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How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  15,757 ratings  ·  2,432 reviews
From a 5 Under 35 winner, comes a razor-sharp, hilarious, and touching story of a son searching for his father . . . through quantum space-time.
Every day in Minor Universe 31 people get into time machines and try to change the past. That's where Charles Yu, time travel technician, steps in. He helps save people from themselves. Literally. When he's not taking client calls
Paperback, 239 pages
Published June 28th 2011 by Vintage (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 disingenuou
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
Richard Derus
Mar 26, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 0.125* of five

The Publisher Says: 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
Megan Baxter
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
Tom Quinn
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a five-star idea with a three-star execution, so I've decided to average it out to 4 stars overall. Despite the plot's faults (it rushes a bit here, it drags a bit there, it's sometimes metaphorical and sometimes technical and can't seem to decide if it wants to be hyper-detailed or gloss over the science of time travel and ends up doing both unsatisfactorily) this one really made me FEEL more than other contemporary sci-fi. The mood is achingly heartbreaking, the tone is celebrator ...more
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
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
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 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Kevin Kelsey
Mar 27, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2016
What’s frustrating is that the setup is so clever, so thoroughly unique, and promised so much, and then the narrative completely loses its way halfway through, and never regains its composure. What’s frustrating is that this was a good book, even a terrific book, and then suddenly it wasn’t. What’s frustrating is that it had so much potential that it squandered so completely. What’s frustrating is that the majority of the second half of the book keeps saying the same things over and over and ove ...more
Skye Kilaen
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 0-genre-scifi
Goodreads is telling me I read this reality-bending time-travel sci-fi novel at the beginning of 2019 but it does *not* seem that long ago. It doesn't seem to be everyone's cup of tea judging from the reviews, but I found the mix of emotion, humor, quantum physics, and insistence on the importance of story so compelling. Really touching, and a kind of quirky that totally worked for me.

(Someday I'm gonna get to the bottom of my "need to review on Goodreads" queue. Someday.)
Dec 29, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've no longer any idea what I expected of this book when I added it to 'to-read' back in January 2012, a few months after joining GR. But I can say that it's way out of place on the lists of SF comedy novels where I saw it recently. And perhaps that's why the book has comparatively low ratings: it's been marketed all wrong and quite a lot of readers are disappointed.

It does have a few funny/silly moments, but overall this is a melancholic book, and one that has most context among films, rather
The problem here may be more me than Yu (sorry - couldn't help it), but this was just way too literary for my plebeian SF tastes. This book was WRITING! the way Jon Lovitz's "The Thespain" character on SNL was all about ACTING!; and so yeah, bit of a slog, especially the second half where our narrator (also named Charles Yu) is stuck in a time loop looking for his dad. In fact, I started feeling like I was stuck in a loop myself, as vast swatches of run-on sentences started feeling like I'd alre ...more
Dec 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Beth Dawkins
May 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Sandy Parsons
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
Dec 11, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Michael Burnam-Fink
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, 2018, fiction
I'm always a little skeptical when a literary prodigy does genre fiction. Science fiction is bad enough enough, without the literary ball of neuroses that is the Iowa Writer's Workshop sliding in. So let me say that How to Live Safely In a Science Fictional Universe is slick and brilliant, and so gloriously clever that my concerns are washed out in a trillion degree flash of light.

Charles Yu is a time machine repairman is a science-fictional universe. Glamorously described, his job involves shut
Kara Babcock
Time travel: tricky stuff. Meta-fiction: tricky stuff. Combining time travel and meta-fiction? Extremely tricky stuff. Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe aims high by doing just this. I read it at a time when I was precisely in the mood for this kind of timey-wimey, universe-bending confusion of a narrative, so that was a point in its favour. And by and large I think Yu manages to pull it off, though it’s lacking a certain something that might have pushed it to the n ...more
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
Harold Ogle
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
Dec 11, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Any book that makes me laugh out loud automatically gets four stars or more, and this had several moments particularly in the beginning that made me giggle. Yes, giggle. I couldn't help it. I might really be that big of a geek.

I didn't mind the daddy issues, probably because his dad reminds me of mine, off in the brainy inventor universe, and enjoyed the mind fuck that time travel has to be.

A quick, fluffy science fiction read that doesn't involve aliens. How can you lose?
Jim Elkins
Jan 23, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american
The book dips in and out of real life. The author is in his 30s; he grew up in California; he is Asian-American (that's clear from the book), and his family is Taiwanese (that's mentioned only in the acknowledgments at the end). The version of the author who narrates the book has the author's real name, and is also in his 30s, and also grew up in California. But he has a white-collar job as a repairman for time travel devices.

The book opens as pure science fiction, but elements of Yu's childhoo
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CHARLES YU is the author of four books, including his latest, Interior Chinatown, which is a Finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, and shortlisted for Le Prix Médicis étranger. He has received the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award, been nominated for two Writers Guild of America awards for his work on the HBO series Westworld, and has also written for shows on FX, AMC, Facebo ...more

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