If you’re a fan of fast-fiction, hankering for a book to gobble down in a night or two at your weekend getaway, Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter, with its protagonist physicist extraordinaire Jason Dessen bouncing around a limitless multi-verse in his mysterious magic box could be just the read for you.
Although Mr. Crouch’s parallel timeline / alternate reality universe is far from unique, his strength is in forgoing too much bullshit technical parlance a lesser sci-fi writer might trip over and getting quickly to the real world and emotional implications of a technology that allows our protagonist to interact with innumerable versions of himself making alternate life choices. Mr. Crouch’s greatest weakness, unfortunately, is his inability to craft bolder, more nuanced character choices within the brilliantly minimal technical construct he creates.
Although one of the first parallels that crossed my mind was the Mirror Mirror Star Trek episode where Mr. Spock and company cross paths with his evildoer doppelganger – Goatee Spock from an alternate reality, oh the horror, a closer comparison might be to George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, because the Wonder Bread morality of our main Jason Dessen is as nauseating and anachronistic as a Kapra film protagonist in 2017. A particularly vile episode was the gluten-free moment when Jason apologizes to one of his alternate world wives for sleeping with another alternate world wife – for fuck sake already, if I fucking crawl into a box and get to fuck 10 different versions of Irene, please let me have the courage to do so without the gag-reflex prodding pseudo-sanctimony… and while we’re at it, if you’re traveling your multiverse with some hot woman (not your wife) who’s probably fucked alternate-you anyway, and you’re pretty sure you’ll never get back home to said wife, I’m going to say go ahead and take that mulligan-fuck too, because hello, it’s a book goddamnit Blake, you’re not actually cheating on your wife, your character is, and the complications that would arise from such an encounter would actually put some fiber in your bleached flour characters.
One of the strongest character writers in the game currently, is of course George R.R. Martin, because his men, women and even children make some very fucked up choices and live with, and more importantly navigate the consequences. Nobody wants to know what would happen if Pat Robertson ran into another Pat Robertson for fuck’s sake. When you decided to make your protagonist Jason the Joel Osteen of all your Jason’s, you robbed us of a more satisfying read, and more importantly, robbed yourself of an opportunity to ground your high-flying physics in some much-needed emotional integrity.
Now that I got that out of the way, I’d like to heap some serious praise on Mr. Crouch’s ability to keep me reading. Outside of a painfully obvious “mysterious culprit” early on (outed by a very poorly chosen single line of dialogue that should have been spotted by an editor), this thing moves with velocity and gets downright brilliant plot-wise at the midway point. My only disappointment is that the shallowness of the character development is mirrored in the missed opportunities in his alternate universe choices, where we are treated to physical complexities that should have been coupled with stronger emotional intricacies and consequences. But damn, I still enjoyed this one. Out of a possible 5 Stars, Angry Frank bequeaths a generous 3.5