Quantum Night, by Robert J. Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer is the king of taking a cutting edge theory and taking it to new levels, even if these take him to areas that some sci-fi readers find discomforting as he did in Calculating God.

This book focuses on two interesting areas and he manages to link them well. The key character in the book, set ahead only a few years into 2020, is Jim Marchuk who works as an experimental psychologist. He also lives as a utilitarian and spends a lot of time in his classes teaching through thought experiments like those developed by Australian philosopher Peter Singer. Marchuk has also developed a foolproof method for identifying psychopaths and occasionally works as an expert witness in trials.

During one of these trials Marchuk is cross-examined and realizes that there is a half-year period in his life for which he has no memories. When he returns to the university where he works, he asks an old friend and former professor about the time. The professor encourages him to let sleeping dogs lie.

While trying to recover his past he runs into Kayla Huron, who he learns he had a romantic relationship with during the missing time. He also learns that he did something awful to her that caused her to end the relationship. It’s now 20 years later and she’s willing to communicate with him again. Kayla is now a quantum physicist and is working with some new theories in quantum mind in which various states of mind are caused by the superpositions of electrons in the brain. She’s also sure that a considerable number of humans are what have been called philosophical zombies, or people with no actual inner life. Her work intersects with his studies of psychopathic behavior.

As the book evolves the two theories begin to come together as Marchuk realizes just how horrible his behavior was and the original cause. It has also become a time of increasing conflict, apparently caused by world leaders who are psychopaths themselves. With his utilitarian mindset (one should work for the benefit of the greatest number of people) he develops a plan that could alter the conscious state of billions of people at a time. Who will change and how becomes a major part of the story. Will people who are now psychopathic become saintly? Will some people become psychopathic?

Sawyer tackles all this and also includes excellent action sequences, as well as his now traditional rooting for his native Canada and some ideas that may send you to other books. If you like a sci-fi book with some challenging concepts this is a great read.