In 2007, Helena Smith's life changes when she starts working for
Marcus Slade. A neuroscientist, Helena wants to create a technology to
stock memories hoping to help her mother who has Alzheimer's.
Helena believes she is nearing a breakthrough, and Slade has the
means to make it happen. In 2016, the first cases of FMS - False
Memory Syndrome - are identified. It is driving people insane, the
suicide rate is increasing and it's all because of Helena's research. On
November 2, 2018 Detective Barry Sutton comes across his first case
of FMS. Or was it really his first case?
The concepts of time and perception of reality hold for me an
immeasurable fascination: Martin Heidegger's Sein und Zeit - Time and
Being; Augustine's Book XI of the Confessions; and the concept of
reality in Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Blake Crouch extrapolates on
those themes in the phenomenal RECURSION. Told in alternate POVs, Barry's and
Helena's, RECURSION is a
mindbender to end all mindbenders! I had devoured DARK MATTER, and I think RECURSION is even better. I might
go as far as saying it is the best technothriller I have ever read. The
story unfolds at lightning speed, the writing is flawless, the research is
thorough, and for me it worked superbly as a technothriller that also
embraces serious philosophical concepts.
RECURSION is exciting from page
one, but when the first really huge twist happens, I literally went, "
Whoa! What did I just read?!" And re-read it again, to make sure I got it
right. From that moment on, it is a surreal and exhilarating rollercoaster
ride that kept me enthralled until the end. At first, I could have cried
because I wouldn't have time to read the entire book the same day, but
RECURSION is so intense that I
was grateful that it is divided in "Books" that make it easier to stop, if
necessary. I needed mental breaks and moments to process what I had
read, and ponder on what might come ahead. I have no idea how Blake
Crouch was even capable of writing such a masterpiece and keep it
coherent; it's mind-boggling!
RECURSION is the most
intellectually demanding novel I have ever read and possibly the most
satisfying. If you enjoyed DARK
MATTER, don't hesitate to grab RECURSION as soon as you can. With this book,
Blake Crouch joins my select group of books that have made a
significant difference in my life, and I already want to read it again!
From the New York Times bestselling author of
Dark Matter and the Wayward Pines trilogy comes a
relentless thriller about time, identity, and memory—his
most ambitious, mind-boggling, irresistible work to date.
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
But how can they make a stand when reality itself is
shifting and crumbling all around them?
Crown; June 11, 2019
Q. Can you explain what the term “recursion” means?
A. Recursion as a concept extends into linguistics, visual art,
mathematics, and computer science, but the simplest way to describe
it is “repeated return,” or the same thing, made of the same thing,
made of the same thing, and so on. Think: looking at yourself in the
mirror with another mirror behind you. At its most basic level, recursion
occurs when a thing is defined in terms of itself—for instance, if the
word “recursion” were built of tiny component parts, each of which also
spelled “recursion.” I chose “recursion” for the title, because going into
this book, the idea of returning obsessively to painful memories (and
how to break free of that) was very much on my mind.
Q. Both DARK MATTER and RECURSION are something of genre mash-
ups, combining elements of science fiction with those of thrillers and
suspense novels. How would you describe your books and writing
A. I don’t intentionally start with an ingredient list of various genres and
try to throw in a dash of this, a dash of that. I’m a fan of sci-fi, straight
thrillers, psychological suspense, horror, even the occasional lit-fic.
Early on in my writing career, I felt like I could only be one thing at a
time, but starting with WAYWARD PINES, more so with DARK MATTER,
and now fully with RECURSION, I’ve stopped trying to resist all those
influences. If a story I want to tell has elements of horror, sci-fi,
suspense, and romance (as this one does), then I’m not going to let any
genre labels or boundaries stop me from telling that story exactly as it
needs to be told. That freedom has made the writing process a lot more
fun for me and lets me push my storytelling in directions that feel
exciting and fresh—and it seems to have really translated to readers,
Q: DARK MATTER was an ambitious novel. You mentioned in some
interviews that you really pushed yourself on that book. How was
writing RECURSION after that experience?
A. Once I finally got my arms around the idea, I realized I could do
things with this book that I’d never dreamed of doing in a story before.
For all its mind-bending weirdness, DARK MATTER is a fairly contained,
single-POV narrative. Starting off on RECURSION, my goal was to write
a novel even larger in scope, one that depicted the crumbling of reality,
truth, and time itself on a grand scale. It took many, many drafts to get
there, and I threw out more pages during this writing process than any
book in my career. There were several moments along the way when I
even thought of setting it aside. I have never been happier to finish a
book. I keep thinking it’s going to get easier, this novel-writing
business, but the trend appears to be heading the other way.
Q. Take us through the evolution of the novel. Did it start with a central
idea? Character? How were you able to tie all of the elements readers
will discover in RECURSION into one narrative?
A. I’ve come to realize that my books are a form of self-therapy, but I
never know what I’m personally working through until the book is done.
This one started with a single question: What’s more precious and
defining than our memories?
