Kemper's Reviews > How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
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Dec 22, 10

bookshelves: alt-universes, humor, modern-lit, sci-fi, time-travel
Read from December 14 to 16, 2010

If anyone is ever crazy enough to make a movie version of this, they better hire Charlie Kaufman to do the adapted screenplay. Even he would probably be left scratching his head and saying, “What the hell??”

Trying to summarize this is going to be like trying to explain Inception to someone who has never had a dream or seen a movie. Essentially, it’s a science fictional universe where time travel is possible. Fiction and reality have blended together so that you may run into Luke Skywalker’s son or know someone who works on the Death Star, yet the Star Wars movies are still somehow movies. Confused yet?

Charles Yu is a time travel technician who has spent ten years living in his own time machine set in a stasis mode. (Notice that the author’s name is also Charles Yu.) He has aged and still gets and answers service calls, but he has existed outside of the normal time flow. His only companions are TAMMY, a computer operating system that suffers from low self-esteem, and Ed, a dog he saved from being retconned out of a western. He’s like a more anti-social version of Doctor Who.

Charles spends his work time assisting people who have screwed up their time machines by trying to change their own pasts. He uses his free time to brood about his lost father, an engineer who had invented his own form of time travel. When Charles makes an error, he finds himself stuck in a time loop where his only clue is a book that he is both reading and writing at the same time.

The whole concept of time travel is presented as a weird form of narrative that’s based on English grammar rules. Or something like that. Hell, I think I had a mild stroke trying to figure this out.

It’s original and funny at times. The stuff with Charles’ memories of his father and his preference to spend years in a time machine rather than move forward with his life are sad and touching. However, this ended up being a book that I wanted to like more than I actually liked it.

My main issue is that Charles Yu arranged a big Homecoming Metafiction Parade down Metafiction Avenue, and he’s the Metafiction Parade Marshal waving to us from his big Metafiction Float just in front of the Metafiction Show Horses who will take a big steaming Metafiction Dump right in the street in front of us.

I get it, Charles. You wrote a book with a bonkers sci-fi concept so you could tell us about your daddy issues in the guise of a time traveler who is creating a sci-fi book as he’s living it.

I would have liked it more if he would have spent a bit more time telling us about the science fictional universe, and a little less time showing us how clever he was being. Not a bad book, but a little more story and a little less showing off would have suited me better.
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Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

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Lori (Hellian) heh, I haven't reviewed this yet because I had no idea how to express both my admiration with the concept of the universe and my frustration with the metafiction gloating.


message 2: by Kemper (last edited Dec 26, 2010 05:51AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kemper It is an odd combo.


message 3: by Ken (new)

Ken Jackson @kemper "...like trying to explain Inception to someone who has never had a dream or seen a movie."

That's a good simile. I think I like your review better than I would like the book.


Kemper Ken wrote:

Thanks! It's not a bad book. I just thought Yu got a little too caught up in his own cuteness.


Randy Ray You wrote an excellent review, and I think you summed up how I felt about the novel better than I did in my own review.


Meagen Hudson What a perfect review. Sums the way I felt about the book but was not able to express!


Chip Wish I'd read your review prior to buying and reading the book - because the former would have saved me from the latter.


Kemper Chip wrote: "Wish I'd read your review prior to buying and reading the book - because the former would have saved me from the latter."

I'm sorry that happened. I feel like I failed you....


Chip I'm sorry that happened. I feel like I failed you...."

You only feel that way because you failed me.


message 10: by Kemper (last edited Feb 27, 2012 06:54AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kemper Chip wrote: "You only feel that way because you failed me."

I will immediately resign my Goodreads commission in disgrace.


Heather HEY--I just was commenting on another book review that you wrote (The Magician King). Small, strange world! Cool cool cool.


Kemper Heather wrote: "HEY--I just was commenting on another book review that you wrote (The Magician King). Small, strange world! Cool cool cool."

Or as Evil Abed would put it, "Cruel, cruel, cruel."


message 13: by Terry (new)

Terry Nice review Kemp!

I'm torn on whether I really want to read this one or not, though the size of my tbr list means it's not an likely to be an imminent worry for me.


message 14: by Chip (new) - rated it 2 stars

Chip It's a skip.


Kemper I'm with Chip. It had some stuff that could have been really unique and fun, but it got too caught up its own cleverness.


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