In Recursion, it’s 2008 and Dr. Helena Smith is a brilliant neuroscientist driven by the devastation that Alzheimer’s disease is ravaging on her family to create a device that will save the memories of those people who are losing them. Not just a passing or faded memory, but those core ones that define our lives. And they are very lucid, very vivid memories. The way she has worked out the science, if you were to review these saved memories, you’d swear you’re living them firsthand. But she’s out of funding.
Enter Marcus Slade, a billionaire tycoon driven by a love of science and technology who wants to give Helena anything she needs to make her dreams a reality.
In 2018, NYPD Detective Barry Sutton is first on the scene of an attempted suicide in progress. The woman is sitting on the ledge of a skyscraper ready to jump because she swears she’s living a double life. In one, she’s alone and in the city. In the other, she lives in Connecticut with a husband and son. And each set of memories is as real to her as the other. She can no longer keep straight which is her reality and would rather end her life than continue on with the knowledge of what should be happening. Barry knows this as False Memory Syndrome, a disease that has affected a very small, but growing, population around the world. This, however, is his first experience with it. Being the detective he is, he decides to investigate FMS further.
What comes next is a roller coaster ride that leaves us questioning the very foundation of “reality” as we know it.
I really appreciate when authors are able to weave science into the fabric of a novel and make it feel like it’s not being dumbed down. Andy Weir did that incredibly well in The Martian where I was learning while I was being entertained. With that book, at no time did I feel overwhelmed by theory that was completely nonsensical or overloaded with jargon as I read about the plight of botanist and astronaut Mark Watney.
The same goes for Blake Crouch‘s masterful tale about the horrors of Alzheimer’s disease and the scientific community’s attempts to defeat it. There is another scientific concept (maybe a bit more science fiction-y) at play in this novel that Crouch does an amazing job of making the multiple theories surrounding it more attainable to the masses. However, I’m afraid to mention what it is for fear of entering spoiler territory.
I don’t consider myself dumb. Just easily bored. If you give me a story mired in too many concepts that I cannot understand, I will tune out. Guaranteed! But if you’re a truly great educator and can make tough ideas relatable without making the student feel like a moron, then that lesson will stick forever.
I get the feeling Crouch would have been one of those truly great educators in another lifetime.
Suffice it to say, Recursion blew my mind and is easily one of the best new books I’ve read in years. It tugs on all the appropriate emotions, has a very fantastical concept that is made utterly believable, and has some of the most well-developed and relatable characters I’ve read in a long time.
From the publisher:
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.
Neuroscientist Helena Smith already understands the power of memory. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious moments of our pasts. 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?
Heads up: Recursion is being adapted into a movie and TV series by Shonda Rhimes and Matt Reeves for Netflix.