ARC August: Dark Matter

I often wonder how authors come up with blurbs for other authors' books.  It seems like it would be a trying task--perhaps even more difficult that writing an actual book (caveat: I have done neither, so it's not like I have any real weight here).  Think about it--you have to convey your enthusiasm for a book in a sound byte that appeals to your readers and somehow *sounds* like you in so many words. And I would guess that the publishers only take so many "excellent"s and "wow"s.

Regarding Dark Matter, Blake Crouch's new novel, Lee Child said, "I think Blake Crouch has invented something new."  Hyperbolic?  Yes.  Intriguing?  Well, yes, particularly considering Crouch's track record.

Pines is one of those books that thoroughly freaked me out when I read it--it took me to the Twilight Zone (adjacent to the Danger Zone, which is run by Kenny Loggins).  Pines plunges you into a nightmare from which you cannot awake.  Sometimes, when we dream, we're aware of it, and can give subtle nudges to the action.  Most of the time, though, we're prisoners in our own minds and dreamtime bodies, being borne along helplessly as our brain paces the labyrinth of our fears and anxieties.  We're trapped until we wake up.

But what if we never wake up?  What if it's not a dream?  That is the true horror of Pines, and that is what I hoped to find in Dark Matter.

Rats.  Dangit.  Zut.  I'd add more foreign language words but I only seem to know the really naughty ones, and I try to keep this blog clean and friendly.  Okay, maybe not friendly, since most of the time I am a cranky, perpetually dissatisfied reader.  So, let's go with clean.

That special sense of impending doom that I was expecting never even shows up in Dark Matter.  I am disappoint.

The novel opens on a relatively idyllic family scene.  Jason Dessen, a mildly successful professor, is cooking dinner for his family.  He loves his son and his wife.  He doesn't hate his job, which really goes for a lot.  And he has a nice house in a quirky area of Chicago (we later learn that he bought the house with inheritance money, because I was really wondering how a mid-level professor could afford to own in Chicago).  Life's pretty good.  Even when Jason finds out that a former colleague has just won a prestigious science prize for research in a field that he abandoned because his now-wife, then-girlfriend, became pregnant.  After some hemming and hawing, he heads off to his colleague's party at his wife's insistence.  On his way home, he's kidnapped.

No, really!  A mysterious, yet somehow familiar, man puts a bag over his head and drives him to an abandoned warehouse on the far South Side of Chicago.  The man knows everything about him--everything.  How is this possible?  What does he want?  What could Jason possibly give him?  And then ...

...Jason wakes up.  And a man he's never met before is ecstatic.  He's come back.  He made it.

He made ... what?

In post-kidnapping land, Jason discovers that things are very wrong.  For example, he's still a researcher, not a professor.  He's not married and his son doesn't exist.  His home is just a house with things, not a haven with memories.  And why is everyone so excited?  What exactly did he accomplish?

Okay, stop: spoiler time.  If you don't want spoilers, stop reading now.  Or just scroll down really fast to my concluding comments.

But you know spoilers are more fun!

Jason's research has to do with "trying to create the quantum superposition of an object that was visible to the human eye."  Think ... think about that for a minute.

Okay.  Unlike the twists in Pines and The Mine, I figured out what was going on in Dark Matter as soon as Jason mentioned what his topic of study had been.  I'm not tooting my own horn--just find the synonyms for the words he uses and you've got it.  It also probably helps if you like reading books about quantum mechanics and/or time travel and/or how we could maybe make that work.  Timeline is one of my totally-not-guilty-at-all pleasures.

The conceit of Dark Matter is that Jason has figured out how to jump between all of the multiverses containing all of the versions of himself (which isn't totally possible, because the multiverse is ever-expanding and each choice we make creates a new universe and so on, but whatever).  Cue the existential crisis.  Cue the "but I want to go home" tantrum and the Evil Scientists who want to keep Jason alone and unhappy in the name of Progress.  And ... that's it.  I didn't feel that uneasy flutter in my stomach that showed up as I read Pines.  I just ... eh.  Quantum leaps.  Okay.  I'm literally shrugging as I write this review because I can't summon any sort of enthusiasm other than the energy it takes me to shrug.

The characters who are all very smart quantum theorists and/or just plain geniuses conflate the Schr√∂dinger's Cat thought experiment with Many Worlds theory.  The cat problem relies on the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, which basically states that reality is set by observation.  The cat in the box is alive when we look, or it is dead when we look: it is the act of our observation that settles all the quantum bits and bobs in place. However, Jason's work somehow combines Copenhagen with the Many Worlds theory, which states that every time something happens, there is a branching in the multiverse; i.e. there is a universe in which the cat is alive AND one in which the cat is dead.  Since no one really, truly understands quantum mechanics (and what little I remember comes from reading some Brian Greene books in college), either Jason is a super-genius and found some sort of unifying theory for quantum mechanics, or the reader is not supposed to think about any of that science-y stuff and just enjoy the book.

I know that the book is out now, and that I just have an ARC, but it also contained some inconsistencies that pulled me out of the narrative as a reader.  For example, Jason is supposed to live in Chicago.  I assume he's lived there all his life, or at least a very long time.  But he calls the Sears Tower the Willis Tower.  No.  No no no no no.  I know that's what it's *technically* called, but it is the Sears Tower.  Just like it's the John Hancock Building, not Experience 360 or whatever silly name they've given it now.  Plus, when he's driving on the expressway at night he's only going 70mph.  That's like slow-lane-in-Chicago-construction-zone-speed, not I-live-here-speed.

This is worlds away from the creeping dread and small-town paranoia of Pines.  And I think that's what killed the book for me.  Crouch is really in his element when humans are isolated, thus leaving them at the mercy of nature and the deviousness of their own minds.  I hope he returns to that place for his next book, because Dark Matter doesn't matter that much to me.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.


  1. I think my favourite "branching universes" tale is Terry Pratchett's Jingo, in which he presents something he calls "the trousers of time" - you go down one leg or the other. His hero, Commander Sam Vimes of the City Watch, makes a choice to go off to war with his volunteer watchmen, because one of the members has been whisked away on a ship belonging to the other side. He has a "Disorganiser" which he has instructed to tell him his appointments even if he doesn't know about them yet. But he picks up the wrong one and finds himself hearing messages from the universe in which he didn't go to war! And it's much worse than his own world... :-)

  2. The trousers of time sounds like a delightful way of thinking about it!


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