A couple of years ago Blake Crouch delivered the multiworlds mind bender Dark Matter. In that book, the discovery of a portal technology allowed people to visit alternate versions of our world. At one point the main characters go on an odyssey deep into the bizarreness of the multiverse. In Dark Matter time moved inexorably forward. In Recursion, Crouch tries something similar but this time the alterative realities are laid over each other in the same time period. In tying the technology that drives his plot to memory, he manages to create more emotional resonance.
Recursion starts with a suicide. New York cop Barry Sutton is called to try and talk down a potential jumper. When he reaches her she claims to be suffering from False Memory Syndrome (FMS). She claims to remember a completely different life, but when she went to confront the man who she was married to in that life, he was living with the woman who she though had committed suicide fifteen years before. Barry fails to stop her taking her own life but in investigating the case he finds himself going down the rabbit hole of FMS. Soon strapped into the technology that causes it and sent back into his own memories to stop his daughter dying in a hit and run ten years before.
At the same time Crouch charts the story of Helena, the ultimate inventor of a machine that allows people to go back into their own past and change the outcome of events. All she wants is to find a way to map memories to save her mother from Alzheimers but she is encouraged to push her research into this new direction finding out too late that every time someone goes back into the past they wipe away the current reality and create a new one. Soon characters are bouncing back and forth through time to try and either put things right or prevent that outcome and then the whole exercise gets completely out of control.
Multiworld theory and the ethics of time travel give Crouch a broad canvas to play with. What happens in a world where people do not have to live with the consequences of their actions? If you could go back and prevent a massacre, would you? Would it matter if the survivors still remember an event that did not happen and may still be traumatised as a result? If people are meant to be together does it matter how many times they relive their lives? How would the international community react if someone tried to weaponise time (not so spoilery hint: badly)?
This is not new territory for science fiction and many of the greats have played with the idea– from HG Wells throughAsimov, Heinlein, Vonnegut and Clarke. Recently we’ve had Claire North’s breakout The Fifteen Lives of Harry August and Neal Stephenson and Nicole Garland’s The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. Crouch’s approach is a little more frenetic in that anyone can access the technology and so create new timelines for the whole world.
Much like Dark Matter, Recursion is a book you have to strap yourself in for and try not to think too hard about paradoxes and multiple overlapping timelines and multi-universe theories. Crouch successfully points readers to focus more on his characters, and their personal trials as they try to deal with living the same lives over and over but differently. Among all of the action and personal quandaries there are plenty of ethical issues to chew on making this an altogether a complete mind-bending science fiction package.