Dark Matter is the high-concept and dizzying brainchild of award-winning author Blake Crouch. In this scifi thriller, a once prominent physicist-turned-professor finds himself lost in the multiverse, trying to find his way back to his original reality. Similar to the 90’s television show Sliders, Dark Matter gives a peak into strange and dangerous parallel realities, but with a finite number of chances to find the right one. Crown | Kindle Edition | July, 2016 | 354 pp
Jason Dessen is happy with his life. He had the chance to make it big with the physics projects he had been working on, but life took him in another direction. His girlfriend became pregnant, they married, and for the first year of his life, his son Charlie needed major medical attention. He lost his funding but quietly entered the world of academia and settled as a professor. His wife gave up her career as an artist to become a mother. We all make sacrifices. Jason’s son is now fifteen, they have a great life together, and family nights are his favorite. The book opens on such a night.
Jason decides to go meet his old colleague at the bar for just a few hours while Daniela makes dinner. His friend Ryan had just won the Pavia Prize, a prestigious honor in science and one that Jason could have won if life hadn’t derailed him. After an unsettling visit, reminding Jason of what could have been, he leaves but is kidnapped on the way home. The masked assailant seems familiar, but Jason can’t place it. He is taken to a strange location, forced to change clothes, and then drugged.
When he comes to, he has absolutely no idea what is going on. People are around him, fawning over him, congratulating him. They tell him that he’s been gone for months. They tell him that he’s the first one who made it back, although not the first one to go. They tell him that this was all his project, his idea. All Jason knows is that he was kidnapped and now he’s in some strange building, talking with people who act like they know him. He might have brain damage or it could be the drugs. So he escapes and runs home. That’s when it gets even weirder.
He finds his house but it’s not his house. He owns it, but everything is different on the inside. His wife and son aren’t there. He finally finds Daniela but she’s no longer his wife. In fact, she never had been. She’s a prominent Chicago artist holding elaborate exhibitions and she’s dating his old friend Ryan, the one who won the Pavia prize. But now, he learns, he didn’t win it – Jason won it years ago. Still friends, Jason confides in Daniela and Ryan. He tells them what’s going on which proves to be a fatal mistake. The scientists looking for him hire a hit man, and Daniela is murdered in front of Jason.
Jason is taken back to the scientific compound he escaped from and learns to fake compliance. He discovers that he had created a door to the multiverse within a box, and that he had entered that box months ago. He was the first one to return. What the other scientists don’t realize is that this isn’t the same Jason. That Jason is the one responsible for ruining this Jason’s life. This Jason’s an unintentional impostor. It doesn’t take them long to figure it out, and soon Jason is running for his life. Entering the box, he has to learn how to drive it and how to find the reality he came from, a one-in-a-zillion chance.
Sound confusing? It’s really not! Not when you read it. I’m not the talented storyteller Blake Crouch is and when he tells the story, it’s very easy to understand. I loved the book The Martian by Andy Weir, but there was an awful lot of science-speak in it. There is tech-talk in Dark Matter, but it’s not heavy and Crouch makes it reader friendly. In fact, you might feel like a physics pro after reading. I do.
Once Jason enters the box to look for his way home with a helpful ally, they enter strange new realities such as ones that looked post-apocalyptic, some that looked barren and devoid of human life, some that were terrifying, some that were awe inspiring. The concept is incredibly fun to think about. Every time there’s a choice or defining step to be made, another reality branches off. With this theory, it means there are an infinite number of realities, always expanding.
Now take that concept and apply it to the time he spends looking for his reality. That’s where things get really tricky. There are a whole bunch of other Jason Dessens also trying to make their way home – and only one correct reality with Daniela and Charlie.
Mind blown. Over and over again. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on the situation, Crouch throws in another loop and your mind is blown again. Over and over! There are no slow spots. Infinite realities mean infinite mind melts. Jason Dessen’s biggest threat isn’t the ever-expanding multiverse. It’s another odious Jason Dessen.
If you’ve ever wondered if your life might have been different if you had taken this or that path, there is another “you”, one that took said path, thinking the same thing (theoretically). You must read this book.