Dark Matter is a 2016 science fiction thriller by bestselling American novelist and screenwriter Blake Crouch. The novel follows Jason Dessen, a college professor and physicist who wakes up in an alternate reality and must find his way back to his family. Crouch is the author of the science fiction mystery/thriller trilogy Wayward Pines (2011-2014), which was adapted into a television series on FOX in 2015. Crouch’s many novels span the genres of science fiction, mystery, and psychological thriller.
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The novel takes place in October 2015 in Chicago and is written in the first-person present tense from the protagonist Jason Dessen’s point of view. Chapters 4, 6, and 9 are written from the third-person present tense perspective of Jason’s wife, Daniela.
On the evening of October 1, Jason is making dinner with his wife, Daniela, when she reads that Jason’s friend, Ryan Holder, has won a prestigious science award. Jason and Daniela joke about having given up prestigious careers—his as a scientist and hers as an artist—when their son, Charlie, was born 15 years ago. Daniela urges Jason to go congratulate Ryan at his party. Jason reluctantly agrees: He envies Ryan’s success and wonders what his life would have been like if he had persisted in his research, rather than choosing to have a family.
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On the way home, a masked man abducts Jason and makes Jason drive to an abandoned power plant. The man injects Jason with a drug, and when Jason wakes up, he finds himself in an unfamiliar medical facility. A doctor, Leighton Vance, asks Jason many questions that Jason cannot answer. He claims Jason has been gone for 14 months. Jason learns that he is in Velocity Laboratories, a high-level research facility, and that he is part of an important project. Confused and afraid, Jason escapes, but when he finds his way home, he sees no traces of his wife and son.
Jason, worried that he’s hallucinating, goes to the hospital for an MRI. His brain scans come back normal, but the doctor places Jason on a 72-hour psychiatric hold when Jason fails to recognize information about his life. Jason flees the hospital and decides to find Daniela. Jason notices that his wedding ring is gone and ties a thread from the hotel curtain around his ring finger to remind him of his real life.
Jason finds Daniela using her maiden name, Daniela Vargas. He tracks her down at a crowded art exhibit and learns that Daniela is a successful artist who is dating his friend, Ryan Holder. Daniela remembers Jason—they dated for a few months 15 years ago. While they mingle, Ryan asks Jason how he used the chemical compound that Ryan developed for Velocity Laboratories. When Jason expresses confusion, Ryan gets angry and says the company used him.
At Daniela’s apartment, Jason tells Daniela and Ryan that he woke up in another world, and in his version of reality, they all have different lives. Ryan thinks Jason is mocking him; he gets angry and leaves. Daniela lets Jason stay the night, and they sleep together. The next day, a man breaks into the apartment, kills Daniela, and takes Jason back to Velocity Laboratories.
At the laboratory, Leighton explains that Jason invented a device—“the box”—that allows people to travel between different realities. The “pilot” injects Ryan’s compound, which knocks the user out for 30 minutes. When they wake up, they open the box’s door and step into a new reality. For his own safety, Jason decides his safest option is to feign understanding. Leighton shows him an old video of Jason going into the box and a recent one of Jason on the floor beside it, which is where Leighton found him.
That evening, Jason reads the notes saved in his laptop. He realizes that another version of him—Jason2—lives in this reality. Jason2 opted to pursue his scientific career; he built a box that Jason had only theorized. Like Jason, Jason2 was unhappy with his choice 15 years ago; he regretted leaving Daniela, so he went into the box, found Jason’s reality, abducted Jason, and replaced him.
Back in Jason’s original reality, Daniela has noticed that Jason has changed—most notably, he is more passionate toward her. His behavior alarms Daniela; Jason2 attributes it to a near-death experience, and though Daniela accepts this explanation, she is afraid Jason is hiding something.
In Jason2’s reality, Ryan informs Leighton of Jason’s lie. Leighton interrogates Jason and eventually has Ryan killed because he knows too much. Amanda Lucas, Jason2’s therapist, rescues Jason and escapes with him into the box.
Using ampoules of Ryan’s compound, Jason and Amanda travel to different realities, searching for Jason’s. At first, they enter realities in which disasters have taken place; they realize that their fear is stymieing them because their mental state determines the reality outside of the box. After two more attempts, they find a reality that closely resembles Jason’s. Jason watches that world’s Jason and Daniela all day. When he returns to the hotel, Amanda is furious. She is afraid that Jason is losing his grasp on reality. The next morning, Jason finds a note by the bed and half the remaining ampoules—eight. Amanda wishes Jason well, but she needs to find her own path.
When Jason finally gets back to his world, he learns that dozens of other versions of him are there, too: His travels through the multiverse created branching realities. His doppelgangers are aware of each other, and they all have the same goal: to return to Daniela and Charlie and defeat Jason2. Realizing this is impossible, they begin to hunt each other. One tries to kill Jason, but he escapes.
Jason gets arrested so that Daniela will come to the police station to bail him out. Daniela believes Jason’s claim that Jason2 is an imposter: She calls Jason2 and catches him in a lie about a fake vacation. Jason and Daniela get Charlie and they make their way to Ice River, Wisconsin, where they break into an off-season lake house and spend the night. The family spends a nice day together: Daniela and Charlie are glad to have Jason back. Jason lets the others know that Charlie and Daniela are safe. He proposes a lottery to see which of them ends up with Daniela because, technically, they are all married to this version of her. No one likes this idea.
Late that night, Jason wakes up and finds that the Jasons have found them. He has a standoff with a version of himself he met at a bar and kills him. Jason2 arrives and tells Jason he could have lived out his fantasy of being a renowned scientist. Jason tells Jason2 that all he wants is to live with his family; he kills Jason2. The family takes Jason2’s car and drives to the abandoned power plant in Chicago that houses the box. Dozens of Jasons have gathered there for the lottery. Jason, Daniela, and Charlie make their way through the crowd and enter the box. They all take the drug, and when they wake up, they let Charlie open the door into their new world.
By Blake Crouch