Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Book Review: 'Quantum Night' by Robert J. Sawyer

Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer is considered by critics and pubic alike as one of the premiere science fiction authors of our time. He is one of eight authors in history to win all three of the science-fiction field's highest honors for best novel of the year: the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. His fame has spread to Japan (winning Japan's Seiun Award for best foreign novel three times), China (Galaxy Award for most favorite foreign author as well as fourteen Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards. In 2013 Rob received a Lifetime Achievement Aurora Award, and was one of the initial inductees into The Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame - both honors bestowed by the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association. He has been named to the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the Canadian government and holds honorary doctorates from the University of Winnipeg and Laurentian University.

Rob plays straight with his audience before they embark on the journey into his very creatively strange adventures. In an Authors Note he explains, ‘The Canadian Light Source synchrotron, the University of Manitoba, and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights all really exist. However, except for certain public figures used satirically, all the characters in this novel are entirely the product of my imagination. They are not meant to bear any resemblance to actual people who hold or have held positions with these or any other institutions. The real public figures who feature in this novel include Canadian politicians Naheed Nenshi (the current mayor of Calgary) and Justin Trudeau (the current prime minister), as well as Russian president Vladimir Putin. Given this is a story in part about quantum physics, if they don’t like the future portrayed here, they can rest assured that in some other quantum reality they have different fates.’

The uncanny marriage of science and fantasy (or is fantasy just undiscovered science?) is one of the major factors in the success of Rob’s novels. He places his novel in the present time and hints at the mystery to come in the opening pages – ‘“Professor James Marchuk?” I swung my feet up on my reddish-brown desk and leaned back. “Speaking.” “My name is Juan Garcia. I’m part of the defense team for Devin Becker, one of the Savannah Prison guards.” I thought about saying, “Well, you’ve got your work cut out for you,” but instead simply prodded him to go on. “Yes?” “My firm would like to engage you as an expert witness in Mr. Becker’s trial. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty. We’re likely to lose on the facts—the security-camera video is damning as hell—but we can at least keep Becker from being executed if we get the jury to agree that he couldn’t help himself.” I frowned. “And you think he couldn’t because . . . ?” “Because he’s a psychopath. You said it in your blog entry on Leopold and Loeb: you can’t execute someone for being who they are.”

The story is so rich (and so pertinent to our time and our leadership!) that the synopsis the author provides is sufficient to capture the imagination of the reader:’ Experimental psychologist Jim Marchuk has developed a flawless technique for identifying the previously undetected psychopaths lurking everywhere in society. But while being cross-examined about his breakthrough in court, Jim is shocked to discover that he has lost his memories of six months of his life from twenty years previously—a dark time during which he himself committed heinous acts. Jim is reunited with Kayla Huron, his forgotten girlfriend from his lost period and now a quantum physicist who has made a stunning discovery about the nature of human consciousness. As a rising tide of violence and hate sweeps across the globe, the psychologist and the physicist combine forces in a race against time to see if they can do the impossible—change human nature—before the entire world descends into darkness.’

Strange and terrifying but also extraordinarily credible and well written. Robert J. Sawyer has earned his crown. Highly recommended – on many levels. Grady Harp, May 18
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.