A NovelBook - 2016
One night after an evening out, Jason Dessen, forty-year-old physics professor living with his wife and son in Chicago, is kidnapped at gunpoint by a masked man, driven to an abandoned industrial site and injected with a powerful drug. As he wakes, a man Jason's never met smiles down at him and says, "Welcome back, my friend." But this life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife; his son was never born; and he's not an ordinary college professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something impossible. Is it this world or the other that's the dream? How can he possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could have imagined--one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe. -- adapted from Fantastic Fiction website.
From the critics
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What might have been and what has been Point to one end, which is always present. Footfalls echo in the memory Down the passage which we did not take Towards the door we never opened. —T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
No one tells you it’s all about to change, to be taken away. There’s no proximity alert, no indication that you’re standing on the precipice. And maybe that’s what makes tragedy so tragic. Not just what happens, but how it happens: a sucker punch that comes at you out of nowhere, when you’re least expecting it. No time to flinch or brace.
“I was reading Chicago Magazine’s review of Marsha Altman’s show.” “Were they kind?” “Yeah, it’s basically a love letter.”
“I was trying to create the quantum superposition of an object that was visible to the human eye.”
In this sliver of quiet and calm, the principle of Occam’s razor whispers to me—all things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the right one.
What if all the pieces of belief and memory that comprise who I am—my profession, Daniela, my son—are nothing but a tragic misfiring in that gray matter between my ears? Will I keep fighting to be the man I think I am? Or will I disown him and everything he loves, and step into the skin of the person this world would like for me to be?
Experimental physics—hell, all of science—is about solving problems. However, you can’t solve them all at once. There’s always a larger, overarching question—the big target. But if you obsess on the sheer enormity of it, you lose focus.
The key is to start small. Focus on solving problems you can answer. Build some dry ground to stand on. And after you’ve put in the work, and if you’re lucky, the mystery of the overarching question becomes knowable. Like stepping slowly back from a photomontage to witness the ultimate image revealing itself.
I hold my ring finger up to the neon light coming in through the window. The mark of my wedding band is gone. Was it ever there?
We’re all just wandering through the tundra of our existence, assigning value to worthlessness, when all that we love and hate, all we believe in and fight for and kill for and die for is as meaningless as images projected onto Plexiglas.
Nothing exists. All is a dream. God—man—the world—the sun, the moon, the wilderness of stars—a dream, all a dream; they have no existence. Nothing exists save empty space—and you…. And you are not you—you have no body, no blood, no bones, you are but a thought. MARK TWAIN
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.
Imagine a cat, a vial of poison, and a radioactive source in a sealed box. If an internal sensor registers radioactivity, like an atom decaying, the vial is broken, releasing a poison that kills the cat. The atom has an equal chance of decaying or not decaying. It’s an ingenious way of linking an outcome in the classical world, our world, to a quantum-level event. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics suggests a crazy thing: before the box is opened, before observation occurs, the atom exists in superposition—an undetermined state of both decaying and not decaying. Which means, in turn, that the cat is both alive and dead. And only when the box is opened, and an observation made, does the wave function collapse into one of two states. In other words, we only see one of the possible outcomes. For instance, a dead cat. And that becomes our reality.
“When you write something, you focus your full attention on it. It’s almost impossible to write one thing while thinking about another. The act of putting it on paper keeps your thoughts and intentions aligned.”
So if the world really splits whenever something is observed, that means there’s an unimaginably massive, infinite number of universes—a multiverse—where everything that can happen will happen.
My concept for my tiny cube was to create an environment protected from observation and external stimuli so my macroscopic object—an aluminum nitride disc measuring 40 µm in length and consisting of around a trillion atoms—could be free to exist in that undetermined cat state and not decohere due to interactions with its environment.
What if our worldline is just one of an infinite number of worldlines, some only slightly altered from the life we know, others drastically different? The Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics posits that all possible realities exist. That everything which has a probability of happening is happening. Everything that might have occurred in our past did occur, only in another universe. What if that’s true? What if we live in a fifth-dimensional probability space?
In some presentations of quantum mechanics, the thing that contains all the information for the system—before it collapses due to an observation—is called a wave function. I’m thinking this corridor is our minds’ way of visualizing the content of the wave function, of all possible outcomes, for our superposed quantum state.
Why do people marry versions of their controlling mothers? Or absent fathers? To have a shot at righting old wrongs. Fixing things as an adult that hurt you as a child. Maybe it doesn’t make sense at a surface level, but the subconscious marches to its own beat.
If there are infinite worlds, how do I find the one that is uniquely, specifically mine?
All the tiny, seemingly insignificant details upon which my world hangs.
If you strip away all the trappings of personality and lifestyle, what are the core components that make me me?
“You know what the definition of insanity is?” “What?” “Doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.”
I’ve always known, on a purely intellectual level, that our separateness and isolation are an illusion. We’re all made of the same thing—the blown-out pieces of matter formed in the fires of dead stars.
It’s a classic setup, pure game theory. A terrifying spin on the Prisoner’s Dilemma that asks, Is it possible to outthink yourself?
What led to this decision was a unique experience that was mine alone. Then again, I could be wrong. I could be wrong about everything.
The multiverse exists because every choice we make creates a fork in the road, which leads into a parallel world.
All your life you’re told you’re unique. An individual. That no one on the planet is just like you. It’s humanity’s anthem.
“I’ve seen so many versions of you. With me. Without me. Artist. Teacher. Graphic designer. But it’s all, in the end, just life. We see it macro, like one big story, but when you’re in it, it’s all just day-to-day, right? And isn’t that what you have to make your peace with?”
“So you’re saying it’s fate.” She smiles. “I think I’m saying we found each other, for a second time.”
“Where we live, our friends, our jobs—those things define us.” “They’re not all that defines us. As long as I’m with you, I know exactly who I am.”
“Every moment, every breath, contains a choice. But life is imperfect. We make the wrong choices. So we end up living in a state of perpetual regret, and is there anything worse? I built something that could actually eradicate regret. Let you find worlds where you made the right choice.”
“Life doesn’t work that way. You live with your choices and learn. You don’t cheat the system.”
It’s the beautiful thing about youth. There’s a weightlessness that permeates everything because no damning choices have been made, no paths committed to, and the road forking out ahead is pure, unlimited potential.
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SummaryAdd a Summary
“Are you happy with your life?” Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before his abductor knocks him unconscious, before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits, where a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”
In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable - something impossible. Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves?
Blake Crouch writes a gripping science fiction thriller that will hook you from the very beginning, and will have you reading late into the night. A thought-provoking read full of twists and turns, that takes you down the scientific rabbit hole, delving into questions of our own existence and the consequences our life decisions. This novel will delight those who enjoy Orphan Black, the Matrix and Inception.
College professor bored with his life, due to the routines, finds himself being kidnapped on the way home one night, after running an errand. After meeting his alternate reality and realizing his other "self" has switched places, he desperately tries to get back to the life he knows and realizes he "loves" in all its imperfections.
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