Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"Dark Matter" by Blake Crouch

After finishing The Woman in Cabin 10, it's a little interesting that I went next to another immensely readable (but ultimately somewhat forgettable) novel. With Dark Matter, I took a sci-fi turn, devouring the modern-day Sliders (with a slight twist) in a single day.

What ultimately, for me, places Dark Matter into pleasurable "fluff" sci-fi rather than what I consider compelling science-fiction is that it treads little new ground in its technology, view of the world, or analysis of human behavior. The novel centers around Jason Dessen, a brilliant scientist who gave up the academic pursuit for a stable home life with his wife Daniela and teenage son. On the way home one night, he's kidnapped by a masked man and transported to a parallel universe--one in which he gave up the family life to pursue an academic career. He's determined to return to his home universe, particularly once he realizes the parallel universe's Jason (whom he calls Jason2) has taken up the original Jason's place with his family.

The first part of the novel follows the familiar "disoriented protagonist" line as Jason attempts to figure out where he is and what's going on--and then escape the clutches of Jason2's lab. I was a little surprised how easily Jason2's lab becomes textbook villainous, even murdering several people in an attempt to capture Jason. I mean, I get that they've invested a lot of time and energy into their parallel universe machine and are desperate to preserve their work (and get information from the new Jason), but casually arranging outsiders' murders? It also immediately implies Jason2 is straightforwardly evil, erasing any chance of nuance with his character.

Once Jason escapes and re-enters the machine, we kick into the Sliders zone as he attempts to find his home world. We're told that the parallel universes he visits are close off-shoots of his own world, yet he manages to visit the most extreme scenarios: an infectious disease apocalypse; a weather apocalypse; a lot of apocalyptic scenarios. I mean, how likely is a zombie-esque apocalypse in any of our futures? The fact that he seems to mostly explore these highly treacherous parallel universes rather than a universe where he chose tan curtains over brown is partially explained by the fact that his mental state (highly agitated, obviously) is supposedly "choosing" worst-fear scenarios, but I still don't totally buy it.

Though the rest is plenty fun, it's only once Jason reaches his home world that the book takes its most interesting turn. All of Jason's time in the parallel universe box has resulted in many parallel Jasons, meaning that he's not the only "Jason" from his home world to return home. Instead, dozens of Jasons, identical to the narrator Jason except for differing Slider experiences, all reach the home world, and they're all seeking to depose Jason2 and retake their place with Daniela and Charlie. So which one "deserves" the family life? Finally, an intriguing question (albeit one that's somewhat glossed over at the end).

[an aside: Jason2 also traveled inside the box seeking the parallel universe he eventually kidnapped Jason from. Wouldn't his travels also have resulted in dozens of Jason2s being created? So shouldn't there be tons of Jasons and tons of Jasons2 all fighting it out?]

Ultimately, Dark Matter is fun but not exceptional, good for someone seeking a fairly fast-paced and action-filled--but not especially complicated--sci-fi adventure.

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