How To Live Safely In A Science-Fictional Universe
- Charles Yu
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..
This is a hard book to describe. Set in a universe where there wasn’t quite enough reality to make it work properly, the universe seems to struggle by using science fiction tropes as filler, which basically means the line between real and not, is fine and difficult to spot. Charles Yu is our narrator, continually stuck between the present and the past and working as a time machine repair man with just his imaginary dog and a female simulated personality computer for company. Charles can’t seem to live in the present so he spends most of time in his time machine until he is called home to have his machine serviced...
This book is weird. It is part philosophical pondering and part a search for lost family, but most of it seems to rely on clever verb and idea conjugation. I have to admit I never found myself fully committed to the story as I couldn’t relax and let it flow around me. It feels like a very worthy book, however I read mostly to distract myself from my commute and as such this book didn’t really work for me. That’s not to say others won’t enjoy it – indeed some elements especially in the second half of the book were exciting and an interesting twist on the whole seeing your earlier self in time travel. There was also an amusing incident early on with a certain L. Skywalker, but overall I never felt like the thought provoking elements sat easily next to the basic search for his father.
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. I certainly feel it will work well for others but I’m a simple reader – I like action, I like plot and I like characters. Soul searching when done away from any excitement does not hold my interest. Somehow though I feel like this is more my own failing than the book itself.
Recommended for fans of Hannu Rajaniemi and Simon Morden. 5 out of 10