By Tom Baker / Japan News Staff WriterDark Matter
By Blake Crouch
In an alternate universe, you will be kidnapped by a stranger wearing a rubber geisha mask before you finish reading this review.
According to the many-worlds or multiverse theory of quantum physics, new realities spring into existence every time an event could happen in more than one way. Flip a coin, and it comes up heads in one universe but tails in another. Anything that can happen, does happen — somewhere.
Among scientists, this theory is debatable. Among science fiction writers, it’s irresistible.
Blake Crouch is one such writer. His previous science fiction includes stories that became the basis of the American television show “Wayward Pines.” He has also written crime fiction adapted as another TV show, “Good Behavior,” and suspense stories like the aptly titled “Run,” which describes a family trying to escape a bizarre outbreak of genocide in the United States.
His latest novel, “Dark Matter,” has aspects of all of those genres.
It begins with a physics professor named Jason enjoying a cozy evening at home in Chicago with his wife Daniela and their teenage son Charlie.
Jason’s pleasant life is interrupted when he is kidnapped by a gunman in a rubber geisha mask. The kidnapper dumps his unlucky victim in an unusual hiding place — an alternate universe.
From a certain perspective, the new universe is not so bad. In this world, people recognize Jason not as an ordinary teacher at a minor college but as a scientific superstar whose most cutting-edge ideas have the financial backing of a wealthy industrialist.
On the downside, it’s a world in which professional success came at a price. He and Daniela never married, Charlie was never born, and Jason lives alone.
Because the kidnapper didn’t bother to explain the whole alternate-universe thing, Jason initially thinks he’s losing his mind. But gradually it dawns on him: “This is not my world.”
When he finally gets his hands on the kidnapper’s fifth-dimensional travel device and makes his escape, Jason finds out that navigating between universes is not easy. He careens among multiple versions of Chicago, from glittering utopias to post-apocalyptic dead zones. There are some brief, poignant scenes when he finds himself in a place that is almost, but not quite, the world he is trying to get home to.
It might have been nice to linger for a few more pages in some of these worlds, but relentless momentum is one of Crouch’s major strengths as a writer. He pulls you so breathlessly from one scene to the next that it works as a form of stage-magic misdirection. Wondering how Jason will survive his latest predicament will almost certainly keep you from seeing the humdinger of a twist that is coming.
Speaking of things that sneak up on you, take a quick look around. See anyone in a geisha mask?
No? You’re probably in a good universe.
Yes? Take a hint from one of Crouch’s other titles. Run!
Where to Read
Lounging on the deck of your mega-yacht in a silk robe, sipping champagne from your private vineyard. (Surely there must be a universe where you have such things.)
Maruzen price: ¥2,880 plus tax (as of March 1, 2017)