When I was nine, my grandfather came to live with us for six weeks. He
had Alzheimer’s and dementia, and the experience of living with
someone whose memories were abandoning them never left me. Some
days, he was fine; others, it seemed like he was living outside of time,
trapped in forty-year-old memories and talking to ghosts. From the
trauma of that experience, I formed the character of Helena Smith, a
neuroscientist whose mother has Alzheimer’s, and who wants nothing
more than to find a way to preserve her mom’s core memories.
Next came Barry Sutton, a man living in the past and mired in regret,
much as I had been for the last two years in the wake of the end of my
marriage. As Barry fought his demons, so did I. In an odd way, we grew
together during the course of writing the book.
So I knew I wanted to write a thriller about memories. I loved the idea of
a neuroscientist trying to invent something to save her mom. And I had
the character of Barry, who was essentially me. But I still didn’t really
have a book—just some promising threads.
Then one day, I came across an incredible article about some emerging
science in the field of memory that was exactly on point for my story.
And I was off.
Q. Speaking of emerging science . . . can you talk a bit about the
science that inspired you this time and your process for making sure
you got the details right?
A. An article in the Smithsonian by David Noonan, entitled, “Meet the
Two Scientists Who Implanted a False Memory in a Mouse,” set me
down the road of RECURSION. Two scientists from MIT found that, “not
only was it possible to identify brain cells involved in the encoding of a
single memory, but those specific cells could be manipulated to create
a whole new ‘memory’ of an event that never happened.”
The implications were irresistible. Noonan further writes: “Though the
work so far has been done on lab mice, the duo’s discoveries open a
deeper line of thought into human nature. If memories can be
manipulated at will, what does it mean to have a past? If we can erase a
bad memory, or create a good one, how do we develop a true sense of
I started wondering, what would it look like if someone scaled that
technology up to humans? If someone came up with a device that
preserved the neural patterns of our memories this way, and then
allowed us to reexperience them? And then I took a giant leap beyond
that, but now we’re getting into spoilers…
After the science of memory, the second area I tackled in RECURSION
is a big one—how we perceive time. I don’t want to say too much about
this because, again, spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that these
clear distinctions we make among past, present, and future are to some
extent artifacts of how our brains and bodies have evolved, and physics
tell us a much more complicated story about how things actually work.
Maybe everything is happening simultaneously—the past, present, and
future. Maybe there’s no such thing as time, at least not in the simple
way we perceive it. Is it possible that the most fundamental element of
our existence isn’t time or reality but memory itself?
In addition to the books and articles I read by neuroscientists,
physicists, and philosophers, I leaned heavily on Clifford Johnson,
Ph.D, the head of the USC physics department. As my subject matter
expert, he read the book and shared his thoughts on my approach to all
of the technology and theories. To be clear, I’m making a couple of
crazy leaps he’d never sign off on—but hopefully, his help in nailing
down the real-world details makes those leaps feel more plausible.
Q. Not to give too much away, but in RECURSION, a critical moment is
when characters are asked to call upon their most vivid memory. What
memory would you choose to return to if you found yourself in a similar
A. First, as an aside, many of the characters’ memories in RECURSION
are my memories. For instance, the flashbulb memory in the first
section of the book, when a character remembers seeing the
Challenger space shuttle explode in a dentist’s office, is my actual
flashbulb memory of that event when I was eight years old.
In terms of which memory I would choose to return to . . . wow . . .
that’s a tough one. While my first instinct would be to return to a
moment like the birth of a child or some other profound event in my
existence, having now written RECURSION, I think the point is that,
given the chance, I wouldn’t return to a memory now. Not even a great
one. We are such different people in the present than we were in the
past. Toward the end of this book, I realized it was a story about
looking forward instead of looking back—something I very much
needed to be focused on—and so RECURSION became an anthem
against nostalgia. Which apparently was the self-therapy point of this
Q. RECURSION raises many questions about identity and the moments
that make up our lives. What are the kinds of questions you hope
readers will ponder as they follow Barry and Helena’s journey?
A. Well, I can share with you the questions that haunted me while I was
writing the book: How do my memories define who I am? Who would I
be without my memories? How do we cope with memories of tragedy
(e.g. accidents, failed relationships)? How do we not get pulled out to
sea by the undertow of nostalgia for the great
moments/people/experiences that have gone away? How do we live in a
Q. What can you tell us about Netflix’s plans for RECURSION?
A. This book presents the kind of world-building and multiple-timeline
narrative that make it nearly impossible to adapt as a straight two-hour
movie. I was extremely fortunate to have Shonda Rhimes and Matt
Reeves team up on a super-ambitious pitch for how to adapt
RECURSION properly—not just as a television show, not just as a film,
but as a hybrid of the two. At the moment, the plan is for the adaptation
to launch as a two-hour film, which then spins out into a universe of
television series so we can faithfully explore the entire world of
RECURSION, including plotlines that I only hint at in the book. Which is
pretty incredible, and the kind of massive, cross-format project only a
place like Netflix could pull off.
Q. What can readers expect next from you?
A. I’ve just started a brainstorming journal for my next book, which
means I’m in the half-frustrating/half-exhilarating stage of creation
where I’m holding ideas to the fire to see if they combust or begin to
glow. I also have a soon-to-be-announced project I’m working on with
some of my favorite writers. Look for more info on that this spring.