• Michael Pogach

Pogach Reviews: Recursion, by Blake Crouch


About seven years ago, a team of MIT scientists put a mouse in a box. The mouse immediately panicked, thinking it was about to get an electric shock because it remembered getting shocked in the box on previous visits. We all know the premise of this Pavlovian response: if you get punched in the nose every time you step into a McDonald’s, eventually you start getting quite tense and worried the moment you see a McDonald’s. The thing with the mouse was, it had never received an electrical shock in that box. It had never even been in that box.


The memory was totally fake, implanted by the scientists to make the mouse remember something that never happened.


Ballsy. Mind blowing. And fucking terrifying.


Reading about this experiment was a major influence on Blake Crouch’s novel Recursion, according to the author. Recursion tells the story of Helena and Barry, in a world beset by an epidemic of false memories: one day you’re a happy high school math teacher, and the you wake up on Thursday with absolutely real memories of once having lived an entire life as a skydive instructor. Or you’re happily married for thirty years, and then one day you remember having a completely different wife with different kids, and you remember, quite vividly, dying in a car accident. Enough to mash your gourd, isn’t it?


Helena is the scientist who invents a way to time travel through memory (sort of a Quantum Leap thing, except way more horrifying once the false memories kick in). Barry is the cop with the tragic past who chases the mystery of the false memory epidemic farther than he should. Together, they have to battle rogue scientists, governments, and doubts about their own existence in order to avoid a nuclear holocaust or, even worse, the total unraveling of human consciousness.


When it comes to time travel, my expertise is rooted firmly in a Wikipedia-level knowledge of Einstein coupled with Back to the Future and The Terminator. That said, if you can accept the premise of memory/time travel (it’s fiction, dammit, get on board!), then I think this passes all the tests and offers some unique twists on the subject.


In a lot of ways, Recursion a combination of two of Crouch’s previous works: the Wayward Pines trilogy and Dark Matter. It has all the don’t get-up-till-you’re-done-reading pacing and twists of the former and the total mind fuck of the latter.


Another thing I enjoyed about the novel, though I kind of wish was explored a little more, is the fallout of time travel and false memories. This is something Stephen King did so horrifyingly well in 11/22/63. Crouch goes there but doesn’t focus on it the way King does. I wanted more, but you may not.


In the end, Recursion is a great novel. And best of all, Crouch makes a time machine out of an easy chair!

5 / 5 stars


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