Sorry Please Thank Youby Charles Yu
The author of the widely praised debut novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe returns with a hilarious, heartbreaking, and utterly original collection of short stories.
A big-box store employee is confronted by a zombie during the graveyard shift, a problem that pales in comparison to his inability to ask a coworker out on a/i>
The author of the widely praised debut novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe returns with a hilarious, heartbreaking, and utterly original collection of short stories.
A big-box store employee is confronted by a zombie during the graveyard shift, a problem that pales in comparison to his inability to ask a coworker out on a date . . . A fighter leads his band of virtual warriors, thieves, and wizards across a deadly computer-generated landscape, but does he have what it takes to be a hero? . . . A company outsources grief for profit, its slogan: “Don’t feel like having a bad day? Let someone else have it for you.”
Drawing from both pop culture and science, Charles Yu is a brilliant observer of contemporary society, and in Sorry Please Thank You he fills his stories with equal parts laugh-out-loud humor and piercing insight into the human condition. He has already garnered comparisons to such masters as Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams, and in this new collection we have resounding proof that he has arrived (via a wormhole in space-time) as a major new voice in American fiction.
“There's some of the cerebral gamesmanship of Jonathan Lethem, the resigned sadness of Kurt Vonnegut, the Phil Dickian paranoiac distrust of consumer culture. But Yu's voice, sensibility and approach are unique, especially in the ways he wrings humor and pathos out of stripped-down syntax and seemingly passive protagonists . . . The stories deliver more than their fair share of bitter laughs, philosophical conundrums and existential gut punches.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“A mix of science fiction, absurdist humor and Beckettian monologue, with storytelling techniques that twist narrative into a computer-esque objectivism; think Donald Barthleme's strangest pyrotechnics in a Philip K. Dick or Haruki Murakami world . . . [Charles Yu is ] the computer century's heir to Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury.”
“Yu’s workman-like sentences are unexpectedly emotive, while also being almost always very funny . . . As with his critically acclaimed, much-adored 2010 debut novel, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Yu’s new baker’s dozen of satiric stories tell of a future that’s really just an exaggerated present . . . Like the best science fiction writers, Yu provides seemingly gratuitous logistical information to mitigate any hint of farce . . . Yu is a master of the slow reveal. It sometimes takes pages to understand where we are and why, but as the chatty protagonists joke and confess their deepest pains, details accrue and outlines fill in. And when we are finally oriented, the universe he has created feels eerily complete . . . Imaginary lands become possible worlds; cunning tricks grow into game theory; playing pretend morphs into explorations of false consciousness. Each story in Sorry Please Thank You is staggeringly smart, and none feel like anything but entertainment. Cultish fans of the NBC comedy “Community,’’ this book is for you.”
—The Boston Globe
“I don't know that there's a better story-bending talent at work than Yu since the rise of George Saunders . . . If you take a longer view you can see that Yu's success has many parents, from the oft-quoted Stein, the tone of Hemingway and Beckett, Virginia Woolf's fanciful short creations (as in, say, the story "Kew Gardens"), Calvino's game-faced fantasies and the low-key but powerful satire of Kurt Vonnegut . . . a tour-de-force.”
—Alan Cheuse, NPR.org
“Lovely and heartfelt . . . A brilliantly manic ride . . . Yu has an undeniable gift for describing, in clean, economical prose, the mechanics of things that don't exist or are impossible."
—The Wall Street Journal
“Stand back. The lead story in Sorry Please Thank You, this spritely new collection by L.A. writer Charles Yu, has the title ‘Standard Loneliness Package’ and it announces that a sly, nimble fantasist with a speculative edge is at work here. [An] adroit piece of work . . . Experiment plus emotion, we don’t often find these two elements together, but when it happens, as it does in most of these stories . . . it makes for terrific reading for the heart as well as the head.”
—Alan Cheuse for NPR’s All Things Considered
“Charles Yu won us over with his weird, melancholy novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe and now he's back . . . [These] stories are psychological studies of neurotic nerds, struggling to stay alive as they fight liches and loneliness. They're beautiful, strange, and funny.”
“Yu’s bold, playful voice evokes a computer-era Donald Barthelme, but his stylistic journey into the vast universe that is the human mind is refreshingly distinctive.”
“Laugh-out-loud moments of strangeness artfully exist in a contemporary fictional structure . . . With this collection, steeped in originality, we get echoes of David Foster Wallace’s early collection, Girl with the Curious Hair. Like Wallace, Yu abandons the more self-serving, insular metafiction of the past 40 years for a fresher form. Using technology, pop culture, etc., he attempts to write fiction that can be best shared with readers, not just critics or scholars. Yu, in fact, marries science and literature . . . Characteristic of his work, Yu mixes the beauty of human emotion with the science fiction to invent highly original, highly entertaining scenes and stories. He poses questions of reality and existence. You first think you’re chuckling to yourself. Then, without warning, you‘ve got that ‘reaching final altitude’ feeling in your stomach—a sudden change . . . Yu examines what it means to exist now and, in his own way, what it will mean in the future. It’s almost as if these stories, through their science fiction and futuristic themes twinned with a humorous yet moving style, strive to reinvent what we know as metafiction . . . Yu follows Vonnegut and Wallace in this style of metafictional, literary pilgrimage”
“Grade A- . . . Pick it up and kiss your weekend good-bye . . . The best comparisons, though it feels a little hyperbolic to say, might be made with Vonnegut’s more pessimistic novels, books like Cat’s Cradle, Deadeye Dick, and Timequake. With Sorry Please Thank You, Yu has achieved something rare: an aggressively imagined work of fiction in which the concepts (mostly) serve the characters.”
