Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Science fiction that matters

Dark Matter

By Blake Crouch


Publisher: Crown

Pub. Date: July 26, 2016

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

You can be forgiven if you think the available descriptions of Dark Matter sound vaguely like Blake Crouch's popular series Wayward Pines. They both deal with a man who wakes up in an unfamiliar environment and discovers that what once was may not be. But that is where the similarity ends. While Wayward Pines has its share of twists and turns, Dark Matter breaks the barrier with twists and turns. So much so that the unenviable task of telling the basic plot is fraught with the dangers of telling too much. But I'll try.

Jason Dessen lives a happy life with his wife Danielle and his teenage son, Charlie. Yet there is a slight bit of regret when he realizes that he gave up a potentially brilliant career in research for a teaching job and his wife abandoned her blossoming career as a professional artist. This feeling of "what may have been" isn't helped when his colleague friend wins a major award in Physics, one that Jason felt he could have pursued and won. As Jason is out one night, he is abducted by a man with a gun. "How do you feel about your place in the world, Jason?" the abductor asks. Shortly after, Jason wakes up in a science lab. He is still himself but nothing else seems the same.

That is where I will stop the synopsis. Yet it is fitting to examine the title Dark Matter which is a big hint on where this book is headed. As the novel explains, dark matter is a theoretical substance in quantum physics that could lead to the possibility of multiverses. . We get a number of scientific theories and ideas in the telling of this tale including the example of the quintessential Schrodinger's Cat. But the author is too good to lose us in the science. The science becomes entrenched in the story. Action and theory flow together and merge freely in our imagination. This is a nerd book for non-nerds, so to speak. Crouch never loses the human aspect of the story. Jason becomes very real and very conflicted to the reader which heightens our tension and our empathy.

The excitement in Dark Matter is created by how the plot moves into so many other areas but never leaves the emotional focus of our protagonist. This is not a science fiction story that trips up itself in technical issues. It is a human story that exists hand and hand with the science. There is no doubt that this will appeal to the science fiction fan, especially those who love books dealing with alternate realities and multiverses. Yet Dark Matter has a distinct mainstream appeal for those who like books about the burden of life decisions and our uncertainty about the ones we make. Despite a very satisfactory ending, the author leaves things a bit open at the end and is screaming for a sequel. Indeed it is ripe for another of Blake Crouch's series. That is a series that I can become truly excited about. Dark Matter has all the makings of a mainstream crossover novel and I would not be surprised if it became the summer hit of 2016. There is no doubt it is, so far, the best science fiction novel of the year.

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