revelation that they could then apply to their outlook on the world.
Unfortunately, WE is an unremarkable story that, while it has some good themes and ideas within the story, ultimately fails due to a poor story, characters and writing.