In 1937, Jack Miller joins an expedition group that is to be sent to the Arctic circle in order to gather data on the Arctic conditions with the job of communications. The rest of the team includes Gus Balfour (expedition leader and biologist), Algie Carlisle (huntsman, dog-driver, and geologist), Teddy Wintringham (photography and medical), and Hugo Charteris-Black (glaciologist). However, their expedition is struck with misfortune from the start and once their camp is established it becomes clear that the location is not as deserted as they first thought.
Dark Matter provides examples of the following tropes:
- The Ace: Gus Balfour is explicitly likened to the hero of a Boys' Own story.
- Always Night: The Polar Night induces this effect when it sets in; being at the northern tip of Svalbard means that there is barely any natural light at all for several months.
- Ambiguously Gay: Jack is very driven to impress Gus.
- Becomes much less ambiguous when he outright says he loves Gus in the final few chapters.
- Apocalyptic Log: Dark Matter is mostly structured as Jack's diary.
- Dwindling Party: Jack's expedition starts off with five men, but one is summoned away by a pressing family emergency before they've even left, another is injured on the journey, and the other two eventually wind up departing, leaving Jack all alone in the Arctic.
- Eerily Out-of-Place Object: The Bear Post.
- Nothing Is Scarier: Hardly anything explicit ever happens until the end, with most of the horror being derived from Jack's paranoia and Sanity Slippage.
- Haunted Headquarters: Gruhuken as a location to set up camp is unpopular with those who know the area better.
- Polar Madness: After Jack is left alone amidst the polar night when Gus and Algie depart, he slowly begins to succumb to madness and paranoia, making less and less trips to tend to the Stevenson screen and eventually barricading himself inside the cabin altogether.
- The Team: All the members of the expedition team work together to organise their living and gather data.
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Jack and Algie frequently argue while working together.