Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu

Published: September 2010

Finally got around to it: December 2010

At some point in your life, this statement will be true: Tomorrow you will lose everything forever.


Science fiction wrapped up in science fiction, attempting to unravel the merits and difficulties of living in a time-displaced science fictional universe with a moderately depressed operating system named TAMMY as the closest thing to a love interest, and a there-but-not-there, ontologically valid dog named Ed (whose gas can diffuse even the tensest of situations). Such is the life of an intrepid time travel machine repairman, conveniently named Charles Yu, who seeks to discover the fate of his possibly time-abandoned father (or merely family-abandoning father) and at the same time save himself from shooting… himself. All with the help of a book he will one day write and at the same time has already written titled, again, conveniently, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.

And yet, it all makes perfect sense.

Charles Yu’s debut novel is a work of lyrical trickery and poetic manipulation. It thinly veils the allegorical beneath a tidal wave of science fictional tropes and concepts, yet never sacrifices an ounce of the plot or its detail in the process—in essence, the allegorical loss and disposition within one’s life and family drive the science fiction, and the science fiction adds the foundation by which the family drama is spun, winding itself ever tighter around a paradoxical core.

Try as I might, there’s no way I can do this book justice through such modest descriptive talents. The only way to truly get a taste of Charles Yu’s madness is to read it for your self:

There are gaps, blanks, throughout, which I will need to fill in. There are gaps in my autobiography.

Here is one such gap.*

*NB: This is how the text actually reads in the copy I am working from. The text also includes this explanatory (and somewhat self-referential) footnote, including this second sentence, which is itself a second-order meta-explanation of the already explanatory first sentence. It is unclear what the function of this self-referentiality is, other than to raise doubts in my mind as to the actual provenance of this manuscript, although I do note that this third sentence, just like the rest of this footnote, is also in the text that I am copying from, verbatim, which makes it seem almost as if I am, in a way, telling myself what to think, that my future self has produced a record of the output of my consciousness, of my internal monologue. Or rather, a dialogue, between myself and my future self, in which my future self is telling my present self what I have already finished thinking but have not yet realized I thought.

If reading this not only put a smile on your face, but also made some kind of fantastic, nonsensical kind of sense, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe will delight you in ways a never-ending temporal loop simply never will, never could, and has never in the past in which you’ve already experienced it several thousand times over (because no self-respecting temporal loop could ever have an end—not without presenting one hell of a paradox).

This book is a lightning bolt of unrestrained creativity and lyricism all too rare in contemporary science fiction—or science fictional universes for that matter.

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