Sawyer, Robert J. Quantum Night.

NY: Ace, 2016.

Sawyer is a problematic author. He’s written some first-rate, exciting, well-thought-out science fiction, but he has also produced some terribly clunky, sappy, almost unreadable stuff. This one, I’m happy to say, is one of his best. Sawyer is not in any way a trained scientist — he’s been trying to be a writer since high school and his other jobs seem mostly to have been in bookstores — but he understands the writer’s trick of studying a subject in depth until you sound like you know what you’re talking about.

The result is a strongly hard-science story involving the latest research in quantum physics, the application of those ideas to the anatomy of the brain, the nature of the conscious, and the origins of psychopathy.

The main character (though there are other POVs) is James Marchuk, professor of psychology at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, and psychological test-subject as a student twenty years earlier, whose life was irremediably changed by that experience in ways he doesn’t even comprehend at the beginning. Then there’s Prof. Menno Warkentin, now an emeritus (and blind), who ran the experiments, and who has regretted them ever since. And there’s Kayla Huron, with whom Jim had a fling in school during his “Dark Period” — the six months in 2001 of which he has no memory whatever.

It turns out homo sapiens comes in three psychological flavors in a 4:2:1 ratio: Q1s, who are “philosopher’s zombies,” just going along without really conscious thought, easily led, following the pack like a flock of birds or a school of fish. And Q2s, who are self-aware but completely narcissistic, lacking a conscience and always entirely capable of violence for their own ends — psychopaths, in other words. And, finally, Q3s, which includes Jim, Kayla, and Menno, who are “conscious with conscience.” And which state you are in can change physically, which is what makes the whole thing interesting.

The story is set in 2020 and the background describes a United States that has slipped over to the Dark Side, with a psychopathic president (and a governor of Texas likewise) who is a threat to the whole of North America. Gradually, those background events move into the foreground and Jim and his associates — whose relationships are much more complicated and stressful than I will go into here — find themselves holding the key to everything.

It’s a good yarn, with scientific speculation that seems reasonable and believable. Sawyer doesn’t have much good to say about Canada’s neighbor to the south — he never does — but it’s hard to fault him for that. (Especially this year.) If he can keep up this level of writing for awhile, I’ll be looking forward to his next effort.

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Published in: on 25 December 2016 at 7:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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