Book of the Month: Dark Matter

My September Book of the Month selection was enjoyable enough to read, but ultimately a disappointment.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch57b3642421eed-image

Jason Dessen is a family man, a brilliant physicist who chose domestic bliss over career success a decade and a half before we meet him. One night, after going out for a quick drink to celebrate a colleague’s achievement, Dessen is abducted by an unseen man asking “Are you happy with your life?”

Dessen is knocked unconscious, awakening to find himself in a world where he is at the cutting edge of theoretical physics…but his wife is a stranger and his son doesn’t exist.

Now, it may just be that I usually love this sort of story and have watched/read this kind of thing too much, but I immediately knew who had kidnapped Dessen and why. This story held zero surprises, but that actually wouldn’t have bothered me if it were better written. The plot felt rushed, giving us little time to connect to the gravity of Dessen’s situation or his feelings about it. His feelings are often stated directly in a single sentence that doesn’t evoke much. He is desperately in love with his wife because she has “Spanish eyes” and an “architecturally impossible” smile. We see several different iterations of this woman and none of them has much personality.

The whole story hinges on Dessen himself, he is our only true through-line, and he is just not particularly interesting. The most interesting side character doesn’t last long at all, and departs in a manner that makes it feel as though a critical scene was cut from the novel. The opening and the climax are the book’s strongest points, but the end fell short for me.

Overall, Dark Matter wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t a great one. The idea was stretched thin without the richness of engaging characters to sustain it. There was enough plot for a TV episode, but not a novel spanning hundreds of pages. Then again, I passed it off to a chemist friend who hasn’t been able to put it down. Make of that what you will.

If you like this type of story, I would recommend: Quantum Leap, the first two Terminator movies, the Back to the Future trilogy, Primer, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The One I Love, William Sleator’s Strange Attractors or Singularity, or The Twilight Zone series.

Top Ten Tuesdays

This week The Broke and the Bookish have us serving up a heaping helping of authors in a genre of our choice. I have prepared a fine selection of YA sci-fi authors, and suggested some of the works I most enjoyed by each. Authors like Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card, or Isaac Asimov didn’t make my list because I haven’t read their YA work (yet).

Top Ten YA Sci-Fi Authors

1. William Sleator

To me, Sleator is like Pixar. Even his worst book is miles better than the average in the genre. That said, I’d recommend:

Interstellar Pig for gamers.

Strange Attractors for folks who love a love triangle, especially one where two of the people involved are actually alternate-dimension versions of the same girl.

House of Stairs for those who like dystopia.

2. M.T. Anderson

Read Feed! Read it now! Imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger shouting that last sentence!

3. Scott Westerfeld

Uglies is a series that gets better with each book (though Extras is skippable for the picky reader).

4. Suzanne Collins

Hmmmm. Suddenly I am having trouble thinking of the sci-fi series that everyone has been talking about for the past two years. The Hunger Games. Quit trying to be cool and just read it already.

5. Robert A. Heinlein

Not strictly a YA sci-fi writer, but many of his books focus on that age group. Tunnel in the Sky is a good choice for survivalist fans who enjoyed books like The Hunger Games for reasons beyone romance.

6. Madeleine L’Engle

My heart will always be with Meg and Charles Wallace, so of course I recommend A Wrinkle In Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Many Waters was very enjoyable, but not so much sci-fi as Christian Myth…and An Acceptable Time was a slog.

7. K.A. Applegate

Animorphs series, what up! I particularly recommend the companion books to the series: The Ellimist Chronicles is still a favorite, and I loved The Andalite Chronicles. Both make sense for someone not ready to take on the whole series.

8. Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker is a solidly scientific, thoroughly entertaining environmentally-oriented novel.

9. Ben Jeapes

He wrote the outstanding novel The Ark, which I borrowed off my brother in seventh grade and still remember. It is a space ark sci-fi for purists reading in the genre. Excellent, intricate plot and very intriguing aliens.

10. Aldous Huxley

Maybe not strictly a YA author, but since many folks read Brave New World in high school, I’m including it. Love that book.

Who would you add to this list? Book recommendations?