DARK MATTER (2016)
Crown Publishers, 352 pp.
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We all make choices in life. Dr. Jason Dessen was a brilliant young physicist working on cutting-edge quantum mechanics. Daniela Vargas was a rising star in Chicago's art world. They met, fell in love, and bore fruit: a son named Charlie, who became their top priority. Move the clock forward fifteen years. Jason is teaching undergrad physics at Lakemont College, a run-of-the-diploma-mill school, and Dani only fiddles with art. Both watch as those with far less intellect and talent pass them by. Jason's former classmate, Ryan Holder, has just won the prestigious Pavia Prize for work on the multiverse that Jason pioneered; Dani has seen friends make splashes where she could have raised waves. Do they have regrets? Of course they do, but only a few. They made their choices and are comfortable with the smaller world they built. They'd do it again the same way–in this universe, at least.
But what if another Jason in another universe cracked the code for moving from one parallel universe to another? And what if that Jason got sick of his big world and decided to downsize by pulling a switcheroo with the Jason of this universe? If that sounds far-fetched, hold that thought. Author Blake Crouch has not constructed his novel from premises confined to crackpot sci-fi. Among quantum theorists, luminaries such as Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene, Leonard Susskind, and Neil deGrasse Tyson are among those who think that science suggests the strong possibility that parallel universes exist in dimensions beyond the one we perceive. Perhaps the multiverse is highly speculative, but it's not crazy to imagine it. How many parallel universes? Perhaps an infinite number.
Crouch constructs a fascinating crime/romance/drama that's equal parts Star Trek, Run Lola Run, and Lassie Come Home. He works from the premise that parallel universes are synchronous, but subject to the butterfly effect–each altered choice sets off a cascade of variant results. (See the film Run Lola Run for a brilliant look at how a single change leads to radically different outcomes.) Translation: You probably wouldn't want to open doors in which your parallel selves reside. There might be untold numbers of you–some unspeakably sad or awful, but also some so familiar that they might be able to pass as you.
Dark Matter is a journey and chase across dimensions via procedures that are partly controllable, but also highly random and/or subjective. Crouch describes the multiverse as a never-ending corridor with an infinite numbers of doors that could be opened, but only a finite opportunity of picking the correct portal. This is fascinating stuff and the descriptions of alt.Chicago alone make the book worth reading. Truth be told, the novel is often more intelligent than literary, and Crouch is certainly open to charges of sentimentality and contrivance. Nonetheless, I loved this book because it induced, if you will, a quantum leap in how I imagined the characters and, indeed, myself. What would I be like in other dimensions? The mind boggles! I ripped through this book at the speed of sight. Rob Weir