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An infinity of choices - 'Dark Matter'

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Sci-fi novel uses quantum physics to build thrills

The Many-Worlds Interpretation (or MWI) of quantum mechanics posits that there are many worlds that exist in parallel to ours in space in time. These other worlds subsequently allow for the removal of randomness and action from a distance in the realm of quantum physics and physics in general.

It also serves as the central conceit of Blake Crouch's 'Dark Matter' (Crown, $26.99). What if you were living your life, only to be dragged from it and thrust into another one a life that, no matter how closely it might resemble yours, belongs to someone else?

Jason Dessen is a college professor, teaching physics at a small college in Chicago. He was once one of the most promising minds in the field, but chose instead to get married and have a family. He gave up his dreams of scientific superstardom in favor of a low-key but lovely domestic life with his wife Daniela and their teenage son Charlie.

It all changes one night when he is kidnapped by a masked abductor. After a serious of increasingly idiosyncratic personal questions, Jason is taken to an isolated warehouse and drugged into unconsciousness. He awakes strapped down and surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits, greeted by unfamiliar faces who look at him with the familiarity of long relationships of which he has no memory.

In this world, Jason Dessen is the most gifted quantum physicist on the planet. His work has unlocked the possibilities of quantum superposition, creating a method for traveling from alternate world to alternate world something that is impossible as far as Dessen understands.

Dessen is left to determine whether his old life is simply an illusion, brought on by trauma or a brain tumor orsomething. But as things progress, he realizes that if his old life is real, then he is going to have to embark on a journey that he barely understands in order to make it back to the family that he so desperately misses.

'Dark Matter' is a rip-roarer of a tale, a real (pardon the clich) page-turner. Crouch proves adept at keeping numerous plot plates spinning, providing a narrative with twists and turns both telegraphed and surprisingly subtle. That combination leaves the reader unsure in the best possible way even when you've figured something out, you're not sure if you've REALLY figured it out.

Crouch doesn't really concern himself with the nuts and bolts this isn't a story about how/why something works so much as about what happens when it does. The central device is more or less a quantum MacGuffin, one whose functionality is basically explained via the idea that with enough universes, EVERYTHING will happen. That said, there are plenty of vividly imagined moments to go along with the central character dynamics that serve as the book's foundation.

That's part of the fun here. We meet Jason Dessen more than once or, that is, we meet multiple versions of Jason Dessen. It's a fascinating way to explore the depths of character; with each different incarnation, a new aspect of Jason's personality can be brought to the forefront. As the character himself alludes to, we're not talking about a good/bad binary, but rather a spectrum of identity spawned by eternally-branching parallel universes.

The book goes in hard on ideas like the notion of identity and free will versus predestination. If every possible choice is made somewhere, do we actually make any choices? And just how significantly do our actions shape and direct our growth into the person that we will eventually become? Are we fundamentally us? Or are we simply a product of decisions?

'Dark Matter' is thoughtful and thrilling, with an engagingly flawed lead and a fascinating premise. It manages to be accessible while still challenging the reader a beach read that'll you'll find yourself thinking about well into the night.

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:41

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