Saturday, March 5, 2016

Quantum Night, a review

A first for this blog! I periodically mention the various books I've got on the go, but this is the first time I'll devote an entire post to one book.

Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer

Back in the day I only read science fiction, and whatever else the high school teachers forced into me.  I was a big fan of Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, and Niven, but my library includes lots of other writers. When I say the cover price for many of the books downstairs are less than $3 you'll know how long ago my reading tastes were formed.

Sadly, 3 of those 4 have passed. (I just checked.) Over the years I found that I don't read as much as I used to. There are lots of other things for me to do, and I don't know just how to say this, so I'll spit it out. Lots of what gets published now bores me. Too many of them are essentially paint by numbers novels. Predictable.

Lots of writers obsess about the first few paragraphs of a book, hoping to hook the reader. I never read them when I'm trying to decide to buy it or not. I'll open the book to some random page in the middle, and read that. Yeah, I get that I don't know who any of the characters are, or what's going on. I'm more interested in the flow, and the taste of the writing.

Eventually, if I buy, I get to those first paragraphs, but I don't put any weight on them. I wait a few chapters. I give the writer some time and space to see what the characters get up to. After a while the books sort themselves into 3 groups.

The first is that I'll realize I don't care. It doesn't matter how good the writer is. If I don't care what happens to the characters I'll stop reading and go onto whatever else next on my list. Sometimes I'm cranky or tired, and I'll give it a second chance. Notice I am emphatically NOT saying the books are bad! I'm saying they aren't doing it for me, and I'm fully aware you might might think it the best book ever written. That's fine.

The second is where I start asking myself, 'why am I reading this?' Maybe its a book club book and if I want to have something to say at the next meeting, I need to read it. Maybe it won a prize of some sort, or is recognized as having some special literary merit. Maybe I know a buddy that recommended it to me will be asking what I thought. I might want to see how the author did a particular thing. These are books that aren't quite turning my crank, but aren't making me put it down for good. Sometimes I'll chug on through. Sometimes I'll bog down.

The third are the ones where I don't ask myself anything, unless it's late and I ask myself exactly how awake do I need to be at work tomorrow. Unfortunately they don't come along too often.

But one just did. Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer. I bought it the evening of March 1, and started it, KNOWING I had to be on top of my game at work.  Just a few pages in, I put the iPad down, knowing I'd want to appreciate the first time. Most of Friday, and a bit of Saturday and here we are. Appreciating it. Knowing that I'll never read it again for the first time.

This is proof that hard science fiction doesn't need space ships. None in sight here. What is in sight is an interesting starting point, a what if that ties into the world, and then leads the reader on a fascinating trip. A head trip, in many ways.

I was hooked right from the beginning. Part of it is the prose, solid and well done, with some science-y stuff but not beating you over the head with it. Part of it is intelligent dialogue. Part of it is resonance with some ideas that have been rattling around in my head. The usual way I express it is, 'what if we had a test we could give a child or an early teen, that with near certainty could tell if that person would become an alcoholic or other drug addict if exposed?' Do that person's parents or friends, or society at large have any special obligation to keep that person from trying said drug?

Sawyer takes it an audacious step further, with a few twists and turns along the way. Only a couple of which I predicted, which is superb! I love it when a writer surprises me. Plus for Canadians there are a few interesting tidbits along the way. I chuckled at the political correspondent's name because not only did I recognize it, I've actually met him and own several of his books.

There's a reason Sawyer has won a mitt-full of awards, and he might well win more with this book. Fans have had a bit of a wait since his last book, but they have been rewarded. I got my copy from Apple's iBook, it's available on Kindle, and I'm just suspecting there is paper in bookstores, if you're old school.

Something I learned a little while ago is that book stores don't keep books around very long anymore. Maybe only a week or two and they're thinking about sending them back if they aren't selling. So if you're a paper person, interested in a good read, like intelligent science fiction, get your tail down to your local bookstore now!

1 comment:

  1. Passing this along, Keith. Luke's a big Sawyer fan and hasn't read his latest yet. Maybe I'll give it a try too! Thanks for the recommendation!


Looking forward to reading your comment!