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Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Index


A novel by Robert J. Sawyer (2016, ACE Science Fiction)

After discovering that he’s lost six months worth of memories, a university professor finds a way to distinguish between psychopaths, thinkers and mindless people, just as the world seems to be falling apart.



Read February 6th to 11th, 2018 in ebook  
    This is a zombie book, but it takes a while to get to the zombie part. The journey was interesting, and although the science was very hard-core, it was repeated often enough that it made me think that the concept was plausible, such that it could be applied to real life. It was fun looking at the people around me and categorizing them. Of course, it falls apart with too much conventional thought, but that doesn’t matter in terms of story, because it makes sense within that context. I wasn’t fond of all the pop culture references, though, and I thought the riots needed more of an explanation, because experience shows that things will die down after a short while -I figured it must be the excessive use of the synchrotron that caused it.

Spoiler review:

The author comes up with a disturbing premise, that there are more psychopaths in the world than we believe, or that we’d like to know about. In the book, they find three ways to distinguish the three proposed segments of the population, and each one shows the same kind of disturbing trend.

When Jim testifies for the defense of a prison guard who tortured inmates, he shows both his Canadian nature (against the death penalty) and his method for identifying psychopaths, which has to do with eye moment. I found it to be a bit of a stretch, but got into it as the book moved along.

Jim is broadsided, though, when the prosecution brings up his grandfather’s role in the Holocaust under Hitler, something apparently he’d known, but has no memory of. He traces his life back to that year and finds that he’s missing six months of memories. He reconnects with an old girlfriend he doesn’t remember dating (is that a good thing or a bad thing, considering how passionate they were, but how badly it ended?), who is also working on psychopath identification.

Between Jim and Kayla, they come up with a theory that humans can be divided into three classes based on the quantum signature in their brain, something Kayla and her boss Victoria have discovered. The Q1 people are essentially mindless zombies, followers in every sense, and form the largest segment of the population. Q2 are the psychopaths, who do a lot of thinking, but have no conscience, and who form another huge portion of the population. Finally, Q3 are people who also do a lot of thinking, but do have a conscience, and who form the minority of people on the planet.

Unfortunately, when he starts classifying people, they go from three dimensional characters to one dimensional characters. Suddenly switching between states makes the characters become, for example, very psychopathic. When the author describes a psychopath as an aggressive business leader, it can be believable, as he has to do lots of things that might be unpalatable to get the business to succeed. But that doesn’t mean he can’t have compassion, which is what I think is missing from two of the states. Kayla’s brother remembers having no conscience, and hates that. If Kayla was a psychopath before her surgery, when she was dating Jim, why was she so bothered by the way he treated her? Wouldn’t she do the same?

I didn’t think all the testing of various people was necessary, but it was funny to see him getting Putin and the American president analyzed with video footage.

The author manages to get in a lot of pop culture references, and most of this is in the reference frame of the university life, and giving everyday examples of the three types of behavior. It got tiring, especially all of the purely Canadian references. On the other hand, it was also fun identifying so many of them and knowing that they are Canadian.

Probably the most engrossing part of the book was the unrest in the United States, as seen only from news reports and from the main character’s point of view. With legislation that essentially, but not explicitly, guarantees freedoms only to legitimate US residents, all of a sudden illegal immigrants become massive targets, and even local police do nothing to stop it. This is presented as a group mentality, added to the psychopathic leaders who instigated it. And it’s very scary that it is believable.

When the Winnipeg Jets lose the Stanley Cup finals, the city erupts in rioting, a fairly common event, sadly. Only the rioting doesn’t stop, escalating instead, and spreading to all the other major Canadian cities, and over into Europe and the US as well. The US president uses this as an excuse to invade Canada, essentially annexing it. Adding into the equation is the same-sex marriage, as well as the election of the first Muslim Prime Minister, which the President eventually denounces. As expected, the Russians step in to defend Canada, who is on their northern borders, and all out war threatens to erupt.

I think Jim’s memory loss was a little too complicated. He went from a normal, thinking, grad student, passed out after being part of a study (the third method to detect psychopaths), and turned into a psychopath, but not because of the experiment or anything else that was related -it was because Menno (the study leader and Jim’s mentor) tried to correct the damage with experimental surgery that went way wrong. It doesn’t seem necessary to do this, and it was confusing, because he went from deranged psychopath (due to brain damage) to normal psychopath (after being knocked out again).

After watching the world literally falling apart, Jim comes up with a solution. It’s unfortunate that the author explains it all before executing it, and that it goes off exactly as planned. Normally it’s better to either hide it from the audience so there’s some sense of suspense, or have it all go wrong. In this case, they take a now brain-dead Menno (volunteered because of his past actions, not only with Jim, but also Kayla’s brother), and jump him up two quantum levels. Kayla and Victoria had noticed that when testing with the synchrotron there was a common reading in everyone, and they surmised that it was due to the world’s population. By using the high power of the synchrotron, by moving somebody up a level, they can shift the entire population. It’s a cool idea, as it brings the unthinking masses into the thinking category -with a conscience. This includes Putin and the US President, which solves the world’s immediate problems.

Kayla goes back to being a psychopath, and Jim’s personality changes drastically as he, too, joins that group, until Kayla knocks him out with the mental stimulator and sends him up another level again. The personality change was harder to accept, as it’s so sudden. It works for the story, but I think humans are a lot more flexible than that. The sudden removal of a conscience would probably trigger the sudden hidden desires in many people, but being a careful thinker it seemed too radical for Jim. His conscience wasn’t the only thing that was guiding his personality. However, given what the author wanted to do, it’s consistent with the world that was built around the concept, including the riots (and when Jim’s sister suddenly joined the fray).

Finally, would knowing that somebody is a certain personality type change the way we view them as our spouses, children, friends? The story hints that the unthinking masses would become second-class people, and in our world, that’s probably true. Now that so many people have moved to the highest category, I wonder how the world will change…


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