Tag Archives: Chicago

Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Where did I get this Advanced Reader's Edition? Penguin Random House and the Reading Room sent it to me, no strings attached.

Where did I get this Advanced Reader’s Edition? Penguin Random House and the Reading Room sent it to me, no strings attached.

Jason Dessen has a good life. He teaches physics at the local college, he has a wife he adores and a well-adjusted fifteen-year-old son. If he sometimes feels regret for the research career in quantum physics he abandoned when his then-girlfriend Daniela told him she was pregnant, it’s only a momentary emotion.

Unlike most people, Jason gets to find out what life would have been like if he’d made a different choice. After a masked attacker abducts him on his way home one night, he awakens in an unfamiliar world where he never married or had a child, where his research on quantum superposition has led to a world-changing breakthrough. (That’s not a spoiler, it’s in the blurb!)

As Jason races to reclaim the life he lost, the implications of each decision he makes take on new and urgent meaning. Part breathless thriller, part SF cautionary tale, Dark Matter manages to create genuine emotional impact while it hurtles toward a surprising and thought-provoking conclusion. It will leave you pondering your own life choices, and where all those other roads might have taken you.

Genre: Science fiction techno-thriller with philosophical implications.

Read it if: You love Michael Crichton’s books but always wished his characters had a little more emotional depth; your favorite ’90s show was Sliders; you like inventive thrillers that demand to be read in one gulp.

Skip it if: You couldn’t care less about Schrodinger’s cat; you only like hard science fiction with all the science-y details fully explained; you categorically reject the concept of the multiverse.

Movie-worthy: Yes, please! I would see this movie in the theater, preferably in IMAX 3-D.



Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining GirlsWhat would you do if you found a time portal? In Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63, one man uses a time portal to buy supplies for his restaurant at low, low 1960s prices; another uses it to try and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. When Harper Curtis finds his way to the House in 1930s Chicago, he takes advantage of its time portal to seek out and brutally murder young women across six decades.

Something about the House calls to Harper, and one room in particular seems to imply that he has already committed horrible crimes, that his acts of violence exist outside of time. He targets women based on the extraordinary potential he sees in them–they shine in a way that perhaps only he can see.

The Shining Girls is creepy and seriously disturbing, not least because the glimpses we see of the murdered women feel like American Girl doll stories gone sickeningly wrong. It’s to the author’s credit that she leaves so much unanswered about them. We never know what these women could have achieved, what accomplishments their talents might have produced. Thanks to Harper, no one will ever know.

When Kirby Mazrachi survives the attack that was meant to kill her, she becomes convinced that her would-be murderer has killed before. With the help of a veteran journalist, Dan Velasquez, she searches for answers. This is a familiar element of many a serial killer thriller, but Beukes raises the stakes in terms of both her exceptional writing and the unique abilities of the murderer. It also helps that Kirby is a great character, resilient, stubborn and fiercely independent, yet also genuinely sympathetic. Seeing her through Dan’s eyes only increases the reader’s concern for her safety.

Beukes never explains the origin or nature of the House, leaving it to the reader to folow the Moebius strip of cause and effect. Asking how the House came to be what it is might be as pointless as asking how Harper can be human without the slightest trace of empathy or conscience. Some questions can’t be answered.

Genre: Intense, graphic thriller with a sci-fi twist

Read it if: You can’t resist the idea of a time-traveling serial killer,

Skip it if: Well, let’s put it this way: disembowelment. You probably know whether you should skip it at this point.

Movie-worthy: I get the chills just thinking about a movie of this book. I mentally cast Josh Holloway from Lost as Harper. “Sweetheart…”