Friday, 12 August 2016

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch Review

I gets into some spoilers in this one so fair warning. The short version of this review is that Dark Matter is pants and pretty stupid for a wannabe smart sci-fi novel – don’t need much grey matter between your ears to read this drek!

Ever wonder if your life had been different? If, when the road forked, you’d gone down a different route? Maybe you’d be happier, maybe you wouldn’t. For Jason Dessen, it doesn’t matter. He’s happily married to the love of his life, Daniela, they have a wonderful teenage son, Charlie, and he’s gainfully employed teaching physics at the local university. For a different Jason Dessen, from an alternate universe where he chose to focus on work instead of family, the first Jason has the life he wants – and he’s going to travel through the multiverse to take it from him! 

Blake Crouch’s novel Dark Matter is the suck. It takes a number of hackneyed, overused concepts, bundles it together into a cheesy thriller/romance, and fumbles the ending. 

It starts off interestingly enough with Jason being kidnapped at gunpoint by a man wearing a geisha mask who takes him to an abandoned power plant and injects him with ketamine (that’s Tinder for you!). Then things get very predictable as the reader is forced to wait until Jason slowly figures out what we already know, even without reading the blurb: he’s woken up in another dimension. 

I’ve read my share of bad sci-fi and an enormous number of superhero comics so I’m very familiar with the concept of alternate dimensions/the multiverse. That’s probably why I wasn’t that impressed with this novel: it’s not a fresh or exciting idea and feels very overplayed at this point. The story doesn’t improve as Crouch effectively turns the middle of the novel into Sliders – it’s that unoriginal. 

Jason leaps around the multiverse (with Amanda, a supporting character who serves one purpose and then hangs around uselessly until she drops off) by sitting in a room injecting himself with drugs. Hmm, I wonder if he was actually dimension-hopping or just getting stoned… Oh yeah and you have to wish for where you want to end up by writing your wishes down. “Science” my bum! Explaining Schrodinger’s cat and dark matter doesn’t make this sci-fi, it’s really just fantasy with airs. 

Are the different dimensions at least compelling? Nope! One world is snowy, one is sorta futuristic-y, one is plague-ridden – oh the imagination! To be fair to Crouch, the scene on the plague world between Jason and that world’s Daniela was quite moving, and the direction the final act took was unexpected if very silly and unfortunately comedic. 

Let’s talk about that retarded finale. So a bunch of Jasons were made once Jason went into the room the second time and they all made it back to this dimension. Aren’t their claims to his life as valid as our protagonist’s then? They’re all him and suffered in similarly various ways to make it back but they’re essentially still him – they’re not like Jason2 who came from another dimension to steal Jason1’s life; they’re all Jason1. But Blake Crouch doesn’t concern himself with this interesting moral quandary and closes the book with a brain-dead fight scene where one character stabs another. Really clever way to resolve your story, Blake! 

The crux of the story is Jason wanting to get back to his wife Daniela but what would’ve been good is if we were shown what was so special about Daniela to begin with. All we see of their life together is vapid married ordinariness. Both she and their son are utterly one-dimensional creations but we’re meant to believe he’ll do everything he can to make it back to her? It’s such a placeholder, generic motivation. 

And what about the idea of missing out on one aspect of life over another – is there literally no-one else Jason can be with besides Daniela? Wouldn’t Jason2, with all his fame and wealth, be able to find someone, anyone, whom he might love just as much, if not more, than Daniela? It seems massively short-sighted to put one of your exs on a pedestal and claim no-one else will do – not to mention the fuck-ton of work involved to make the switch with another Jason in another dimension! There’s that cheesy romance angle obscuring anything remotely sensible! “Duh, I luvs ya, in ev’ry dimen-shun!” – barf! 

Dark Matter isn’t a poorly-written narrative (though it isn’t well-written either), just a flawed and extremely poorly-constructed one that relies far too heavily on archetypes and established concepts to tell an unoriginal, simplistic and dull love/fantasy-dressed-as-sci-fi story. Beyond a handful of scenes, I was rarely entertained and was mostly disappointed with the uninspired way the author dealt with the rich subject matter. Is this a must-read? Nah – Dark Matter doesn’t matter.

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