Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Blake Crouch’s latest novel revisits twentieth century theoretical physics, playing with the multiverse interpretation of quantum theory, which writers from Asimov to Zelazny have explored in the past seventy years.
Crouch has his own twist on the ideas, which allows people to transit between alternative multiverses through selective manipulation of brain function which is supposed to suppress “conscious observation”, and thus defer the decay of quantum uncertainty. I think.
I didn’t quite follow how this is supposed to work, probably because it is so ridiculous as far as brain science goes, Humans are composed of zillions of quantum particles—how does the behavior of one part of the brain have any effect on, say, the tip of your nose, or your big toe? How does a human body travel as a unit? (And what about all the bacteria, chemicals, etc., floating around inside the body. How does his clothing, backpack, lantern, etc. travers at the same time? For that matter, if humans can traverse between universes, then why don’t unconscious particles zing between them all the time?
Anyway, the unlikely result is a limited ability to “walk” to other alternative life streams.
Things get confusing very fast, because it seems that alternative versions of the same person can exist in the same time line, which leads to an escalating cascade of trouble, as alternative versions of “Jason” start fighting with each other. Why? You got me.
I grant you that with quantum theory everything is weird and human intuition doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. But still, Crouch has developed a premise that makes little sense. It’s possible, I suppose, but not really plausible.
For one thing, I don’t grok how multiple people can navigate together. If crossing these multiverses is a subjective act (as it seems to be), how can more than one person participate in the act? That is hard to understand. And how in the world can two “Jasons” ever meet each other? I just don’t fathom how this could happen.
Setting aside the implausibility, the story itself is kind of silly and definitely depressing. “Jason”—however many of him there are—acts crazy, and crazy in a multitude of different ways. Sick and violent ways. This isn’t fun to read, and get’s old real fast.
Now, Crouch is making some literary points about the contingency of life, and taking things as you find them (but not for granted). He muses a lot about choices and paths not taken, and arrives at the insight that we are not just the sum of all our choices, we are the union of all the possible people we could be.
Well, maybe. Though I don’t think that quantum weirdness necessarily means that.
Anyway, that’s what I got.
Overall, this story is OK, but very, very muddled philosophically.
- Blake Crouch, Dark Matter, New York, Crown, 2016.
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