REVIEW: Dark Matter

REVIEW: Dark Matter

Title: Dark Matter

Author: Blake Crouch

Published by Crown (2016) Paperback, 340 pages

Genre: sci-fi, alternative reality, mind fuckery, speculative fiction

“Are you happy with your life?”


Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”


In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.


Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.


From the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy, Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.


“For anyone who has wondered what their life might look like at the end of the road not taken.”


Here’s the deal.  I devoured this book.  I sped through, anxious to know what was going to happen next.  It wasn’t until after I set the book down that I began to have my doubts about it.  Warning: it’s really hard to review this critically without a bunch of spoilers, so I might have to be a bit vague in my analysis.


The book begins with a  great hook.  It just reaches out and grabs you, which is what a thriller is supposed to do. The Jason in the first half of the book was fantastic.  The details of his life were fascinating and I was ready to read more.


Dark Matter felt very cinematic to me; it’s basically the novel version of your favorite summer blockbuster, starring one of the Chrises or Toms.  Even the writing structure lent itself to that feeling.  The short, urgent sentences and choppy paragraphs kept pace with a story that was literally made entirely of chase scenes.  So, if you’re like me and you love a good action flick with a side plot of mind-fuckery, settle down, get a diet coke and a giant tub of popcorn and watch, errr read this book.  


“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.”


I really liked the premise, though it didn’t have the most original of plots.  I mean, multidimensional, alternative realities, and the search personal satisfaction in choices are a dime a dozen when it comes to science fiction themes. Anyone who has watched ANY iteration of Star Trek can cite a dozen places where the Roddenberry universe has made liberal use of these plot devices.  The character journey is basically ye old “man wonders what had happened if he made a different choice in his younger years”.  Crouch just turbocharged it into superposition and threw in a lot of great chase scenes.  


That being said, Dark Matter is actually all plot.  Jason didn’t really have a character journey nor did he truly learn anything profound about himself (or anyone else for that matter).  I really did love the relationship that Crouch introduces in the first few chapters of the book: the family dynamic between Jason, Daniela, and Charlie was endearing and believable.  I’ve seen a few people who claim there is a romantic subplot.  As an avid reader of that genre, I will have to disagree. [SPOILER:  While yes, Jason was looking for HIS Daniela, there was no actual development of change in relationship between the two characters.]  


While, I adore action movie that are all crazy plot, chase scenes, and explosions, I do prefer that my books are a bit weightier.  Specifically, there were things I wished I knew more about by the time I was finished reading the story: the actual dark matter.  You know, the stuff the book was named after.  While I’m at it, I’d like to know about MORE SCIENCE.  HOW–WHY–WHERE–WHAT?   For example, there’s an entire section that I wish had been a lot less Gang of Jason Bloodbath and more Clever Science Solution.


I think what I felt was missing the most, was that I wanted more of an internal struggle within Jason.  I wanted him to have to really consider who he was or wanted to be, and maybe even be forced to actually choose (again) between his family and his work.


Overall, I liked it.  I didn’t love it but I’m glad I read it.  There were some plot holes and skimpy science, but I’d probably even watch the movie when it inevitably comes out.   It was a supremely entertaining read, just not as in depth or as fleshed out as other stories in the same vein.


So, is it worth reading?  Yes.  Especially, if scifi isn’t your preferred genre.  It’s a quick, thrilling introduction to this side of science fiction and even the most skeptical of SFF could enjoy it.  It’s well-researched (though, I wish more of that had shown up in the book), creative, and fascinating.  It ticks all the boxes for a good read. It just doesn’t tick the boxes of a GREAT read for me.


Look, if you want a cinematic book, go for it.  If you want a deep, science laden trek through multiple dimensions where no answer is the right one, this probably isn’t for you. If it’s imperative that the narrative is watertight and completely coherent, maybe pass.  BUT, if you’re a reader that enjoys a little ambiguity or scientific hand-waving to speed up the plot, then this is great for you!  I know a lot of people don’t like to get bogged down in the nitty gritty of science (ahem, check out the polarizing reviews of The Martian) and would prefer to just get the gist and continue the chase.


Now, if science fiction is your preferred genre, let’s chat, because I think there are a lot of other sci-fi that do this plot a bit better.  


Pick up your copy here: Amazon | Goodreads


Grade: 3 stars / C grade

Drink pairing: Free shots of tequila.  You’ll enjoy them in the moment but there’s a strong likelihood you’ll have some regret in the morning.


P.S. Here are some other books to check out that are similar to Dark Matter:  The Breach by Patrick Lee, The Fold by Peter Clines, The Circle by Dave Eggers, Seveneves by Neal Stephenson.


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