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October 5, 2010

How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

The UK cover of How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe (published by Corvus) is a delightful array of small rayguns, from Flash Gordon to Star Wars. Hidden amongst the rayguns is a single dog. The font is Star Trek-y and pink. It's a lovely cover, but it lends one to think that perhaps the book is akin to The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy, it really isn't.

Instead the story follows a time machine repair man, Charles Yu, who lives in his own time machine, dislocated from real time. Whatever real time is. At the beginning it feels like a Generation X story: trapped in a job, lack of social life, regrets. And yet at the same time there is weirdness intertwined, like the not real dog, and the visit to Luke Skywalker's sun, and the references to a Science Fictional universe. Also intertwined with the narrative are pages from the book How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe which provides advice and tips for a traveller. The whole things begins to feel a little recursive and odd, but enjoyably so.

I expected a fast paced plot to kick off at some point after the setup, but that doesn't happen, instead the book turns into something else: a poignant search for his father. Or rather on the surface it's a search for his father, there will be different interpretations of what the story eventually means, but I took it as a journey to let go of the past, a journey to accept and move on, to remember the good times, to lose the regret. I particularly loved memories of his childhood, and time spent with his father. 

There's plenty of Science Fictional talk and enough time travel mechanics to satisfy a Primer fan, with crazy tight looped recursion, but that's all just trimmings and plot devices to get to the core emotional story. At times, mainly in the second third of the novel, I felt the story dragging, and yet even in those moments there was some beautiful language, not flowery descriptions but words of truth and wisdom. The sort of lines I wanted to cut and paste and post as my thought for the day.

The book was definitely not what I expected, but I enjoyed it and now feel the need to flick back through it and search for my favourite lines.

A story that lingers delightfully in my mind.


Now this is wild! I think this is the dream any one of us could relate to...and here is the embodiment of that dream here. I am not clever enough to put it in a cabinet (what a great use for my old 21 inch crt though!) but just to flip the fighter around a couple of times... fantastic!

Thanks for the post
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This sounds interesting, James... I picked up "How to Live Safely..." at the weekend, but already had a stack of books, so I ended up leaving it in the shop. From your review it sounds like the kind of thing I enjoy, so chances are I'll be going back for it before long.

Good to hear another take on it.

Thanks for the book recommendation. Somehow I managed to miss this one.