Maybe idarkt’s all the “Quantum Leap” I’ve been watching on Netflix. Maybe I just like weird sci-fi stories. Maybe I’m easily swayed by the dozens of positive reviews I saw on social media. But “Dark Matter” by Blake Crouch is probably my favorite read of 2016 so far.

Jason Dessen is married to the love of his life, Daniela, and they have a wonderful teenage son, Charlie. Their home in Chicago is comfortable, though not terribly fancy. Jason teaches undergraduate physics classes at Lakemont College. He’s never won awards, never made any groundbreaking discoveries, but Jason Dessen is, overall, pretty happy.

One night, on the way home from congratulating a friend on winning a Pavia Prize (Crouch’s version of a Nobel Prize), Jason is kidnapped by a masked man who seems familiar somehow. This man knows everything about Jason, down to the passcode on his phone. The man forces Jason to an abandoned building in the middle of nowhere, then injects himself and Jason with a mysterious drug. Confused and afraid, Jason passes out.

When Jason wakes, he is in a world that is not his own. The people around him are strangers, but they seem to know him. They tell Jason he’s been missing for 18 months; much longer than the few hours from the night before. Jason begins to realize the horrifying truth: he’s no longer in the universe he’s always known. He’s jumped – or been forced – into a parallel universe. And the man who pushed him there? None other than an alternate version of himself.

This Jason (whom I’ll call Jason2) is an award-winning scientist. He’s won the Pavia, done the rounds as a guest lecturer at places like Harvard and Princeton, and works at Velocity Laboratories, a jet propulsion laboratory. He never married Daniela, never fathered Charlie, never spent time teaching community college. But like so many, Jason2 is plagued by the question of “what if?”

So Jason2 builds a machine, a cube that can manipulate quantum mechanics and allow him to travel to parallel dimensions. Which leads him to Jason’s world, where all those “what ifs” have been answered. And having shoved Jason into his own world, Jason2 takes over Jason’s life.

Jason could stay and take over Jason2’s life, become the scientist he chose not to be. But more than anything, he wants to be at home with his wife and son and the life they’ve made together. With help from a Velocity Laboratories scientist, Jason escapes into the quantum cube and hopes he’ll be able to leap back home.

To avoid giving away too much, I’ll just say this: quantum world-hopping is messy business. More than two roads diverged in this metaphorical wood and the results are both heartbreaking and frightening. Since I’m not an expert in quantum physics, I can’t speak to how accurate the science is in “Dark Matter,” but I’m willing to play along and agree to the rules Crouch lays out. And it’s certainly a good read. “Dark Matter” is a fun way to explore what you – or some version of yourself – might do if you got the chance to live through the “what ifs” of life.

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