I am working my way through my 2017 Reading Challenge , albeit slightly chaotically, and this month I decided to read a book that is said to be unputdownable.
I am trying, as much as I can, to choose books that are generally speculative fiction for the challenge. I do read any genre, pretty much, but my aim is to keep this blog focussed on Dark Ages history (relates to my work-in-progress historical fantasy book), a little bit about my own personal writing journey, some short stories, and book reviews or author interviews. I don’t want to widen the scope of the blog too far, if I can help it.
Over at the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog she has some suggestions for the books on the list, and this science fiction thriller was one of them. Perfect!
Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch, was published in 2016, and is about a college physics professor, Jason Dessen, who is abducted and knocked unconscious. When he wakes, he finds himself in a place that is similar to, but significantly different from, the world he knows.
He quickly realizes that the people who greet him enthusiastically think that he is a scientist who has invented a machine that would allow him to explore other, parallel Earths, and they think he is the first person to come back to them after making such a journey. In this new world, the happy family life he has come from has evaporated. Here, he is unmarried; a driven, brilliant researcher who has is doing ground-breaking work in physics.
But that is not his life….or is it? Is the world he thought he knew not his life, and this one the true one? Who was the person who abducted him, and why? And how can he get back to the one life he wants above all others?
Oh, yes, this was unputdownable – which means that I would give myself a half hour longer here and there to keep going, because I had to find out what was going on. That’s as close to binge-reading as I can get these days. But it was a great deal of fun. It’s been awhile since I got quite so caught up in compulsive page-turning.
The physics behind the invention are a little over my head, to be honest, but Crouch does a good job of giving you just enough information to help you grasp the concept, but not so much you get lost in the weeds. For books like these, I want just enough tech-talk to know that such a thing might be possible in theory, and then I don’t worry about the hows. I do have a lot of admiration for authors who write science fiction, though, especially this type of “real world” science fiction. They have to know how it works to make it believable. I think Crouch succeeded in that task in this book.
The great thing about this book is that it is not just a science fiction thriller. There is some thought-provoking philosophy in the story as well. Just before he gets knocked out, his abductor asks Jason, “Are you happy with your life?” This question is the foundation of the book in many ways, and it is one that we ponder about our own lives as we see Jason’s attempts to get back to the life he wants.
The book also forces you to look at the consequences of the choices we make every day: to date that person or not, to take that job or not, to give up that opportunity for career advancement at the cost of your family life, or not. In the book Jason gets to visit several different versions of himself and the life he could have had, and it makes us wonder about what those “other” lives would be like in our case, as well.
Technically speaking, from a writing point of view, for the most part I had no issues with Crouch’s writing. He certainly knows how to keep you turning the pages! The only thing that began to wear on me after awhile was use of lots of short, choppy sentences.
For example, here’s a scene from the beginning of the book, just after Jason wakes up after being abducted and is getting debriefed about his experience.
“Let’s try a different approach,” Amanda says. “What’s the last thing you remember before waking up in the hangar?”
“I was at a bar.”
“What were you doing there?”
“Seeing an old friend.”
“And where was this bar?” she asks.
“Okay, can you describe…?”
Her voice drops off into silence.
I see the El.
Too quiet for Chicago.
Someone is coming.
Someone who wants to hurt me.
My heart begins to race.
My hands sweat.
I set the glass down on the table.
“Jason, Leighton is telling me your vitals are becoming elevated.”
Her voice is back but still an ocean away.
Is this a trick?
Am I being messed with?
The whole book is not like this, but there is quite a lot of it, and I did find it a bit tiresome in places. But this type of short sentence structure is one trick an author can use to keep a reader barreling through a story, and is particularly effective in this kind of thriller.
A well-crafted story, with high page-turnability, and which leaves you something to think about once you have finished. I give Dark Matter five stars.
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