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I Belong

Review: Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer

Title: Quantum Night

Author: Robert J. Sawyer

GenreScience Fiction

Series: N/A

Publication Date: March 1, 2016

Format: Paperback, 368 Pages

ISBN-10: 0425256839 (Ace/Penguin)

ISBN-13: 978-0425256831 (Ace/Penguin)

Reviewed by: Stephanie


With such compelling and provocative novels as Red Planet Blues, FlashForward and The WWW Trilogy, Robert J. Sawyer has proven himself to be “a writer of boundless confidence and bold scientific extrapolation” (New York Times). Now, the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author explores the thin line between good and evil that every human being is capable of crossing…

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.

Quick & Dirty: Intriguing premise, but an extremely flawed main character made this one a hard book to get through.

Opening Sentence: Several of my colleagues in the University of Manitoba’s psychology department considered teaching to be a nuisance — “the ineluctable evil,” as Menno Warkentin used to call it, resenting the time it took away from his research — but I loved it.

Excerpt: Yes

The Review:

Jim Marchuck is a psychologist who has found a technique to help identify psychopaths. While testifying for the defense in a criminal trial, Jim comes to realize that he is missing memories from six months of his life. Obviously, troubled, he embarks on a journey to find out what happened to him in those six months. While doing so, he runs into an old girlfriend, Kayla, who is now a quantum physicist. Her work has led to the discovery that the large majority of people are philosophical zombies–people who are conscious but have no conscience. Half of that majority are psychopaths, and only 1 billion people in all the world operate with a conscience. As political turmoil escalates throughout the world, this knowledge will become paramount to figuring out a way for the world to be at peace.

When I read the summary for this one, I thought the premise sounded interesting. I was a little wary of the average user rating listed on Goodreads, but I thought maybe I would really like it. Well, that definitely didn’t turn out to be the case. While it did keep me turning pages to see what would happen next, that’s really the only positive thing I can say about it.

First off, the main character Is not likeable at all. He follows the utilitarian philosophy, which at its most basic, boils down to “what will lead to the most happiness for the most people,” i.e., the needs of the many versus the needs of the few. While that seems perfectly fine, seeing it put religiously into practice turns out to be rather distasteful, at least in the ways in which Jim goes about doing it (don’t want to give away any spoilers here). Add to that the fact that the first person narration feels very clunky, and you have a main character who is very hard to connect to.  The other characters feel very formulaic, and I really couldn’t bring myself to care about any of them.

In addition to the poor characters, there is an awful lot of info dumping going on in the book. I understand that the material needs to be explained, but it’s not done in a way that really draws you in. I actually felt like I was being talked down to most of the time. It felt like, during the info dumping sections, Sawyer was saying, “I’m not going to dumb this down at all, so if you can’t understand it, too bad for you.” There was just an overarching tone of arrogance throughout much of the book. Throw in multiple pop culture references, and you get a narrative that becomes very distracting rather than cohesive.

Finally, there is an awful lot of talk about politics in the book, and it starts to feel very preachy. I’m not really going to elaborate beyond that because politics is a touchy subject for most. I just wanted to mention it because not everyone wants to read about politics.

All in all, I was largely disappointed by this book, despite the fact that it made me want to keep reading it to find out what was going to happen. The characters’ actions were very unbelievable, even from a science fiction perspective, and they weren’t likeable to boot, so there really wasn’t anything connecting me to the story. This was my first book by Sawyer, and I have to say, I’m not inclined to read anything else.

Notable Scene:

“Dave?” I said.

He looked at me without the slightest hint of recognition, which disappointed me. I liked to think I’d aged better than he had. “Yes?”

“It’s me,” I said. “Jim. Jim Marchuk. You know, from U of M.”

The eyes went wide, and color came to his lined face. “Fuck,” he said softly.

“I know it’s been a long time, but–“

“Get out.” His voice had taken on an edge. “Get the fuck out.”

“Dave, I–“

“Don’t you fucking ‘Dave’ me. Jesus Christ. Jesus Fucking Christ.”

I tried to keep my tone friendly. “I just want to ask you a few questions.”

“About what? About how you almost ruined my whole life? What the hell are you doing here? I’m going to piss on your fucking grave, asshole–and you can’t be in it soon enough.”

“Dave, honestly–“

A vertical vein was standing out in the middle of his forehead.

“‘Honestly,'” he sneered. “‘Honestly’? You don’t know the meaning of the word.”

“Dave, I don’t know what you think I did, but–“

“But nothing,” he said. His fists were trembling at his sides. He seemed to be aware of the fact that he was losing it, because he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. And then he spoke, low, measured: “This is private property. I’m asking you–I’m telling you–to leave. Right now.”


“Right now, or I call the goddamn police. Understand?” He pointed to the glass door, his arm shaking as he did so.

I looked at him a moment longer, then shrugged a little. I was worried about what he might do if I turned my back on him, so I backed out, wondering exactly what the hell I had done to him all those years ago.


FTC Advisory: Ace/Penguin provided me with a copy of Quantum Night. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.

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