Dark Matter (4 stars)
I was in the midst of a 14 hour car trip when I suddenly realized that I was finished with my book (one in the Undying Mercenaries series) and didn’t have the next one on my phone. Oops. So I got on Libby and downloaded the first book I recognized.
And by recognized, I mean I’ve seen the cover a few times on this website.
This was a pleasant surprise. The science was just complex enough to make it interesting, but not so dense as to make the book unreadable.
Jason Dessen was a wunderkind before he and his then girlfriend got pregnant. He then turned his back on a promising career in physics to help raise the child, and became a professor at a small Illinois university. *Swipe for spoiler* One fateful evening, he leaves his home to go to his neighborhood bar, where his old college roommate is celebrating being a successful genius. On leaving the bar, he gets abducted.
And down the rabbit hole he goes.
I’m not really going to go into the story, for fear of revealing too much. But I will say that I love the idea behind this book. I’ve read a few books in a similar vein, and usually find them compelling. This book was no different. It’s kind of a blend of What Dreams May Come and something written by Peter Clines. The end stretched conceivability somewhat, but no unduly so.
Pines trilogy (3 stars)
Ethan Burke is a Secret Service agent. He’s searching for two missing agents in Wayward Pines, Idaho. Only everything is wrong. Nothing is the way it’s supposed to be. The town seems to have conspired to convince Ethan that he’s crazy, and that he lives in Wayward Pines. And he can’t escape.
If you don’t want the plot spoiled, don’t read any further.
I originally became aware of these books through the TV show. I watched on episode, don’t even think I finished it, and never gave it another moments thought. That the pilot was directed by M. Night Shyamalan, his work hasn’t really interested me in about 15 years, and I’m not a fan of Matt Dillon, so the show didn’t really capture my interest. Which seems weird, because I was hooked by Pines pretty much from the outset.
Pines is pretty much a mystery from beginning to (almost the) end. After getting in a car accident in the beginning, Ethan doesn’t know anything about himself for the much of the book, and even after his memory returns, he still has no idea what’s going on. But I didn’t feel like Crouch was pushing too hard to make the story confusing or mysterious. I wanted to know what was going on, but was comfortable waiting for everything to unfold.
When it did…..I was disappointed. These books take place 1,800 years in the future, and the town of Wayward Pines was designed to preserve a way of life (mid- to late-20th century America) that had long since gone extinct. So this isn’t some weird thriller – it’s post-apocalyptic science fiction.
But, okay. I can deal. I don’t hate those kinds of stories.
As the story unfolds in Wayward and The Last Town, however, the books devolve into a let’s see how much terrible shit we can get into writing that utterly turned me off The Walking Dead. At some point, if a story is a relentless series of terrible people doing terrible things, I turn off. While these books didn’t quite reach The Walking Dead level, there were times when I wanted more story and fewer instances of character torment.
I never really bought, for instance, the fetes: celebrations that led to the murder of a townsperson. Obviously, we can do terrible things to one another, and you don’t have to look too far into human history before finding instances of groups turning against individuals who don’t follow (even minor) rules, so having an entire town rising up to basically lynch someone they had previously considered a friend or colleague isn’t that hard to believe. But I just found it hard to accept the docility of the townspeople and their comfort with ignorance.
I also couldn’t suspend my disbelief long enough to fully accept the basic premise: that there’s a failure built into the human genetic code that will lead to our extinction in the relatively not too distant future. And, on top of that, that humanity will evolve (within a paltry 1,800 years) into a remarkably new (in morphological terms) species. Especially a species that has completely abandoned speech, culture, agriculture, and all the advancements that made us what we are.
Despite the issues that sometimes made me just want the series to be over, I generally enjoyed the ride. Blake Crouch is an effective writer, and (at least based on these four books) he grapples with some interesting concepts.
But I think Dark Matter is definitely the better book.