This book came to my attention after I finished Recursion, also by Blake Crouch, and enjoyed it so much I thought I’d check out more of the author’s work. Dark Matter had similarly favourable reviews, and was also a science fiction thriller that dealt with similar concepts (alternate realities, scientific development gone evil, etc.) so I thought it was a safe bet. In that, I was disappointed. The big difference between the two books (because aside from this they’re very, very similar) is that the characterisation in this one is extremely meh. And for me, apparently, that makes the entire difference between a five-star book and a two-star one. If you’re interested in sampling Crouch’s work, please just go and read Recursion.
Oh, you’re still here? Well. I have more to say, but note that the rest of this review may contain mild spoilers – not the ending, but it’s just kinda hard to discuss the book without revealing anything that happens at any point in it. Anyway. This novel is told from the perspective of one Jason Dessen, a Chicago-based academic (or university teacher, at least) who gave up his quest to become the most groundbreaking scientist ever to be a happy family man – husband to Daniela Vargas, father of Charlie. One day he’s abducted by a stranger in a geisha mask, and sent through the multiverse to an alternate dimension where he did become the most groundbreaking scientist ever – and has no family. It becomes pretty clear that “groundbreaking scientist” Jason has done the ol' switcheroo, stealing the family of our Jason and leaving him in some hellworld from which he must fight to get back to the family he was ripped away from.
I guess the problem is that this book just compares unfavourably to Recursion in nearly every way. In that, we know why Helena developed the “memory chair” – she was hoping to restore the memories her mother lost to Alzeimer’s. Why did Evil Jason make this “box”? Dunno. Just for the sake of it, really. The characters in Recursion just all felt so much more fleshed out. Jason Dessen himself has some depth, but Daniela and Charlie seemed like walking plot devices, defined entirely by their relationships with him. Then for a while there was this character called Amanda, but what was even the point of her? She just accompanied Jason on his quest for a while, apparently tempted him sexually, then peaced out. Why?? What need was there for her character? She was such a core part of the mid-part of the narrative that I kinda expected her to reappear by the end, but… nope.
I mean, I’ve rated this two stars instead of one because there are some good things about it. The first part of the book, where Jason is abducted then trying to figure out WTF is happening in that first alternate dimension, is pretty good – at that time I didn’t think this was going to be as good as Recursion but I didn’t think it’d fall too far behind. And it’s a fast and undemanding read throughout. But I really wish all the non-Jason characters had more of their own identities, and I wish the entire second half of the book had kept me more engaged. Maybe it would’ve seemed better if I’d read it before Recursion instead of after, but overall this was disappointing.