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How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

3.38  ·  Rating details ·  10,498 Ratings  ·  1,938 Reviews
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
Hardcover, 233 pages
Published September 7th 2010 by Pantheon (first published July 23rd 2010)
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How to Live in SF Universe review
Another example of high concept literary fiction costuming itself in the tropes, set designs and jargon of genre fiction, while striving to create something unique, penetrating and memorable.

And, in this case, succeeding brilliantly.  Bravo, Mr. Yu.
While not an untrammeled success and a bit murky, at times, with its message delivery, I thought this was, overall, an exceptional achievement. I certainly thought it was a terrific contrast to what I found to be the glossy, soulless disingenuousne
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
Megan Baxter
May 22, 2012 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book a great deal more than I did. I wanted to be moved. But in the end, it left me a little cold.

I enjoyed the premise, the set up, the notion of living already in a science fictional universe where, at certain points, the reality ratio went up, but at others, significantly down. I liked the idea of born Protagonists, and what happens to all the poor Joes in a science fictional universe who live in the background of the stories, and keep things running. Except these things
Enter the following data:

META (search for definition)
SCIENCE FICTION (search for definition)
TIME TRAVEL (search for definition)

Trajectory locked.

To find the only way to exit a time loop, please refer to Appendix A of this manual (How To Live Safely Inside a Science Fictional Universe)


When it happens, this is what happens: By reading Charles Yu's incomparably original work of fiction, I'm realizing, have realized and will have realized that I've lived and I am still living inside a
Richard Derus
Mar 26, 2012 rated it did not like it
Rating: 0.125* of five

The Book Report: I have no bloody idea what this, this hideous waste of a perfectly good tree is about. If anything. Turgid, awkward sentences meander about in a time traveling machine, doing nothing to illuminate a plot that I could discern through the fog of irritated disdain that began to enshroud me on p2.

My Review: DO NOT READ IT. No one on Planet Earth could conceivably be geeky enough to want to read this. It is ungainly in its lineaments and sounds like what would h
Sep 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book, which I misunderstood as something I might enjoy as light bedtime reading, is perhaps the most original work I've read in the last year. It has the same new-ground-is-broken-here feel that Abigail Thomas's "Safekeeping" or Dinty Moore's "Between Panic and Desire" have; not only is the story good, but the prose is new and changes the way it's possible for us to think about narrative itself.

It's experimental, but it's also a very accessible book. And, at it's heart, it's a very human, v
Feb 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels-stories
I finished this book like stepping off a roller coaster, and I’m still dizzy from the ride, and I loved it.

This is what time travel is like when you can actually move back and forth through the life narrative inside your own head, because your life narrative has combined with others to form a navigable science-fictional universe, also called a story space, through which you may freely roam in your very own time machine constructed from a, and I quote, “grammar drive built on a quad-core physic
There went 237 pages of my life that I'll never get back. Luckily, I don't live in a science fictional universe. I was really expecting something great with all the hype. And the premise of the book surely had promise.

Unfortunately, this is mainly a book where nothing much happens... *SPOILERS (to the THREE things that happen in the book) to follow!* Even the girl he never marries and his time-traveling dog companion aren't real. In fact, the only thing that happens to the time machine repairma
The NYTimes blurb compares Yu to Douglas Adams and Philip K. Dick, which is like telling me the book is made of chocolate that cures cancer. So far I think Yu hovers closer to the Dick pole than the Adams (yes, I just wrote "Dick pole"), and his use of himself as a fictional character attempting to sort his human identity from his fictive one reminds me of Martin Amis or Paul Auster. Yet I think the pomo fiction conceit works better here than with those more "realistic" authors; science fiction ...more
Jul 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
Nope. Sorry, Charles Yu. But just -- nope. This doesn't work.

The world in which this novel takes place differs from ours in two key respects:

1) Humanity has discovered (though it is not made clear when this discovery was made, or by whom) that the fundamental laws of physics are actually the laws of narrative -- specifically, of science fictional narrative. The book's reality is a vast multiverse in which individual universes, and parts of universes, behave like stories from different sub-genres
Apr 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Humans and Vogons alike
Recommended to Aldrin by: Ander Monson
With his nonexistent canine sidekick, his clinically depressed personal digital assistant, and his daddy issues constantly in tow, time machine repairman Charles Yu attempts to navigate the future meta-science-fictional Minor Universe 31 in this dizzingly crafty novel written by present-day, happily-married-with-two-kids Charles Yu. Naturally, along the way the fictional Charles Yu stumbles upon a guide book titled “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.” Don't panic: “How to Live S ...more
Dec 29, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011
You will notice that I do not have this book on my sci-fi shelf. It's quite clear from the beginning that How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is not science fiction. Rather, it's a book about literature, life and the blurring between them. It kind of reminds me of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series without the wacky humor.

