clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Dark Matter is a blockbuster read that channels Michael Crichton

New, 12 comments

Jason Dressen leads an average life. He's happily married with a teenage son, teaches physics at a local college, and generally gets by, until one night he's kidnapped and drugged. Before he slips into unconsciousness, his kidnapper asks him if he's happy. When he wakes up, he's surrounded by people in hazmat suits, and his entire life is gone: he isn't a college professor, isn't married, and works on a top secret project dealing with multiple universes.

Blake Crouch's new novel Dark Matter will satisfy any cravings you might have for the late Michael Crichton's known techno-thrillers like Jurassic Park, Timeline, The Andromeda Strain, and others. Take a couple of characters, drop them into a mess of advanced sciences and technologies with a clear antagonist, and crank the book to 11.

This book will satisfy any cravings you might have for the late Michael Crichton

The world Dressen finds himself in is one in which he made a different set of choices earlier in his life by focusing on his career, rather than his family. The alternate Jason (Jason2) earned a major prize and went on to work for a company with unlimited resources. Despite the successes in his life, he was missing something.

Held by the shadowy company that employed his doppelgänger, Dressen despairs at ever finding his way home. Aided by Amanda, a company psychiatrist who is shocked at the brutal lengths her employers will go to learn about Dressen's discoveries, they escape with a machine that allows them to jump between timelines. Visiting world after world, Dressen tries to find home — one reality amongst infinite possibilities.

Multiple realities is a long-standing trope within science fiction, and Crouch isn’t the first to play with the idea. It allows Crouch to muse on identity over the course of the book: the two Jasons are almost identical, but which is the real one? As Jason1 struggles to find his way home, he comes to terms with everything about his life that made it his, flaws and all. What makes him him, and can an alternate Jason successfully take his place?

There are drawbacks to a book that feels like it’s hyped up on speed: the story is certainly fun, but I never really felt as though I connected with any of the characters, especially the Jasons. Dressen certainly misses his idealized life, but Crouch never fully fleshes out his wife Daniela, son Charlie, or fellow escapee Amanda to the point where we really can empathize with any of them. Similarly, when the time comes to confront Jason2 about taking his place, I never quite bought it. While the book is about identity, we never quite get enough from any of the Jasons.

I’m not trying to dismiss this novel because it’s the equivalent of a science fiction beach read. I can’t remember when I last sat down and blew through a book in literally a single sitting. Crouch never lets up on the breakneck pace, and we follow Dressen from world to world as he tries to get back home and confront himself, and it's a fun ride.

Dark Matter is the type of fast-paced thriller that feels like it’s going to be opening in theaters before too long — indeed, the film rights for the book were snapped up two years ago, on the basis of the first 150 pages. Plus, you might have seen the TV series based off his other novel, Wayward Pines. If you liked other quick thrillers with a science fictional premise such as Lauren Beuke’s The Shining Girls, Andy Weir’s The Martian, or Ernie Cline’s Ready Player One, this is a book that you’ll probably love.