Wednesday, February 1, 2012

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

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional UniverseHow to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
by Charles Yu
Hardcover234 pages
Published September 7th 2010 by Pantheon

Premise: Ganked from Goodreads:
National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Award winner Charles Yu delivers his debut novel, a razor-sharp, ridiculously funny, and utterly touching story of a son searching for his father . . . through quantum space–time.   
Minor Universe 31 is a vast story-space on the outskirts of fiction, where paradox fluctuates like the stock market, lonely sexbots beckon failed protagonists, and time travel is serious business. Every day, people get into time machines and try to do the one thing they should never do: change the past. That’s where Charles Yu, time travel technician—part counselor, part gadget repair man—steps in. He helps save people from themselves. Literally. When he’s not taking client calls or consoling his boss, Phil, who could really use an upgrade, Yu visits his mother (stuck in a one-hour cycle of time, she makes dinner over and over and over) and searches for his father, who invented time travel and then vanished. Accompanied by TAMMY, an operating system with low self-esteem, and Ed, a nonexistent but ontologically valid dog, Yu sets out, and back, and beyond, in order to find the one day where he and his father can meet in memory. He learns that the key may be found in a book he got from his future self. It’s called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe,and he’s the author. And somewhere inside it is the information that could help him—in fact it may even save his life.   
Wildly new and adventurous, Yu’s debut is certain to send shock waves of wonder through literary space–time.

My Review Part I:

Good grief. 

This book is an inventive knot. It takes Science and the Space Travel and mooshes it together with Fiction and alternative universes, kneads it into an artistic, theoretical whole and then lets it expand into something completely unique

The result is scientific and impossible simultaneously in equal measure.

This guy writes a book – his name is Charles Yu – and he writes this book while traveling through time in his ship which is about as big as a hotel shower (like his hotel room doesn’t have.) He has a dog (that isn’t real) and falls in love with someone whom he can’t marry (because she isn’t entirely human).

So, Charles Yu writes this book while getting jambed into a time loop, which sounds really freaky. It doesn’t last but a minute, the same minute over and over, but takes the entire book to write out (over and over) so he can move on.

[SPOILERS]  He figures out, by the end, how to forgive his dad for leaving, and forgive his mom for preferring her hypothetical dream to real life. He also forgives himself for not appreciating people (or non-people) around him or living life in the present tense moving chronologically into the future (vs. present indicative that does not progress into the future, even if he continues to age.)

It’s dramatic when he runs into himself (not the time he shoots himself, but the other time) and he slaps himself around and then kisses himself, which is really weird, but significant. He basically gives himself the shove he needed to move on and make decisions that may or may not be good, to love and live.
I quote his self, “You’re bigger than you think. More complicated than you think…. You don’t always have your own best interests at heart. That’s true. You are your own best friend and your own worst enemy…. Only you know what you need to do… you are the only you. Does that make sense?”  And of course he answered himself, “Not really.”
My Review Part II:

I loved the way Yu attacks the idea - of ditching the minutes ticking away on a clock that kill creativity with the hope of doing something amazing. 

His dad had a dream that if he put enough effort into his invention of time travel, that he would get equal parts success out of it, which wasn’t true. Sometimes people succeed very well by happening upon great ideas accidently, sometimes over and over, like Charles’ Dad’s boss. Sometimes, effort is doubled and the result is getting lost and needing to be rescued. But should he give up? Cease caring? 

This book left me feeling like regret is a waste of time. The past can’t be changed, even if we figured out time travel and attempted to fix it. This book also made me feel like depression was a waste of time because even if Yu could pass ten years in the same moment, it didn’t change anything except his age. He could live there, suspended, ‘til he died, but what was the point? 

Once he figured out why he was depressed, then he was able to unravel the mystery that got him out of that suspension.

My Review Part III:

En fin, this is one of the weirdest books I have ever read. It’s absolutely memorable, although, without writing down what happened, I think I will forget the semi-direct storyline. I think what I’ll remember forever is that this book is hugely quotable. When it was funny, I snorted, laughing so hard. When it was sad, my jaw dropped and I was in shock. When it launched into the technicalities of science fictional space travel with xy loops and stuff, my brain spaced out while my eyes continued to read… and I finally decided that it wasn’t understandable, and I probably grasped the gist, anyway. 

Oh, and then there were moments, unforgettable moments, like describing the wonder of writing on a pad of paper, the feel of the ink and the depression of the layers of paper that cling to the ink just that smallest of moments longer to make a thicker, blacker mark. Those moments I will remember (and wonder where in the world I read them, b/c some of the greatness of this book has nothing to do with “Science Fictional Universes.”)

Yea, so this book has moments of greatness, moments of Wha?! And an overall feeling of accomplishment.

I seriously have no idea what to rate this book. It was not an easy book to read, necessarily, and I can think of a few people who might not like it at all. Then again, I can think of a few people who would think it was the best book ever written, too. EVER. WRITTEN. (Especially if they liked The Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy!) This is like twisted humor meets serious intent (and it shoots itself?)

Quotes on the cover I agree with 100%:
“Poignant, hilarious, and electrically original. Bends time, mind, and genre.” David Eagleman, author of Sum. 
“One of the trippiest and most thoughtful novels I’ve read all year, one that begs for a single sit-down experience” – Sarah Weinman, the Daily Beast

My Rating:  4.5 GREAT book

I think this book deserves a higher rating than I'm giving it, but this is what it was for me. I totally see where the Award came from - this book is outstandingly unique and a masterpiece. But there were passages I skimmed, details I didn't want to wallow in.

The author is the character in the story:

Charles Yu
Charles Yu

Charles Yu lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Michelle, and their two children. 
He has received the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award for his story collection Third Class Superhero, and he has also received the Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award. His work has been published in the Harvard Review, The Gettysburg Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Mississippi Review, and Mid-American Review, among other journals. 

From the interview on Amazon:

What’s next for you?

I’m working on a new novel that takes place in “America,” i.e., not America, but a dream-and-desire-fueled holographic projection of the collective mental environment of Americans, which exists as a geographical place that happens to overlap the physical America. It’s also a story about a man looking for his ex-wife and daughter. I hope I can figure out a way to make that make sense.

Follow him on Twitter (if you dare!!)