To be honest, this book made my head hurt. It uses big invented words. Your first clue that Yu's time machine is literature because it uses grammatical somethi
Dec 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011
When I first heard of this book and even after the first couple pages, I thought, don't we already have The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy? Not so, not so.

I'm really glad my first impressions were wrong because How to Live Safely Blah Blah Blah is a book that's much different and entirely it's own awesome experience. Hilarious at times, nerdy at others, fun, entertaining, with some clever ideas, How to Live Safely is a book of introspection and introduces the serious theme of making something
Danielle Parker
Feb 13, 2011 rated it it was ok
I rarely get out and read other reviews of a book before I write my own, wanting to have a pure opinion (for what it’s worth). But once in a while, nagged by something I can’t always vocalize, I read other reviewers just to see if they experienced what I did (good or bad) from the story.
One of the signs of the vast divide between literary darling and popular appeal (or, vice versa) is wildly divergent ratings by reviewers and general readers.
And yeah, that’s exactly what we’ve got with Yu’s “Ho
Beth Dawkins
May 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011

This is very close to amazing. The only thing that fell off, was the story. The depressed time traveler is after his father. That is the point of the book, but the point changes to the narrative. I wouldn't have enjoyed it, but the narrative was pretty good. It points out crazy ideas and thoughts all of us have had when intoxicated. You know that moment where you think you are so smart? Yep, there are a lot of those, and I enjoy those.

It is also funny. Mentions of Star Wars had me laughing.
Dec 11, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: never_finished
An interesting premise begins the tale of Charles Yu (yes, the author) doing a bit of meta-writing about a Charles who time travels. Yu uses time traveling as scaffolding to discuss a sadness, reality, and perception. It's only 240ish pages but I stopped cold on p. 183 when CY (the author) lost the period key on his keyboard and wrote a sentence longer than 1.5 pages.

I read a lot of books (no duh, I'm on Goodreads) and I think I'm pretty permissible when authors pull tricks because I'm typicall
Jun 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am now in love with Charles Yu, this bright new young author. I feel like Yu was onto something *so* big here. Everything about the book excited me. I read it in just a couple of days. The cover excited me. The plot description excited me. Every page I read excited me a little more.

The first time that I predicted that this was going to be my new favorite book was on page 17:

(Yu is a time machine repairman...and these machines only break down when people try to break the rules---change the pas
It starts like this. We have a book in our hands and we're looking at it thinking: the summary on this jacket cover is funny and sort of cute, what with its self-deprecating asides to depressed software and ontologically-valid domestic pets, and with its blurbs from famous authors saying stuff like "This book is cool as hell" - well, this is at the creeping onset of the winter crankiness, so we say to ourselves, we could use a book that is cool as hell! And we take it home.

It sits on our nights
Oct 18, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-books, time-travel
What did I think? You know, I don't really know. I mean it's hard to know what to think. I know it wasn't great. Well, in fact, it wasn't even good. It was a very laborious read. Mr. Yu would go on long-winded multi-page introspective narratives, telling us the same thing in four hundred different ways. "This was it. This was the end. It was no longer the beginning. It was not the middle, and not after the end, but it was that point that comes at the finale of any event. Sometimes people call it ...more
Harold Ogle
Jun 07, 2012 rated it liked it
An interesting conceit, this book posits that time travel is a combination of technology, verb tense, and personal perspective. But it's also not primarily a book about time travel. It's one of these science fiction books that Larry Niven famously scorned, in which the science is not really necessary for the plot. It's much more a story of personal discovery, a young man wrestling with a sense of insignificance and the general meaninglessness of his life. The book is both charmingly absurd and r ...more
Sandy Parsons
May 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book has all the same problems that every time travel story has, those moments when you're going "Wait, but..." and then a little later, you're like, "But...?" until you finally end up glossing over the paradoxes/improbablities/undefinable-in-words so that you can appreciate the narrative, which, in this case was a little thin. This is, I think, in part, due to an attempt to circumvent the reader's delving too deep and realizing it's all a fancy magic trick, a bunch of glittering streamers ...more
Annette Abbott
Aug 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I'm giving this five stars ONLY because I can't give it six.

I started reading this while sitting on the floor at Books Inc in Mountain View, bought it, and despite having a full weekend - I managed to squeeze in reading this book whenever and wherever possible.

