Dark Matter


cover artPerhaps it is in the nature of thrillers to be a bit predictable. The protagonist is usually the hero and you know, no matter how bad things get, the hero will win in the end. Or if not win, at least make it out alive. And so it is with Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. No matter how weird or close to failure Jason Dessen gets, you know that it will all come right in the end. At some points this gets slightly tedious, at others I would have been angry if something surprising had happened. So the reader undertakes the good with the bad when embarking on these sorts of reading adventures.

Jason Dessen is a physicist who teaches at nearby Lakemount College in Chicago. He is married to Daniela who is a talented artist. They have a teenage son, Charlie. A happy life. But there have always been what if’s lingering in their minds. Daniela got pregnant early in the relationship and they decided to marry and dedicate themselves to being parents. This meant that Jason gave up a promising career as a physicist — he was on the brink of making a major discovery — and Daniela gave up he art career because both of these were so all-consuming for them it was career or child but not both.

This means that Jason’s college friend and now rival, eventually wins this big science award that everyone always thought Jason was destined for. There is a party for Ryan at a pub a few blocks from Jason’s house and Daniela encourages him to go because it would be the bygones thing to do. On the way back from the pub Jason is kidnapped at gunpoint, taken to an abandoned warehouse and wakes up in a Chicago that is completely different.

In this Chicago, Jason and Daniela chose career over child. Jason made his breakthrough discovery and won the coveted award. However, in this world, he is not married to Daniela who is now a famous artist. Everyone thinks he is the Jason that is supposed to be there and he tries to play like he is by pretending he is suffering from amnesia and shock from the results of his discovery and experiment. What did he do?

This is where it gets weird. The multiverse. The entire story is based on it and the premise that every time we make a decision it splits the multiverse resulting in a timeline that moves forward with all the different decisions made. So, for instance, you are driving to meet someone for a first date but you got the directions confused. At the intersection you turn left instead of right and by the time you figure out how to get to the restaurant your date has given up on you and left. At the intersection, another universe was formed in which you turned left, found the restaurant, had a great time (or not), fell in love (or not), got married (or didn’t) and on and on. Got it?

So Jason’s discovery was how to navigate between the multiverses. It involves a big black box, a serum, and some other stuff. Two people tried it before him and were never seen or heard from again. Jason is the first who went in and came back. Except the Jason who came back is not the same one who went in. It’s pretty obvious once we get the scoop on the black box that the Jason from that world, Jason2, is the one who kidnapped our hero Jason.

One of the people who work at the lab helps Jason escape and she goes with him. They have 48 bottles of serum and they each have to use one, so really Jason has only 24 chances to get back to the right universe. Except, because this is a novel about the multiverse, for every decision Jason makes new Jasons looking to get back to Daniela and Charlie are created. The end results in this thought by our original Jason:

My understanding of identity has been shattered — I am one facet of an infinitely faceted being called Jason Dessen who has made every possible choice and lived every imaginable life.

I can’t help thinking that we’re more than the sum total of our choices, that all the paths we might have taken factor somehow into the math of our identity.

So there’s a little quantum physics pop psychology for you!

What it all amounts to is an entertaining story. And given that Crouch is also a screenwriter, I was not so surprised to learn at the back of the book that it will likely make it to a screen at some point. Whether it is movie or TV I am not sure. Either way it will likely be entertaining. Until then, we have the book and if you are looking for some light, slightly weird, page-turning fun, Dark Matter is a good option.