By Blake Crouch
I enjoyed Crouch’s first two books in the Wayward Pines trilogy, liked it so much, I bought Dark Matter and Abandon, which I will review later. I was not disappointed. Dark Matter is what Crouch does well, a mix of elements; thriller, science fiction, and love. It reads well, and fast. It’s a page turner, best consumed with popcorn and jujubees. I read it in two days. I could have finished it earlier, but real life interfered. The science and the conceit is not new, by any means, but it is a fun ride that takes the recycled idea and throws in a couple of twists.
The premise is basically Sliders, that 1990’s TV show where our hero is thrown into an alternate world, and needs to get back home. It was also done in Quantum Leap, among many others. Jason Dessen, a physics prof at a second (or third) tier college is in marital (and familial) bliss. He is a genius, who has given up a potentially brilliant career to marry his wife, Daniela, and have a son, Charlie. His life is mediocre, career-wise, but perfect, family-wise. One night, on the way home from a celebration, he is abducted at gun point by a man in a mask. He is drugged, and when he wakes up, he is in a world where everything he remembers is his life is wrong. He isn’t married to Daniela, and Charlie was never born.
OK, we know this is a love story right from page one. Life with his wife is all he ever wanted. The reader is pretty sure from the get go that this is a sci-fi story from some references to Jason’s brilliance and ideas in quantum physics. There is really no question whether he is in the twilight zone. The first third of the book reads extremely quickly, and sets up the premise and tension well. Soon we discover that he’s in an alternate reality where Jason didn’t marry Daniela, but pursued science instead.
Turns out, the version of Jason in this alternate world, Jason2, kidnapped our hero and replaced himself in Jason’s life. This way, Jason2 has his accomplishments and eats them, too.
The second third of the book is about him trying to get home. This is the Sliders/Quantum Leap story. He needs to get back home, and has to figure out how the mechanism works, a big black vault room and drugs that alter your brain chemistry so you don’t collapse quantum wave function of a Schrodinger’s Cat observation (which I don’t explain well. Look it up online). Suffice it to say that the science part is a bit hand-wavy, but based on a real Many-Worlds theory. There are infinite parallel worlds that are branches of all decisions everyone makes. This section bogged down a bit, maybe spending a little too much time in some alternate realities that didn’t really progress plot.
The last section was the most interesting because it was a little unexpected. Jason returns to his world (like that was ever a question, right?). But what I expected was that he’d confront Jason2 and win back his life. Happy Ending, right? The twist here wasn’t huge, but it was fun. If Jason goes through multiple worlds on his way back, making decisions to survive, then there are other versions of him that made slightly different decisions. And they might have made it back, too. Which is what happens. Turns out, it’s not just about thwarting Jason2, but all the other hundreds of competing Jasons who made it back and want their family back. Pretty fun