I saw so many people post about Recursion over the past few weeks that I knew I needed to read this book ASAP and share my thoughts on it. Hyped books worry me sometimes because when a ton of people like the book, it sets your expectations much higher than you would have if there wasn’t any hype at all.
High expectations + a new read you’re not sure if you’ll like = possible big mess
So I usually hold off on reading books with tons of hype, but I thought it would also be cute if I read the book and shared whether or not the hype was worth the read. Let’s see if Recursion is as good as everyone says it is.
The story itself is pretty complicated. I’ll try my best to sum this up without 1) spoilers 2) confusing you. Basically, it follows Barry, an older investigative officer who just tried to talk a woman off the ledge of a building. She suffers from False Memory Syndrome aka FMS, where two lines of memory are inundated in a person. One is the life she had been living up until that moment and then the second is an alternate life she doesn’t remember living but somehow those memories are just as real as the life she knows she lived.
It also follows Helena, a scientist who is on the brink of finding what she hopes is a cure for Alzheimer’s. Since her mother’s diagnosis, she’s been determined to find a cure and help her mother regain some of her memory before the disease takes over completely. When she was about to run out of funding from Stanford on her research, she meets Marcus Slade, your Elon Musk for all intents and purposes who believes in what she’s doing and funds the rest of her research.
As Helena makes strides in building a machine that lets you relive your own memories, she’s pushed to her scientific limit when they make a discovery that allows users to travel back to their own memories. However, the consequences of reliving these memories becomes clear as it not only affects the person traveling, but the people around them. And as Helena’s machine falls into the wrong hands, she and Barry team up to find how to stop the machine from ending humanity as we know it.
TW: Suicide, mass genocide, and anxiety-inducing existential life questions
Before I start this review, I wanted to explain what “recursion” means. Recursion (in a scientific and mathematical sense) is a computer programming technique involving the use of a procedure, subroutine, function, or algorithm that calls itself one or more times until a specified condition is met at which time the rest of each repetition is processed from the last one called to the first. This definition basically explains what happens in this book.
This book reminded me a lot of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind except without all the sad “I’m deleting all my memories of my former lover” feelings and instead traveling to that point in time and reliving that moment. It’s like if Joel realized the catalyst moment of their relationship falling apart, going back to that moment, and saying the right thing to keep them together. If that makes sense.
It’s not your average time travel book. If you wanted to understand the time travel here, I would say it’s like layers of timelines. They’re all stacked on top of each other and come together at the point where you jumped. It’s not like how they do it in Back to the Future. It’s not like Austin Powers and his time traveling movies. This takes the current concepts of time travel and throws it out the window.
Blake Crouch actually does a very good job at explaining the mechanics of this world. He really takes the “science” of science fiction and writes really great action-filled fiction using it. On many levels this book reminded me of Dark Matter except traveling through time instead of dimensions. While I wish there was more science behind how all of this worked, I guess it really doesn’t matter because science won’t be able to really explain what happens.
You will keep reading this book despite how confusing the science may seem. It’s like you want to know what happens every time someone gets into the deprivation chamber and travels. You want to know where they go and what they do and what happens. I think Blake Crouch does a really good job with the suspense in that effect. You’re always wanting to know how the world has changed and how it’s affected the people around you.
Speaking to that, I really loved how this didn’t exist inside a vacuum. The butterfly effect of changes affected everyone involved. People were living with dual sets of memories. Some people remember their own deaths, which is something I don’t know if I can handle. Barry and Helena lived multiple lives trying to find a way to destroy the machine, but every time they jumped it affected everyone around them. I really loved that aspect because it made it feel real.
And in Blake Crouch style, there’s always a little emotion. Barry goes through an emotional rollercoaster all throughout this novel whether it was reliving the death of his daughter or helping Helena find the solution. Barry and Helena’s emotional states were really what drew me to this story because they felt so real. And in a story where there’s very little reality, you need this to hold on to and remember that this is real human connection.
The only thing I had an issue with is the repetition. I mean, the book needs the repetition because they relive years of their life over and over again, but at some point I felt like it was a little too much. I think many of the jumps they made back to the same moment in time could have been summed up in a paragraph or two.
So is this book worth the hype?
Yes, I like to think so. It’s an action-packed novel with a scientific bend to it. The science isn’t too difficult to understand and fits into the definition of “recursion” very well. It’s definitely one of those books you’ll sit down to read and suddenly find yourself devouring. It doesn’t hesitate with its start and the action keeps going until the very end. It also has human and emotional elements to it which I like to think brings a sense of reality to a story that steeped in science fiction. Is it a read right away book? No, not necessarily. However, it is a surprising read and if you liked Blake Crouch’s first book, Dark Matter, then you’re going to like this one just as much.
I really hope they turn this book into a graphic novel or a movie. I’m hoping more for the latter because it would be excellent on the big screen. I can only imagine Bruce Willis playing Barry and like Jennifer Aniston as Helena. Super visual and extremely plot-driven, this book will leave you wondering if you could go back and change any regrets you’ve had, would you?
I received a copy of this book from Crown Publishing for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.