Recursion (2019) begins with a dual timeline in alternating chapters, a familiar literary approach, but then splinters into razor-sharp time shards as the characters deal with the explosive consequences of a new technology relating to personal memory.
In November 2018, detective Barry Sutton attempts to prevent a woman from jumping from the 41st floor of a New York City tower. The woman, Ann, tells him she has False Memory Syndrome (FMS), a new affliction in which a person remembers an entirely different past for themselves, like their memory branched at a certain point in the past. The memories, though vivid, are in shades of gray. Ann’s conviction that she’s lost a life in which she had a happy marriage and a nine-year-old son was so compelling that she searched for ― and found ― the man she remembered marrying, who said he didn’t recognize her, though Ann is convinced he did. Barry, deeply curious, begins his own investigation of Ann’s past, and it leads him to danger as well as a to a chance to rectify a terrible event in Barry’s own life.
In October 2007, neuroscientist Helena Smith, haunted by her mother’s gradual loss of her memories due to Alzheimer’s, has dedicated her life and career to researching ways to preserve memories. She dreams of building a chair that will incorporate technology to record and project memories. Unexpectedly, Helena is visited by a stranger who offers her millions of dollars in funding if she’ll come to an off-shore research facility (a converted oil rig) to continue her memory studies and technology development. She’s met there by Marcus Slade, a billionaire business magnate and investor, who takes a suspiciously deep interest in Helena’s research. Helena’s research takes a turn toward the ominous, as Marcus pushes her research testing in directions she hadn’t foreseen.
In Recursion, author Blake Crouch stretches the concept of memory preservation into a technology that affects the very fabric of reality, expanding that idea to explore its most chilling, unintended consequences. Barry and Helena’s race against both personal enemies and time itself are gripping. Although I couldn’t entirely suspend disbelief in the pseudoscience, Crouch does a laudable job of giving it a plausible basis in quantum physics.
“You really believe time is an illusion?”
“More like our perception of it is so flawed it may as well be an illusion. Every moment is equally real and happening now, but the nature of our consciousness only gives us access to one slice at a time.… Some other moment, an old memory, is just as much now as this sentence I’m speaking, just as accessible as walking into the room next door. We just needed a way to convince our brains of that.”
The pace of Recursion picks up steadily until terrifying events are occurring at breakneck speed. My other beef with the science is that the final resolution of the plot relies on a particular quirk of the technology that was a just a little too convenient, and doesn’t really stand up to close examination. These are fairly minor quibbles, though. It’s an outlandish plot, but you just need to suspend disbelief and roll with it.
Though the focus of Recursion is on the action and suspense, Barry and Helena are engaging main characters with difficult problems in their lives that motivate their actions. There’s also a brief cameo by Amor Towles, who seems to have an alternative life and career in the pages of this book, that made me smile (as well as wonder what the connection is between these two authors).
Readers who enjoyed Crouch’s previous techno-thriller, Dark Matter, will probably have just as much fun with Recursion. There are some distinct style and theme similarities between the two books, but the plots are different enough that Recursion doesn’t feel like a retread. It kept me glued to my seat and reading far, far too late into the night.
It might be a bit too preposterous for your taste, Bill, but if you can roll with that, it’s a fun ride. :)
i’ll make sure I’m in the right mood :)