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

Every day in Minor Universe 31, people travel back in time in hope of changing the past. Unfortunately, changing the past is impossible, so it’s up to time machine repair man Charles Yu to sweep in and save time travelers in need. But there are moments in his past that he would like to change as well, such as finding his missing father. Then one day Charles runs into his future self. Without thinking, he shoots him in the stomach, trapping himself in a time loop that he knows will end in his death.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is a literary tongue twister, a non-linear time travel tale filled with more hard science and math then you’d expect to find in a book barely over 200 pages. If I could pick one word to describe this novel, it would be multi-layered. The reader is reading a book called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu. In the book, the main character’s (also called Charles Yu) story is interrupted with chapters from a guide book called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. During the story, Charles Yu the character meets a future Charles Yu who gives him a book also called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe written by future Charles Yu, which present Charles Yu re-writes as he reads it. When you combine the many layers, and math with the author’s stream of conscious style which occasionally features run on sentences and paragraphs that go on for pages, you can see why this book was extremely difficult to pick up at times. Still, despite my regular frustrations with the style and content, I have to admit that I found the novel to be strangely fascinating.

I think what helped me appreciate this book is beneath it’s many layers is a very human story about family. As we explore Charles’s past, we learn about his complex relationship with his mother, his parents often tumultuous marriage, and the events which eventually lead to the discovery of time travel, and the disappearance of his father. It was these human elements that I connected to right away, and I often found myself wishing that they were less buried under the the big concepts of the book. I also found I enjoyed many of the sci-fi elements of this novel. I found the secret behind time travel to be a nice change from what I’m used to reading, and I loved the personalities of the computer program that Charles interacts with (even if they disappointingly appeared to have more personality than the at times bland protagonist). Since the main character of the book was named after the author I found myself pondering one question over and over again, how much is Charles Yu’s life and experiences is based on Charles Yu? This is a question I often don’t let myself indulge in while reading fiction, as if too often will cause me to try to answer unanswersble questions such as “what is the author trying to say?” In this case, it’s unavoidable.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe was a unique reading experience. I found it frustrating to read, but ultimately enjoyed it. I found the story and concepts to be fascinating, but am not sure if I would recommend it to others. I’m happy I read it, but will probably not pick it up again. Either way, I’m happy that it was picked as a selection for calico_reaction’s bookclub as I’m not sure I would have picked it up on my own.

Rating: three and a half stars
Length: 239 pages
Source: Lewiston Public Library
Other books I've read by this author: this is my first

Next I will be reviewing Hidden by Kelley Armstrong

xposted to temporaryworlds, bookish, and goodreads
Tags: xxx author last name: r-z
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