– By J. W. Fox –
Blake Crouch follows up his Wayward Pines trilogy with the technothriller Dark Matter. His latest novel firmly establishes Crouch as one of the best thriller writers around with a special knack for incorporating science fiction tropes. Dark Matter gives an interesting twist on our current understanding of quantum physics to create an exciting and heart-felt thriller. Although not as good as Crouch’s Wayward Pines, it is still worth picking up.
Jason Dessen has a good life: a good job as a professor at a small college in Chicago, a wife, a teenage son, and a nice little home. Like everyone, he has some regrets but he is too busy to dwell on them. It is all taken away when a stranger in a mask abducts him, drives him to a remote warehouse and knocks him unconscious. When he awakens, he is strapped to a gurney surrounded by strangers who all speak like they know him. He comes to realize there is something horribly wrong with the world around him. His apartment looks entirely different with new furniture, decorations, and most importantly, his wife and son are not there. Somehow Jason Dessen has traveled to an alternate reality where he is an unmarried, world-renowned physicist working on a breakthrough in quantum physics.
Dark Matter is about seeing what could have been, had Jason made slightly different decisions in his life. It is the path not taken, the one that focused on career rather than family. He examines the different life and wonders if he would be happier as a successful, award-winning scientist rather than an irrelevant college professor. We all ask ourselves about the decisions we’ve made and whether we wish we’d taken a different path. Here, Jason gets to see exactly what would’ve happened down one of those paths.
The story is very Crichton-esque, although Crouch is much less obsessed with technical details. Crouch prefers to tell the personal story of Jason and his reaction to walking in an alternate life. The career/family dichotomy theme carries through the book to the point of getting repetitive toward the end. Jason has the same thoughts and feelings throughout the book, with limited evolution. There is no profound insight or epiphany at the end. In fact, Jason’s constant struggle to return to his own reality gives you a clear idea of his thinking on the alternate life. It never really appeals to him, which would’ve been more compelling.
There is only a broad outline of Jason’s alternate life. Comparing the two lives is largely done through secondary characters, like his therapist Amanda. Unfortunately, she is more of a plot device rather than a well-developed character. The villains are cookie-cutter as well. In fact, the only interesting secondary character is his wife Daniela who accepts the incredible truth of quantum technology with surprising ease.
Crouch could’ve gone the path of a psychological thriller or personal drama. In some ways he did but the majority of the book has the feel of a pulse-pounding technothriller. It succeeds in that respect. Fans of Michael Crichton should enjoy it, along with most tech thriller and general science fiction fans. Hard sci-fi readers will probably find fault with the science in the book, or otherwise scoff at some of the events toward the end. Overall, Pines was slightly more enjoyable but I would still recommend Dark Matter.
J. W. Fox is the Editor of Prescientscifi.com and author of two novels under the pen name Jacob Foxx: The Fifth World and the sequel The Fifth World: The Times That Try Men’s Souls. When he is not reading or writing science fiction, he works as a regulatory affairs consultant for small biotech companies in Raleigh, North Carolina.