Thursday, December 30, 2010

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

This was mindbending. It didn’t help that in the same weekend that I read this, I also watched the movie Inception and several episodes of Season 5 of Lost. I was lucky I could find my own kitchen, given all the time travel/dream-within-a-dream/bright flashes of light that were going on in my own personal entertainment universe.

How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is the story of a travelling time machine repairman. Did you try to use your time machine to change the past? Uh oh. You broke it. Charles Yu to the rescue. But Charles (yes, the protagonist’s name is the same as the author’s) also uses his own time machine to avoid living in any particular year or place and instead (against the rules) hovers in a kind of no-time space where his only friends are his virtual dog Ed, and TAMMY, his management software with an inferiority complex. Only when he is forced to return to real time when his own time machine breaks down do actual things start to happen.

I wanted to like this, and I did, in some ways. It has a sweet father-son relationship story buried inside the layers of overly clever science fictional technojargon. Even some aspects of the science fictional world-building were funny and original, but mostly it was over the top. Yu can be an interesting writer and reminds me a little of Nicholson Baker, but Yu (like some other alternate reality writers) can get so caught up in his own details that he forgets that he is telling a story, that someone else is trying to follow what he is saying, that he has to work to maintain the reader’s interest. About half way through I started skimming, resulting in no loss of comprehension (because I was only getting about 60% of it anyway).

(Book 55, 2010)


Shelley said...

Living in no particular time or place? That's just living in melancholy unemployed California, where we can't tell if it's 2011 or just 1929.

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