Time Travel discussion

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

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message 1: by John, Moderator in Memory (last edited Feb 16, 2012 06:42AM) (new)

John | 834 comments Mod
Our group read for March 1 - April 1 is How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu. Post your comments, throughts and questions about the book here. I have included a "spolier" alert in the title to allow you to speak freely about the book and not worry about ruining it for others.

About the Book
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.

About the Author
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.

Riona (rionafaith) I read this recently and really enjoyed it, so I'm curious to see how the discussion goes!

message 3: by Andy (new) - added it

Andy Taylor (sooguy) | 89 comments I downloaded it to my phone last week, but need to start reading it. I think I am going to enjoy it based on the reviews I have read.

It seems like a perfect blend of satire and WTF? for me.

message 4: by Tej (last edited Mar 04, 2012 04:33PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tej (theycallmemrglass) | 1725 comments Mod
John is taking a much deserved break this month to catch up on other reading so has asked me to host this month's book discussion. I'll post some discussion points half way. In the meantime, lets keep it spoiler free for the first couple of weeks but feel free to post what you're thinking of it so far and raise any spoiler free points from it.

I am several chapters into this. So far, it took me a little while to adjust to the narrative and surreal concept (I have to call it surreal otherwise the only other word I can think of is ludicrous but that sounds undeservedly damning). Its already posing some thought provoking time travel concepts (though I am not quite understanding its structure as yet) and human nature tendencies. I detect a lot of Douglas Adam's Hitch Hikers guide to the Galaxy influence in this. Its striking the same level of dry wit too though a bit too forced sometimes.

I think TAMMY is looking to be my favourite character, everything written about her made me laugh. it wont be the first time where an AI unit has been my favourite characters in science fiction novels!

I think this is the first time I have read a book where the author himself is the protagonist of his own fiction. Coincidentally, I saw a preview screening of John Carter of Mars yesterday, where the author is also a key character in his own story.

Heather(Gibby) (heather-gibby) | 424 comments On page 45-and it is making my head hurt-trying to follow the conceptualization of time travel in this book, I hope as you get used to the ideas the story flows a little easier. Physics was never my strong suit

message 6: by Tej (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tej (theycallmemrglass) | 1725 comments Mod
Heather wrote: "On page 45-and it is making my head hurt-trying to follow the conceptualization of time travel in this book, I hope as you get used to the ideas the story flows a little easier. Physics was never m..."

I know what you mean, we need John to decode this stuff, of all the months to take a break hmpph...just kidding John ;)

message 7: by Tej (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tej (theycallmemrglass) | 1725 comments Mod
Guys we can use spoiler tags if you itching to discuss something spoilerific. Its not necessary if you just reviewing or describing the nature of the narrative etc. Just use if discussing plot turns etc. Then later we can totally relax the use of them altogether.

Glynn | 235 comments I read this book back in 2010 and it's just a fun read. Just go with the flow and don't worry about the physics involved.

message 9: by Tej (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tej (theycallmemrglass) | 1725 comments Mod
yeah i realise now i should approach the outrageous gobbly gook "physics" as a tongue in cheek authenticity to the discworld-like universe. we're not supposed to analyse it but just go with the flow as you quite rightly said :)

message 10: by Dan (new)

Dan | 60 comments I have to say I was disappointed with this book. There are some enjoyable aspects, but it is certainly not a classic time travel adventure in my view.

message 11: by Vickie (new)

Vickie | 63 comments I was also disappointed in this book. I felt like it had so much potential, but just couldn't close the deal, so to speak. There were many things to like: clever language, humor, a bit of whimsy, a bit of philosophy. But, in the end, I didn't really like the main character and all I could think was "Yeah, OK, whatever...[shrug]."

Heather(Gibby) (heather-gibby) | 424 comments I am about halfway through it, and I really am skimming now, there are gems of interesting analogies, but it is just not engaging me as a reader.

Heather(Gibby) (heather-gibby) | 424 comments Finished it last night, it does get better in the last third of the book. but honestly when I turned the page and saw a blank page or a diagram-I was happy-that doesn't say too much for the book overall.
The main character's interactions with Tammy were my favorite parts of the book.

