Publisher: Random House Audio (Audiobook – 11 June 2019)
Length: 10 hours and 47 minutes
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Get ready for one of the most impressive and compelling science fiction books of the last few years with Blake Crouch’s outstanding 2019 release, Recursion.
Crouch is one of the more intriguing and highly regarded science fiction and thriller authors out there now, having produced a fantastic catalogue of intense and addictive novels over his career. Best known for his Wayward Pines trilogy (adapted into a television series of the same name), Crouch’s books for the last few years have been a collection of fantastic standalone science fiction thrillers, such as the bestselling Dark Matter. These novels often combine intense thriller storylines with high-concept science fiction elements to produce some epic and captivating reads. So far, I have only read one of Crouch’s books, his 2019 release, Recursion, which was an exceptional and amazing read. Unfortunately, I didn’t review it back then, even though it was one of my top books and audiobooks of 2019. As I have just started reading Crouch’s latest book, Upgrade, I thought this would be a good opportunity to quickly give Recursion the love it deserves, as this honestly was one of the better books of 2019.
Memory makes reality.
That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.
That’s what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.
As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.
But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?
Recursion was a powerful and deeply complex novel that perfectly brought together an impressive and thrilling narrative about choices, survival, and fixing mistakes, with some outstanding and clever science fiction concepts. Based around the concept of memory, Recursion eventually devolves into a deeply compelling time travel narrative as its amazing two protagonists are dragged into a terrifying struggle to save the world.
The narrative of Recursion is split between grizzled cop Barry Sutton and brilliant scientist Helena Smith, both of whom have tragic pasts and memories that they would kill to get a do-over for. Their storylines are initially kept separate, as Barry attempts to investigate a mysterious illness that is causing people to suddenly awaken with a second set of memories about a life that didn’t happen, driving them insane. At the same time, Helena works with a mysterious corporate benefactor to develop a machine that will allow people to relive their most important memories, but her boss soon takes control of the project and morphs it into something very different with impossible knowledge.
It is soon revealed that Helena’s boss is using her memory machine to travel back to the time that the important memories were created in order to alter the timeline for his and his friend’s advantage. The false memory syndrome is a side effect of this process, as people eventually start to remember all the changes that have been made due to the time travelling villains. Both Barry and Helena are dragged into this conspiracy, as Barry is bribed to stop investigating by reliving and altering the memory of his daughter’s death, while Helena fights to stop it before it’s too late. Eventually teaming up once the world starts going crazy with multiple memories, Barry and Helena are too late, with the various nations launching nukes against America to stop them ruling the world through time travel. Helena is barely able to escape by diving back in time to a point in her personal years before the events of the book.
From there the novel turns into an intense time travel thriller as Helena works through her past and attempts to perfect her machine and stop time travel from ever existing. Continuously recruiting a younger Barry, Helena is unable to find a solution before the world regains its lost memories and is forced to travel back again and again to avoid the inevitable arrests and nuclear strikes and ends up living multiple lifetimes. This leads to a desperate series of attempts to save the world, which results in a fantastic and clever conclusion that fits the unique science fiction elements and characters of this book extremely well.
Recursion’s entire narrative comes together extremely well and serves as a powerful standalone read. I loved how the story developed throughout the course of the book, and I found the second half of the novel, with the multiple examples of time travel to be some of the best parts of Recursion, especially as the stakes are raised higher than ever before. This is a very well-written and fast-paced thriller, and Crouch brings in some fascinating concepts that work extremely well in the context of the clever narrative he pulled together. The blend of intense action, compelling characters and complex science fiction elements is pretty damn perfect, and readers really get drawn into this narrative as a result. I was personally addicted to Recursion very early in the game, and I had an outstanding time seeing how everything came together.
Crouch explores a lot of unique and compelling scientific elements which become an excellent part of the overall book. The author presents a very complex and intriguing series of concepts around human memory, time travel, and everything in between, and makes some very interesting and well-researched points about them. While most of these concepts are high-level science, Crouch takes the time to explain them carefully, and I found myself following along with the ideas fairly well. While I did think the leap from memory experiments to time travel were a little over-the-top, it did become an incredible part of the narrative, and I really loved how well time travel was used in the story. I love a good time travel story, and Recursion was one of the better ones that I have read, especially as it covers it in a unique way, while also highlighting the many dangers of unchecked changes to the time stream. I loved how well the author was able to weave a compelling and powerful story around these concepts, and you will come away from this book really thinking about all the implications of this potential technology, as well as the importance of memory to the human psyche.
I also deeply enjoyed the outstanding pair of protagonists, Barry Sutton and Helena Smith, whom the story is set around. Not only does Crouch do a wonderful job splitting the narrative between them, often in some very clever ways, but he also builds both characters up extremely well, showcasing their deep inner pain. Both have experienced a lot of tragedy in their lives, and thanks to the technology being explored here, they are given the chance to relive it and change it. Watching them go through these deep emotional moments, as well as witnessing the various mistakes they make as they try to fix the world, is pretty damn heartbreaking, and you really grow to appreciate their struggles, especially if you can relate to their tragic memories. As such, you grow attached to them rather quickly, and I liked how Crouch made sure to build in a compelling, if unique, relationship between them. While both grow close during their first meeting, their romantic relationship takes on a whole new edge once time travel is brought into it and it turns into powerful romantic bond that literally last lifetimes. I really grew close to both Barry and Helena while reading Recursion, and they are an outstanding pair of protagonists to follow.
I must admit that I was a little wary about listening to the Recursion audiobook, as a colleague of mine who read the novel before me indicated that it might prove a little challenging to keep track of the various time periods without a physical copy to flip through. However, I really did not have any trouble keeping track of what was going on in the story while listening to the audiobook, and indeed I found that the format helped me understand the concepts more. I also enjoyed the combined narration of Jon Lindstrom and Abby Craden, with Lindstrom reading the chapters told from Barry’s perspective and Craden doing the same for Helena’s chapters. This split in narration worked really well, and I liked how it changed each time the character perspective did. With a run time of just under 11 hours, this was a fairly easy audiobook to get through, and I powered through it very quickly. An overall excellent way to enjoy this fantastic book.
Recursion by Blake Crouch is an epic and exceptional read that really showcases the author’s impressive writing skill and ability to come up with some truly unique concepts. This science fiction masterpiece is so damn awesome, and there is a very good reason that it was one of my favourite books of 2019. A five-star read and highly recommended in every way possible, I loved Recursion, and I can’t wait to finish off and review Upgrade next.