After the highly successful Dark Matter (2016) which would become Crouch’s best-selling novel, he delivered another sci-fi thriller very similar in tone and subject matter: Recursion (2019). Like Dark Matter, Recursion reads very much as if it is a screenplay for a yet-to-be-shot film, complete with fade-ins and fade-outs at every scene. His staccato prose of short sentences and avoidance of stylistic embellishments or, in fact, paragraphs, make Recursion a very fast read with a high pace of story events. Crouch also makes enthusiastic use of cliched visual cues in his setting of scenes and storyworld-building so that indeed the novel feels as if you are watching a Hollywood blockbuster in which news flashes from CNN communicate exposition, power means mahogany and quantum means whatever you want it to mean.
The first third of the novel is actually a pretty neat introduction to a sci-fi thriller that is a bit like the 2004 film The Butterfly Effect. It kept me in suspense, guessing as to what is going on, has some intriguing plot developments and eventually the reader is rewarded with puzzle pieces falling into place. It is a wonderful ride of a novel so far. Yet I am in two minds about it, because Crouch’s writing style is repetitive in the techniques he uses and occasionally feels as if he is talking down to me. Crouch simplified his writing so much that every thematic lesson is made obvious and every emotional journey is spelled out for you in triple form. Whole chapters consist of nothing more than reiterating Barry’s or Helena’s thoughts over and over in different wordings, so that even a chimpanzee understands what they are thinking and feeling at every moment.
But the sci-fi concept that is being explored is fun. You just need to forgo any hope of a deeper scientific understanding and accept a high level of handwavium. The explanation doesn’t matter to Crouch; either he couldn’t be bothered to invent technobabble that would sound at least somewhat plausible or he made a tactical decision to keep his novel easy for the lowest common denominator. I suspect the second motivation for the same reason that the novel Dark Matter didn’t have anything to do with dark matter, but that was the title because it sounded cool. I also think that Crouch simply writes the kind of novels that he himself would enjoy reading and there is nothing wrong with that.
And I really think that it is an achievement that Blake kept this story so compelling, with so many interesting and potent story moments, over such long stretches of the novel. Blake rushes from implication to implication at a speed that the average reader has no time to think ahead, and so the plot stays exciting and there is less danger of the reader thinking too deeply about what is going on, which is always a danger with timeline-related plots. From a dramatic standpoint this is all wonderfully done.
In the final quarter of the novel it started to lose me. Some of the “rules” Crouch invented for his SF-concept began to get slippery and contradictory. At the same time, the drama of it all got so inflated that began to overrule basic logic about human behavior. And combine that with characters that are rather bland and you get a book that is in love with its own speed and explosions to the detriment of much else. Especially the contrast between the repetitive, bland writing on a sentence level and the erudite quotes by philosophers and sudden exposition about neutrinos and muons and I just couldn’t take this book seriously anymore. It’s fast food with a good juicy idea in its center, but far from nourishing.