It’s a Wonderful Life: Multiverse Edition

Title: Dark Matter
Author: Blake Crouch
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 352
Rating: 3 of 5

This book explores the idea of the infinite multiverse where every decision made generates a new alternate universe. What would happen if you were able to travel to alternate universes where an alternate you made different major life choices? It’s sort of an It’s a Wonderful Life scenario, but with a magical sciencey box instead of Clarence the junior angel.

Okay, that’s a bit of an oversimplification, but I don’t want to give away any major spoilers. Suffice it to say that interaction with alternate universes, alternate selves, and alternate loved ones gets pretty convoluted. Some of the characterization is a bit flat and chichéd, and our main character makes some pretty dumb decisions for a world-class physicist, but if you’re really into the idea of an infinite multiverse (and aren’t put off by moderate amounts of profanity, drugs, semi-explicit sex, and gory violence), you’ll probably enjoy this book as fairly well-written, trippy sci-fi.

Personally, while I admired a lot of the plotting, this wasn’t my favorite. To me, the whole concept of every choice generating one or more alternate universes with alternate yous renders moot the very idea of a plot…why is the person who we are following any more the “real” person than one of the infinite alternates spawned by every choice made? To be fair, the book does acknowledge and incorporate this dilemma to a degree, but for me it kind of kills the joy of stories. Sure, the version I read ended this way, but it also ended in an infinite number of other ways none of which is more true than any other. Maybe I’m just overthinking it, but this kind of multiverse fiction just doesn’t work for me (I had similar issues with Michael Crichton’s Timeline).

Second Tier Twain

Title: The Prince and the Pauper
Author: Mark Twain
Genre: Classic Historical Fiction
Pages: 253
Rating: 3 of 5

In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court Mark Twain wrote scathing satire of medieval England. In this historical fiction (written earlier than Yankee) he pokes gentle fun at the pampered life of royals and points out the barbaric harshness of Tudor punishments, but his overall tone is much lighter…almost cutesy.

This kinder, gentler Twain felt a bit flat to me. A lot of the historical “color” consisted in paraphrasing or outright quoting chunks of historical documents that described the clothing and royal ceremonies of Tudor England. The well-known “identical strangers switch places” plot wasn’t especially believable, but it lets Twain look at different aspects of society through the eyes of outsiders and has some nice little dramatic tension at the end.

Sometimes I find Twain’s caustic wit in other books to be a bit much, but I prefer it to this book. Overall, I think I would have enjoyed The Prince and the Pauper a lot more when I was a child. As it is, I’m using this as my “Book from the Americas (author or topic)” category over at the Back to the Classics ChallengeSeven categories down; Five to go!