Not so distant future
Psychology is a very curious topic. Aside from the inherent redundancy of that statement, pondering our intrinsic value is a fundamental question of life. Think about that. While you are thinking about that, I’ll offer another question: What if what you think you know about yourself is false?
This is the kick to the junk that Robert J. Sawyer’s protagonist Jim Marchuk is faced with in Quantum Night.
Marchuk is an experimental psychologist working in the realm of psychopathy at the University of Manitoba. We are introduced to him as he is pulled into court to be an expert witness in a case covering a collection of extremely violent acts in an American prison. Marchuk is a defence witness who is helping to prove that the ringleader of these acts is a psychopath—and therefore not mentally healthy. But, while on the stand, Marchuk is introduced to the fact that he himself has had a psychopathic past that he does not remember.
This refreshing Canadian novel tells the reader things they may already know (to paraphrase Orwell), but also things they may not. For example: Canada’s strong history of cutting-edge work in psychopathy. The book itself alludes to both Calgary-born Dr. Bob Hare (the developer of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist used to assess cases of psychopathy) and Dr. Angela Book (author of Psychopathic Traits and the Perception of Victim Vulnerability and Associate Chair of the Department of Psychology at Brock University). These real-life doctors are some of the many reference points Sawyer uses to intertwine both science and fiction.
This polarizing novel contains themes of utilitarianism and eugenics. It hints that many of us are philosophical zombies without self-control, being manipulated without our knowledge.
Sawyer dabbles in a world where those with a functional conscience are few, and are threatened by a majority of psychopaths who control zombie-like mobs.
With that said, the flow of this book is natural. Themes are introduced and expressed easily. Even with some dense verbiage and references, the book explains itself well and does not ostracize the reader. This is extremely important due to the heady content Sawyer is trying to get across.
In a reality mirror, Quantum Night explores the fears that psychopathic world leaders may be poised to destroy humanity using the mass populations as pawns. I’ll leave that reflection there for you to ponder.
Quantum Night (2016)
Written by Robert J. Sawyer
Published by Ace
4/5 PCL-R scores