Have just finished it and can I just say it was the most fun I've had reading a book ever -- ok, maybe not ever, but definitely in a LONG time. It twists your head -- not too much, but just enough to be clever. Lots of really funny parts
Dec 11, 2010 rated it did not like it
Too clever for its own good, I found Yu's book [title too long to type] very self-indulgent, written by a writer too aware of his own cleverness. Wait I sort of already said that.

I'm sure this book will find an audience. It's the kind of thing I might have liked in my early 20s, when I'd read a book and force myself to enjoy it, if only because to do so would increase my own sense of satisfaction. I was just a boy then, insecure, who liked to accomplish things, like reading literary fiction, tha
May 04, 2011 rated it it was ok
A killer premise with some very meta-potential that loses itself in its own oh-so-quirky structure.

Charles Yu takes readers along for a ride with...Charles Yu (!), as his fictional self (a time travel machine repairman) zooms through space and time (and quantum physics 101) in search of his father in this fun little adventure which turns out to be more "exercise in logic" than narrative.

The brilliance ends at the premise as we are dragged through the same old scenarios, the same old questions of
Tristan MacAvery
Oct 25, 2010 rated it did not like it
When I read 53 pages of a 231 page book, and I'm still not hooked, it's time to stop. I say this because so many people seem to have raved about how good this book is that I wonder if I've completely missed the point. Charles Yu owes a great deal of his artistic voice to Sherman Alexie; the similarities of style, of dumping a sudden and potent image in your lap in an unexpected and sweetly ironic way, should titillate me, as I find Alexie brilliant.

What I feel that is lacking in Yu's work is a s
Feb 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Normally I stop reading books like Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe after about 50 pages because if I don’t know what’s going in the story by then I figure I never will. I’m sure I’ve missed out on a lot of good books in my time but that’s the breaks, life is short and the list of books is long.

I didn’t quit How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe because despite not knowing what was happening for much of those first 50 pages, Charles Yu’s writing was to
Aug 14, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is a story about a man who lives inside a small time travelling cubicle and travels around the universe and tells people that everything they've hoped and dreamed for is impossible.

The world that this man lives in is unfinished science fiction, with lumpy protagonists and sidekicks, and people like Our Protagonist in the background trying to keep everything running. This man is very sorry for his life and everything that hasn't happened in it. His boss is a Microsoft computer program. The A
Corry L.
Jun 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommended to Corry by: Locus Awards finalist 2011
Shelves: literary, sf-f
This book is an odd superposition of literary fiction and science fiction. It starts out strong, with a promise that it can integrate both its literary and speculative natures and create something greater than the sum of its parts. That promise doesn't quite pan out. The book's strength in the beginning lies in its humor and quirky take on time travel and a "science fictional universe," but the world isn't coherent or complete in the way a reader of speculative fiction likely wants. It's a colle ...more
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
Amazing and sometimes a little infuriating, this self-absorbed, often solipsist, frequently overwritten novel is also conceptually brilliant - metaphors nestling within metaphors, and all tellingly deployed - and moving. It's as if a bright emo kid read too much po-mo fiction and somehow managed to sit down and right a great novel anyway. This is the usual novel of a son paying the psychic debts of his father's abdication from paternal duties, but played out with both verve and heart against a s ...more
Nov 28, 2010 rated it it was ok
You'll note that I didn't put this book down as science fiction even though I suppose it has some strong sci-fi elements. This book was just OK. I surely wouldn't recommend that anybody actually waste their time reading it, ESPECIALLY if they're expecting it to be science fiction. It's more like a study of the human condition (from the perspective of a person who seems to have daddy issues...he should probably see somebody about that) with some sci-fi words thrown in.

Seriously, this was a letdow
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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, am
More about Charles Yu...

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“...unfortunately, it's true: time does heal. It will do so whether you like it or not, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. If you're not careful, time will take away everything that ever hurt you, everything you have ever lost, and replace it with knowledge. Time is a machine: it will convert your pain into experience. Raw data will be compiled, will be translated into a more comprehensible language. The individual events of your life will be transmuted into another substance called memory and in the mechanism something will be lost and you will never be able to reverse it, you will never again have the original moment back in its uncategorized, preprocessed state. It will force you to move on and you will not have a choice in the matter.” 111 likes
“I don't miss him anymore. Most of the time, anyway. I want to. I wish I could but unfortunately, it's true: time does heal. It will do so whether you like it or not, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. If you're not careful, time will take away everything that ever hurt you, everything you have lost, and replace it with knowledge. Time is a machine: it will convert your pain into experience... It will force you to move on and you will not have a choice in the matter.” 60 likes
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