Plot summary via Goodreads:
“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.Appeal: We meet Jason and are breathlessly thrown into his kidnapping. From there, again, alongside Jason, we are thrust into a different version of his life, the version where he did create a way to move into different realities, to move through the multi-verse. It all happens in the first few pages.
As a result, even though this is a highly philosophical story, it is also very fast paced. This is a hard juxtaposition to keep up without resorting to cliche, but Crouch sustains it in a way that is both brilliant and seemingly effortless.
You keep turning the pages as Jason uses the device he theorized he could create in his reality, but that actually exists in the reality he is stuck in, breathlessly following him, and seeing where he ends up next. Yet, you are also seriously thinking about how and why all of these different multiverses can exists. Your brain could start hurting, but you are too totally enraptured by the story and all of it’s intricately plotted glory to care. Then you close the book for a reading break, but your mind is racing with all of the philosophical and scientific implications you have now been introduced too.
You are entertained both viscerally and intellectually. It is a very cool feeling.
I also enjoyed how the plot complications that arise-- yes beyond the fact that he has to navigate an infinity number of multiverses in an attempt to get back “home”-- are surprising at first, but then like all great science fiction, you are like, “duh” of course that would have to happen because...science.
Another huge appeal factor of this book, and this one rises above the science fiction aspects and is a good reason to give this book to those who don’t normally read science fiction, is the family centered drama at the core of this novel. Jason is risking his life for his family. As he is searching for them he enters worlds where his wife exists but it is very different. As Jason searches across the multiverse, he, and the reader, are put through a series of emotions alternating between heart breaking, uplifting, devastating, and joyous. But at the core, it is all about a search for family. This is an appeal factor that permeates the entire novel, allowing it to transcend its genre.
As we go through this roller coaster of emotions with Jason and his friends and family, we also get to know the characters in a deep way. We see them in different, parallels universes where their situations may differ, but their character mostly does not. If you like well rounded characters, this book is for you.
Finally, sometimes books with such high minded concepts and consciously constructed situations like this one are great until things need to be wrapped up and the ending fizzles (see Man in the Empty Suit review below), but not here. The way Jason solves his final conflict and the ultimate resolution are both perfect. They make sense, are satisfying, and leave the conflict closed but the future open.
This is a thoughtful novel that is also a crowd pleaser. I will be handing this out to readers for years to come.
Three Words That Describe This Book: the multiverse, thought provoking, dramatic
Readalikes: Dark Matter is a perfect readalike for fans of the current incarnation of Dr Who [2005-present].
Anything by Connie Willis who is the queen of light science fiction, especially with time travel would work. While Jason is not really traveling through time here [he is in the exact same time but just in a different version of reality at that time], time travel fiction has a similar feel.
Other books I have read which are readalikes include:
- Travelers Rest by Keith Lee Morris (family centered, multiverse, thought provoking)
- Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell (multiverse, time travel, thought provoking)
- 11/22/63 by Stephen King (time travel, multiverse, thought provoking, dramatic)
Click on each title to see more detailed reasons why and more readalike options.