Quantum Night

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Quantum Night
Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer Book Cover.jpg
First edition cover
AuthorRobert J. Sawyer
PublishedAce (March 1, 2016)
Media typePrint (Hardcover)

Quantum Night is a science-fiction thriller novel written by Canadian novelist Robert J. Sawyer and published in 2016. Set in the near future, the book touches on themes of quantum physics, psychology, current politics and ethics.


Jim Marchuk is an experimental psychologist at the University of Manitoba and a subscriber to utilitarianism. When a murder trial begins in Atlanta, the lawyers of the defendant ask Jim to testify on their behalf. They cite Marchuk's technique for detecting psychopaths, based on saccadic eye motion, which he claims outperforms the Hare checklist. Based on his objection to the death penalty, Jim agrees. While in the United States, he learns that the recently elected President Quentin Carroway has overturned Roe v. Wade and enacted several measures to reduce the rights of illegal immigrants. While delivering testimony in the court, Jim is shocked to discover he is missing six months of memory from his life twenty years ago.

Jim inquires about this with his colleague Menno Warkentin who taught psychology when Jim was still a student. Jim describes Menno as an elderly professor who was blinded in a car accident. They attribute Jim's memory loss to a stabbing at the hands of a stranger that Jim remembers from a New Year's Eve trip to visit his parents in Calgary. A physicist named Kayla Huron contacts Jim and informs him that her research is also related to psychopathy. As they agree to meet, Jim learns that Kayla is his former girlfriend from the lost period. Over dinner Kayla reveals her reason for ending the relationship twenty years ago. She states that Jim was abusive towards her, but adds that she believes he has changed.

Kayla introduces Jim to her collaborator Victoria Chen at the Canadian Light Source. They use the beam to perform a measurement on Jim's brain cells and find that they have three microtubules in a quantum superposition. This is revealed to be part of a taxonomy which they call Q1-Q2-Q3: 4/7 of all humans have one quantum microtubule, 2/7 have two and 1/7 have three, with these numbers only changing as a result of a coma or general anaesthetic. By observing behavioural traits of their test subjects, Kayla and Victoria hypothesize that Q2s are psychopaths, while Q1s are non-conscious humans who lack free will and become susceptible to mob mentality. Only Q3s are seen as having critical thinking ability and empathy at the same time. Jim and Kayla become romantically involved once again, but Victoria breaks up with her boyfriend after learning that he is a Q1.

Meanwhile, Jim begins to reconstruct his past and discovers that his memory of being stabbed is a confabulation. He learns that, along with spending that New Year's Eve in Manitoba, he participated in a Pentagon-funded study run by Menno Warkentin and engineering professor Dominic Adler. The study, called Project Lucidity, aimed to create an EEG-like helmet to give soldiers a non-verbal means of communication. Having discovered the Q1-Q2-Q3 taxonomy independently, Menno states that he and Dominic decided to go their separate ways and avoid publishing their results as they feared that the research would be used to justify discrimination. Although Menno is remorseful about the Lucidity helmet causing brain damage, he says that Dominic's non-disclosure agreement and his own shame from helping the military as a Mennonite prevented them from coming forward. As Jim continues therapy, he gains access to a memory from time that he spent as a Q2. He is shocked to learn that he killed Dominic Adler in cold blood. The memory also reveals that Jim blinded Menno Warkentin before being brought back to the Q3 state by an object shaped like a hockey puck in Menno's lab.

As political tensions rise, a series of violent riots breaks out all over Canada precipitated by a hockey protest and the Canadian government under Prime Minister Naheed Nenshi struggles to restore order. Using the riots as an excuse, Carroway orders an American invasion of Canada. Russian President Vladimir Putin also makes plans to invade Canada, bringing the US and Russia to the brink of war. Jim asks if there is a way to make Carroway and Putin transition from Q2 to Q3, thus averting the crisis. Kayla says that the CLS running at full power can manipulate cranial superposition on a global scale but refuses to help as she wants her daughter Ryan to remain a Q3. Before leaving her, Jim sees that Kayla has a scar indicative of surgery. This prompts Kayla to admit that she was a Q2 twenty years ago and is really studying psychopathy to atone for her own misdeeds.

