Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer
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.
Excerpt: (Chapter 1)
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. Oh, maybe not as much as I loved bananas, or binge-watching old episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm or Arrested Development, or photographing globular clusters with my telescope, but as far as things that people would actually pay me to do are concerned, it was right up there.
Granted, teaching first-year classes could be overwhelming: vast halls filled with stagnant air and row after row of angst-soaked teenagers. Although my own freshman year had been two decades ago, I vividly remembered signing up to take introductory psych in hopes of making sense of the bewildering mélange of anxiety and longing that swirled then — and pretty much now, too — within me. Cogito ergo sum? More like sollicito ergo sum — I fret, therefore I am.
But on this gray morning, I was teaching The Neuroscience of Morality, a third-year class with fewer students than February had days — and that allowed for not just lecturing but dialog.
Last session, we’d had a spirited discussion about Watson and Skinner, focusing on their notion that humans were nothing more than stimulus-response machines whose black-box brains simply spit out predictable reactions to inputs. But today, instead of continuing to demolish behaviorism, I felt compelled to take a dark detour, using the ceiling-mounted projector to show the Savannah Prison photos WikiLeaks had made public over the weekend.
Some were individual frames from security-camera video, the guards caught unawares from on high. Although what those depicted was brutal, they weren’t the most disturbing images. No, the really disquieting ones — the ones that knotted your stomach, that made you avert your eyes, that you just couldn’t fucking believe — were the posed photos: the picture of the officer with her boot on a prisoner’s back while she gave a jaunty thumbs-up to whatever asshole was holding the iPhone; the still of the two uniformed men tossing a naked, emaciated prisoner so hard against the ceiling that his skull, as x-rays would later show, had fractured in three places; the snapshot of the mustachioed sergeant straddling a downed man while defecating on his chest, one hand clamped over the inmate’s mouth, the other flashing a peace sign, the image then having been run through Instagram to make it look like an old-fashioned Polaroid, white frame and all.
My stomach roiled as I stepped through the slides, one atrocity giving way to the next. It was now sixteen years after Abu Ghraib, for God’s sake, and a half century since Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison experiment. Not only were guards supposed to be trained about situational pressures and how to avoid succumbing to them, but two of those shown in the photos were studying to be wardens. They knew about Zimbardo; they were aware of Stanley Milgram’s shock-machine obedience-to-authority experiments; they’d read summaries of the Taguba Report on the Abu Ghraib atrocities.
And yet, despite being specifically taught to recognize and avoid the pitfalls — a word that at first seemed innocuous but, if one reflected upon it, suggested tumbling into the abyss, following Lucifer into the very fires of hell — each of these men and women had dehumanized the perceived enemy, and, in the process, had lost their own humanity.
“All right,” I said to the shocked faces of my students. “What can we take from all this? Anyone?”
The first hand that went up belonged to Ashton, who still had acne and hadn’t yet learned that it was permissible to trim a beard. I pointed at him. “Yes?”
He spread his arms as if the truth were self-evident. “Simple,” he said, and he flicked his head toward the screen behind me, which I’d left on the last slide, the one showing a gangly guard named Devin Becker killing a naked prisoner by holding his head under water in a jail-cell sink. “You can’t change human nature.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Robert J. Sawyer — called “the dean of Canadian science fiction” by The Ottawa Citizen and “just about the best science-fiction writer out there these days” by The Denver Rocky Mountain News — is one of only eight writers in history (and the only Canadian) to win all three of the science-fiction field’s top honors for best novel of the year:
- the World Science Fiction Society’s Hugo Award, which he won in 2003 for his novel Hominids;
- the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Nebula Award, which he won in 1996 for his novel The Terminal Experiment;
- and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, which he won in 2006 for his novel Mindscan.
According to the US trade journal Locus, Rob is the #1 all-time worldwide leader in number of award wins as a science fiction or fantasy novelist. Recent honors include the first-ever Humanism in the Arts Award from Humanist Canada, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal from the Governor General of Canada, the Hal Clement Award for Best Young Adult Novel of the Year (for Watch), and a Lifetime Achievement Aurora Award from the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association — the first such award given to an author in thirty years, and only the fourth such ever bestowed.
The 2009-2010 ABC TV series FlashForward was based on his novel of the same name, and Rob was a scriptwriter for that series.
Maclean’s: Canada’s Weekly Newsmagazine says, “By any reckoning, Sawyer is among the most successful Canadian authors ever,” and The New York Times calls him “a writer of boundless confidence and bold scientific extrapolation.” The Canadian publishing trade journal Quill & Quire named Rob one of “the thirty most influential, innovative, and just plain powerful people in Canadian publishing” (the only other authors making the list were Margaret Atwood and Douglas Coupland).
Rob’s novels are top-ten national mainstream bestsellers in Canada, appearing on the Globe and Mail and Maclean’sbestsellers’ lists, and they’ve hit #1 on the science-fiction bestsellers’ lists published by Locus, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, and Audible.com. His twenty-three novels include Red Planet Blues, Triggers, Calculating God, and the “WWW” trilogy of Wake, Watch, and Wonder, each volume of which separately won the Aurora Award — Canada’s top honor in science fiction — for Best Novel of the Year.
Rob — who holds honorary doctorates from the University of Winnipeg and Laurentian University — has taught writing at the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, Humber College, and The Banff Centre. He has been Writer-in-Residence at the Richmond Hill (Ontario) Public Library, the Kitchener (Ontario) Public Library, the Toronto Public Library’s Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy, Berton House in Dawson City, the Canadian Light Sourcesynchrotron, and the Odyssey Workshop.
Rob has given talks at hundreds of venues including the Library of Congress and the National Library of Canada, and beenkeynote speaker at dozens of events in places as diverse as Los Angeles, Boston, Tokyo, Beijing, and Barcelona. He was born in Ottawa in 1960, and now lives just west of Toronto.