Note: my records showed this would be published today, but they are in error. This title actually comes out in August and I have run my review earlier than I should have. You’ll see this again at a date closer to publication.
Blake Crouch is a seasoned writer, but I had never read his work before; only recently have I ventured back into science fiction, a genre I abandoned when some writers began incorporating tech jokes and algorithms into their work. Humanities oriented and gun shy, I veered back to my other favorite genres. Crouch makes it a joy to be back reading sci fi. I received this DRC free, courtesy of Net Galley and Crown Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. It’s for sale August 2, and it will be in theaters soon too. Don’t get left out, because this one is huge.
Jason Dessen is a teacher, having abandoned a burgeoning career in research in order to become a family man. The story is infused with the question almost every adult has, the question of the road not taken. By the time we’re in our thirties or even our mid-twenties, we have made hard choices that leave us musing occasionally about what might have happened if we had pursued a different course, if the destiny we either chose or were thrust into had played out differently. It is this question that Crouch taps into.
On an ordinary evening, Jason’s old friend calls him and asks him to come to a nearby bar and celebrate a momentous event. Jason is a father and happily married, so he doesn’t spend a lot of time hanging out in bars with the guys, and tonight is family night, so it’s especially important to be at home. But this celebration is particularly important to his friend, and so he steps out for one fast beer for the sake of the friendship, with the promise to bring home ice cream on his way home.
That’s not what happens.
On his way home, he is followed by someone, a guy who jumps him not for his wallet, but for his life. He’s knocked out and awakens thus:
Where the hell am I? A hanger?
I catch a glint of memory—a needle puncturing my neck. I was injected with something. This is some crazy hallucination.
A radio squawks. “Extraction team, report. Over.”
The woman says with excitement bleeding through her voice, “We have Dessen. We’re out of the box and en route. Over.”
Until Jason’s research funding dried up, he had been working on a cube that could penetrate the “multiverse”, and take matter from the world in which we live to a parallel reality. In another life, Jason has not only done this, but done it on a spectacular level. Here we get into string theory and other aspects of science that are over my head, and this is the type of thing that prevents me from reading more technically demanding sci fi. Happily, the author only stays there long enough to provide the foundation for the science fiction aspect of his story:
Most astrophysicists believe that the force holding stars and galaxies together—the thing that makes our whole universe work—comes from a theoretical substance we can’t measure or observe directly. Something they call dark matter. And this dark matter makes up most of the known universe…Some string theorists think it might be a clue to the existence of the multiverse.
The idea is that every time someone hits a benchmark in his life when he must make a choice—college versus work, career versus marriage, to have a child or not, to move away or stay here—there is some parallel version of himself that does the other thing in another universe.
Once I got to the part where string theory is mentioned, I recoiled in horror—was the whole book going to be like this now? How could I even review it?—and I went to read my other books for awhile. But when I picked it up again, we quickly blew through the technical part, which for all I know may be bad science for the sake of a great story anyway, and we were back in poor Jason’s bewildering life. From that moment forward, roughly the twelve percent mark, the story grabbed me by the hair and didn’t let go till I was done.
This story packs a walloping punch, and I have at least one friend who would have made it just fine through the science blurb but then would have been unable to tolerate the emotional torrent that follows. Some people don’t want a story that will make their heart beat faster, and if that’s you, this is not your book.
But for those that enjoy a genuine thriller, this book is for you. In fact, it’s impossible to draw a line as to whether this story is more a thriller or science fiction. It has all the qualities of a strong thriller, but the story can’t be told without the sci fi foundation. For those that are leery of reading science fiction due to a lack of proficiency in astrophysics or other aspects of science, however, you’ll be fine here. Crouch touches on science long enough to get establish the basis of his story and hook the reader, and then it’s back to Jason and his many dilemmas.
Highly recommended to anyone with a literacy level of a high school senior or beyond. Get it now!