The idea that there are parallel universes where other versions of us exist is one that’s been explored in everything from Michael Moorcock’s Elric novels and both DC’s and Marvel’s comics to such movies and TV shows as Star Trek, Family Guy, and The Flash. But just as there may be infinite versions of our universe, so too are there infinite ways to explore the multiverse in fiction. Which is why, in this universe — and maybe others — I spoke to Wayward Pines writer Blake Crouch about his smart and engaging new multiverse-exploring novel Dark Matter (paperback, hardcover, digital).
Photo © Jesse Giddings
I find it best to start with the basics. So, basically, what is Dark Matter about?
Dark Matter is the story of a physics professor named Jason Dessen who lives with his family in Chicago. Once upon a time, he was poised to do great things, but as often happens, “life happened while he was making other plans,” to quote the song. He isn’t unhappy, but there’s a bit of wanderlust in his bones. Curiosity about the road not taken. And without giving anything away, Jason gets a chance to see what his life may have been like had he made a different, critical choice in the past.
But at heart, Dark Matter is a love story wrapped in a sci-fi thriller.
Where did you get the original idea for it?
It was actually three separate ideas that I had been mulling over for the last ten years. At different times, I’d tried to develop each of these ideas on their own, but always ran out of gas. A couple years ago, I realized these three separate ideas were actually all part of the same big concept, and when I figured out how they fit together, I had Dark Matter.
And how different, if at all, is the final version of Dark Matter from those original ideas?
Dark Matter is very close to the original idea I had. Of course, certain things changed, characters found their own voices, but the spirit of what I wanted to do two years ago when I first saw the light at the end of the tunnel of this story, is very much intact.
In terms of what Dark Matter is about, are there any specific writers or novels that you think were a big influence?
The writing that influenced Dark Matter came more from physicists than novelists. I’m talking about people like Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, Michio Kaku, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention what a big hero Michael Crichton is for me, especially the way he wove big scientific concepts seamlessly into compelling stories.
How about movie, TV shows, comics, or games; did any of them inspired any aspects of the story?
The films of Christopher Nolan, especially Inception, were always in the back of my mind as I was writing. That level of world-building and pure mind-bending imagination is something I aspire to.
As you said, Jason Dessen is a physics professor. In deciding how he would act and speak, did you consult any real physics professors, or did you just make it up?
My approach was to learn everything I needed to learn about quantum mechanics to tell a story that was, if not 100% scientifically plausible, at least in the ballpark. I mean, there’s still a speculative element to this story. If it was all completely scientifically plausible, I would be winning a Nobel prize.
Once I finished, I hooked up with a USC physics professor named Clifford Johnson. He read all the science-heavy passages in the book and gave me feedback so that (a) I was presenting core concepts of quantum mechanics accurately, and (b) making Jason sound like a real physics professor.
You’ve said that, in some ways, Dark Matter is a departure for you, but in other ways it’s also a continuation of what you did with your Wayward Pines books. Was this something you did intentionally, and you worked towards, or was this something that you did without realizing and only thought of later?
I think the similarities to Wayward Pines are in the way I have tried to take emerging, speculative science fields that interest me and merge them into the type of commercial storytelling that blows my hair back. I wasn’t necessarily being intentional in choosing this subject matter. This is simply the kind of story I’d love to read.
Speaking of the Wayward Pines books, are there any plans to write a sequel?
At this time, I have no plans to write more books in the Wayward Pines series.
Going back to Dark Matter, there are already plans to turn it into a movie, for which you’re writing the script. In writing the script, have you hit upon anything that made you exclaim, “Ah, crap, I should’ve done that in the book!”?
Yes! It happens all the time. You come up with better lines of dialogue. You realize that certain elements of the story could be streamlined. You come up with new scenes. But I didn’t start writing the script until the manuscript was locked, because at the end of the day, the script is the script, the book is the book, and you’ll drive yourself insane trying to second guess yourself like that. Some things work in the book medium that don’t translate into the script format and vice versa.
Now, this would never happen, but if the producers asked you for ideas about who should direct the Dark Matter movie, and who should star in it, what would you say?
Ha! Well, they might ask me — they should ask — and since I do have ideas, it wouldn’t be appropriate to share them publicly at this point.
Finally, if someone reads Dark Matter, and they want to read something else by you, which of your books would you recommend and why?
I would recommend the Wayward Pines trilogy. It’s similar in that it’s a big idea platformed on emerging science theories and technology.