Jim enlists the help of Victoria who wants to reboot human consciousness twice. Having lied about the diagnosis of Kayla's daughter, she states that this will make Ryan a Q3. Menno volunteers to sacrifice himself and keep the CLS running amid lethal doses of radiation. Before Kayla can stop them, the plan comes to fruition and the world enters a new age in which the majority of humans know the difference between right and wrong. As he is now a Q2, Jim decides to force himself on Victoria. However, Kayla sees him as a threat and converts him to a Q3 with Menno's hockey puck. Kayla and Victoria say that they wish to remain in the Q2 state. Jim decides not to interfere and contemplates what the future holds.

Major themes[edit]

Robert J. Sawyer keeps an updated list of all of his works and groups them among recurring themes. He self-identified Quantum Night as containing the following themes: the nature of consciousness, biology determining psychology, Canada, courtroom drama, parent-child relationships, psychotherapy/counseling/psychological testing, modern physics and the nature of reality.[1]

Development history[edit]

In an interview with SFFWorld, Sawyer described how he wrote the book. When asked if the characters or the story came first, Sawyer said, "Neither. I'm a thematically driven writer; I figure out what I want to say first and then devise the storyline and a cast of characters that will let me most effectively say it." The theme that drives Quantum Night is "the most pernicious lie humanity has ever told itself is that you can't change human nature." In the same interview Sawyer said, "I wanted to open people's eyes and have them look critically at social forces sweeping around them."[2]

Sawyer includes a list of fifty-one non-fiction books in the back of the novel which he consulted while writing the novel. Books, articles and authors referenced.

Consciousness and quantum mechanics:

Philosopher's zombies:

Complex behavior:

  • Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life by Charles Duhigg
  • Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer
  • The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity by Bruce Hood
  • Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist by Christof Koch
  • Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect by Matthew D. Lieberman
  • The Smart Swarm: How Understanding Flocks, Schools, And Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making and Getting Things Done by Peter Miller
  • Psychonomics: How Modern Science Aims to Conquer the Mind and How the Mind Prevails by Eric Robert Morse
  • Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind by Mark Pagel
  • Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread by Alex Pentland
  • Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing by Andrew Smart
  • The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
  • The Social Conquest of the World by Edward O. Wilson
  • Mirroring People: The Science of Empathy and How We Connect with Others by Marco Iacoboni
  • The Myth of Mirror Neurons by Gregory Hickock


Milgram experiment:

Stanford Prison Guard Experiment:

Human Evil:


Ethics and Free Will

Scientific basis for creation of literature and art:

  • Mimesis and the Human Animal: On the Biogenetic Foundations of Literary Representation by Robert Storey

Publication history[edit]

2015, US, Ace ISBN 9780425256831, 1 March 2016, Hardcover

Explanation of the novel's title[edit]

The title refers to "it's always darkest before the dawn." Sawyer wanted to write a book that addressed the dark side of human nature and the negative forces and outright evil in the 21st century world and he wanted the title to reflect that.[2]


Quantum Night has received positive reviews. Publishers Weekly called it a "fast-moving, mind-stretching exploration of the nature of personality and consciousness."[3] Winnipeg Free Press described the book "a breath of fresh air and a return to classic Sawyer: big ideas, relatable people and a Canadian perspective."[4]


  1. ^ "Science Fiction Writer Robert J. Sawyer: Themes". sfwriter.com. Retrieved 2016-04-10.
  2. ^ a b "Robert J Sawyer Interview". SFFWorld. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  3. ^ "Fiction Book Review: Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer. Ace, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-0-425-25683-1". PublishersWeekly.com. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  4. ^ "Psychopaths galore". www.winnipegfreepress.com. Retrieved 2016-04-11.

External links[edit]