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

Tej (theycallmemrglass) | 1725 comments Mod
Well I've been a dreadful host for this book of the month read, sorry! I want to blame it on the book's plodding, self pitying, self indulgent narrative but really I should have been sparking up this thread with some book related thoughts. "Bring back John!" I hear you all shouting and I'll join in that chorus!

Naturally, I have finished the book after everyone else has. I think I have seen a pattern in the books I like and dont like so much. I think I dislike most books written from the protagonist first person perspective. There are exceptions including our own GR group author Allison Kraft's book Destined. But generally, I feel trapped in the naive/restricted thoughts of the protagonist.

Anyway I would have to agree with Vickie and Heather's thoughts on the book. I too felt a sense of relief finishing this. I did enjoy several moments and we finally got a decent TT plot towards the end but they are so embedded in a sea of nonsensical jabberings of the universal structure and self pitying. Its meant to be wry humour but it just gave me headaches and this is why I took so long to read the book, I kept dreading to continue. I even took a 2 or 3 week break from it (some book reading host I'm turning out to be)

There is a bittersweet story with some rather too blatant philosophy of life. I expect that, welcome it an appreciates its attempt to do so with a humerous encapsulation of the ridiculous surrounding premise. But its ultimately too heavy handed for me to engage with.

It does pose some interesting thoughts and makes a lot of assumptions of the choices that most of society would make, though I hardly agree with most of those assumptions...

SO before we jump to the next book read in a few days time, I'll pose a question:

1) If given the opportunity, would you live in a fictitious universe that meets all your desired requirements including the best attributes of your loved ones? The book suggests most people would, do you think its true?

2) What fictitious character would you want to be? Do most kids really want to be Han Solo? When I was a kid I would want to be a jedi and I am sure many kids would like to go on the dark side and be Darth Vader.

(view spoiler)

message 15: by Dan (new)

Dan | 60 comments Tej, I think you have given this book all the effort it deserves. To answer your questions: 1) I think this is somewhat like the Matrix. If you are in it, but do not realize it, life seems fine. In this book the people choose if they live in the fictitious universe, but who would want to live in a life that was not real, even if it was a very positive experience? That is simply not living. 2) My first instinct is indeed to be a powerful being such as Sauron (I do not like to choose someone evil, but someone who is good would not be able to do what is necessary). My goal would be to exact revenge on everyone who deserves it. In this case, however, I would be aiming for people who run stop signs, leave their shopping carts in the middle of the supermarket aisle, or talk on their cell phone in restaurants.

message 16: by Tej (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tej (theycallmemrglass) | 1725 comments Mod
Dan wrote: "Tej, I think you have given this book all the effort it deserves. To answer your questions: 1) I think this is somewhat like the Matrix. If you are in it, but do not realize it, life seems fine. In..."

LOL, I must be more concious of where I position my shopping trolley from now on!

Heather(Gibby) (heather-gibby) | 424 comments My answers to Tej's questions
1) I think choosing ot live in a fictional universe would be like choosing to have hallucinations, what you are experiencing is not real so what is the point of living it. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to ever lose my ability to dream when I sleep-which is just like beign i a fictional universe for a period of time. Mmm, I will have to think some more on thta one!
2) The fictional character I would most want to be is Samantha from Bewitched-I dream of being able to twitch my nose and get my housework done

message 18: by Tej (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tej (theycallmemrglass) | 1725 comments Mod
Good point about the dreams. But considering our bodies require the 7-8 hour absolute rest, I suppose what better way to do it!

So Heather is on the light side of good nature and Dan seems to be quite at home on the Dark Side ;)

message 19: by Vickie (new)

Vickie | 63 comments 1. I think living in a fictional universe would have particular appeal to people who have experienced great tragedy in their lives. For example, I read a book a while ago about a woman who lost her whole family - husband, daughter, and newborn son - in a car accident. In such a situation, I can easily see myself choosing to live in a fictional universe where my family was still alive.

2. I don't know what fictional character I would like to be. LOL, maybe someone brave and heroic who saves the world and then lives happily ever after with an equally brave and heroic Prince Charming. Or, at my age, perhaps a brave and heroic widower King Charming would be more appropriate.

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