Reviewed by Alex Binkley
Science fiction author Robert Sawyer has always presented complex issues in his novels in ways that leave the reader better informed in addition to entertained by the story.
His Wake, Watch and Wonder and Hominid trilogies and his standalone story Calculating God are excellent examples of his ability to present complex science and technology in an understandable way. His fans would likely add other of his many novels to this list.
His latest book, Quantum Night, tackles what makes up consciousness or as the book portrays it, why 60% of the population are little more than zombies without the absurd acting we see in horror movies. While Sawyer’s exploration of the mental state of humanity is fascinating, his attempt to create a political thriller subplot in the story falls flat.
Despite that, the book is still a good read. If you are a political junkie, Sawyer serves up a psychotic T-Rump-like U.S. President named Quinton Carroway, who along with his psychotic counterpart in Russia, Vladimir Putin, push the world to the edge of the Third World War.
Jim Marchuk, psychology professor at the University of Manitoba and his old girlfriend Kayla Huron have a plan to wake up the philosopher’s zombies or p-zeds as they’re called in the novel and halt the madness manifested by endless outbreaks of mindless mob violence and protests. Otherwise humanity is headed for the ditch.
Huron and her research partner Victoria Chen are part of an experiment in Saskatoon to develop a device called a synchroton that can shake up the electrons in our brains and turn the zombies into fully functioning humans.
Marchuk has developed a technique for detecting psychopaths and then teams up with Huron, whose project involves a quantum physics experiment using brain electrons to detect the psychopaths among us or Q2s as they’re dubbed. Q1s are the unquestioning ‘lights-on but nobody home’ types while Q3s or quicks as they’re known are fully conscious and have a conscience. But they’re also only 15% of the population compared upwards of 30% Q2s and the rest p-zeds. What’s particularly disturbing is that most psychopaths are smart enough to not be detected.
The psychopaths not all dangerous but you don’t want to anger them.
As the story unfolds, Marchuk learns he has a six-month blank spot in his memory from 20 years earlier during which he committed some terrible deeds when his memories of that period are of nearly dying in a knife attack.
Marchuk is nasty to Kayla and to prove his worth she puts him through her test for Q status and he comes out a three. He finally learns what happened to him and that strengthens his determination to do something to reverse human awareness before humanity's leaders drag it into a world war.
The novel is set primarily in Winnipeg and Saskatoon and has plenty of Canadian trivia for Canuck readers including an invasion by the American military and a post Stanley Cup riot.
Quantum Night is published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Canada.