Alan'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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Sep 14, 2010

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Recommended to Alan by: Sarah
Recommended for: Fathers and sons
Read in January, 2011

Underneath the tinfoil, the blinking LEDs and cardboard superstructure of this really rather gimmicky novel, there is the wistful, poignant story of a lonely guy who misses his dad. And I'm OK with that. It comes with some high-powered recommendations from authors I admire, such as Colson Whitehead and Nick Harkaway. And of course my friend Sarah on this very forum, a fellow time-traveller whose opinion means a lot to me.

The time-travel aspect of the book—the loops and paradoxes of its science-fictional shell—all that is solid enough, but none of it is new, especially to readers of genre fiction (yes, this is one of those books, the ones that play with sfnal tropes while still somehow observing from outside, from more mundane realms of literature). If "slipstream" is still a legitimate category, then that is where I would shelve this book.

Where How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe stands out (and it does stand out) is in its introspection, the way the fictional Charles Yu uses his journey through time as a metaphor for, well, our journey through time, our own well-nigh inevitable coming to realize that each of us is subject to irreversible entropy, to changes that cannot be undone no matter how powerful our extrauniversal engines might be.

To that extent, Yu's novel fails to live up to its title; arguably, there is no way to live safely in such a universe, in our science-fictional continuum. We all come face to face with mortality, whether it's in the form of our younger self carrying a gun or in some less exotic fashion. But that's not really the point; I'd say rather that the point is to figure out how to live in the moments we have before our endpoints, whether we spend those moments regretting what might have been (what could not have been; what was but is no more), or use them looking around us at the present, looking forward to what opportunities we still have.


Underneath its shiny shell, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe has some thought-provoking components, well worth tinkering with—if you can find the time.
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