“Charles Yu's outstanding collection Sorry Please Thank You collects short fiction by the author who gave us the terrific How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. Yu's blend of literary fiction's style with sci-fi's wild ideas is beautifully realized here, especially in the moving gem "Standard Loneliness Package." One of the year's best collections in any genre.”
—The Austin American-Statesman
“Enchanting . . . Yu’s ability to assume widely diverging roles as a storyteller is dazzling . . . Those not bothered by diverse writing styles will find reading Yu to be an exciting adventure.”
“Like his debut novel, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu's new collection of stories mixes humor and clever conceits with a perfect deadpan delivery . . . Sharp, crisp insights that will have you chuckling and shaking your head.”
—Los Angeles Times
“The author behind three of the most unusual books of fiction published in the past five years . . . Untraditional but weirdly glorious narratives that, for all their experimental form, end up carrying as much or even more emotional force as your original, more conventional vessel would have.”
—Poets and Writers
“In his new collection, Charles Yu applies his trademark winking, pop-culture-infused, sci-fi mentality to a series of short stories . . . Clever and cutting.”
“Whether Yu’s work is dark, thought provoking, humorous, or all of the above, it’s always compulsively readable.”
—Owl and Bear
“Looking for the next great voice in fiction? Young author Charles Yu’s short stories beg comparisons to Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams, but he’s funnier than both.”
“Entertaining . . . Like a friend who stops by unexpectedly with a bunch of mind-bending tales to share . . . had me laughing . . . go order a copy.”
—Geekdad, Wired Magazine
“Impressive . . . Charts eclectic territory, from a zombie in a megamart to a new pharmaceutical drug that generates a sense of purpose, and explores retreats from reality and emotion . . . [Am] amusing send up American consumer culture.”
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Read an Excerpt
Sorry Please Thank YouStories
By Charles Yu
PantheonCopyright © 2012 Charles Yu
All right reserved.
Standard Loneliness Package
Root canal is one fifty, give or take, depending on who’s doing it to you. A migraine is two hundred.
Not that I get the money. The company gets it. What I get is twelve dollars an hour, plus reimbursement for painkillers. Not that they work.
I feel pain for money. Other people’s pain. Physical, emotional, you name it.
Pain is an illusion, I know, and so is time, I know, I know. I know. The shift manager never stops reminding us. Doesn’t help, actually. Doesn’t help when you are on your third broken leg of the day.
I get to work three minutes late and already there are nine tickets in my inbox. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, open the first ticket of the morning:
I’m at a funeral.
Someone else’s grief. Like wearing a stranger’s coat, still warm with heat from another body.
I’m feeling a mixture of things.
Grief, mostly, but also I detect some guilt in there. There usually is.
I hear crying.
I am seeing crying faces. Pretty faces. Crying, pretty, white faces. Nice clothes.
Our services aren’t cheap. As the shift manager is always reminding us. Need I remind you? That is his favorite phrase these days. He is always walking up and down the aisle tilting his head into our cubicles and saying it. Need I remind you, he says, of where we are on the spectrum? In terms of low- end high- end? We are solidly toward the highish end. So the faces are usually pretty, the clothes are usually nice. The people are usually nice, too. Although I imagine it’s not such a big deal to be nice when you’re that rich and that pretty.
There’s a place in Hyderabad doing what we’re doing, but a little more toward the budget end of things. Precision Living Solutions, it’s called. And of course there are hundreds of emotional engineering firms here in Bangalore, springing up everywhere you look. The other day I read in the paper that a new call center opens once every three weeks. Workers follow the work, and the work is here. All of us ready to feel, to suffer. We’re in a growth industry.
Okay. The body is going into the ground now. The crying is getting more serious.
Here it comes.
I am feeling that feeling. The one that these people get a lot, near the end of a funeral service. These sad and pretty people. It’s a big feeling. Different operators have different ways to describe it. For me, it feels something like a huge boot. Huge, like it fills up the whole sky, the whole galaxy, all of space. Some kind of infinite foot. And it’s stepping on me. The infinite foot is stepping on my chest.
The funeral ends, and the foot is still on me, and it is hard to breathe. People are getting into black town cars. I also appear to have a town car. I get in. The foot, the foot. So heavy. Here we go, yes, this is familiar, the foot, yes, the foot. It doesn’t hurt, exactly. It’s not what I would call comfortable, but it’s not pain, either. More like pressure. Deepak, who used to be in the next cubicle, once told me that this feeling I call the infinite foot— to him it felt more like a knee— is actually the American experience of the Christian God.
“Are you sure it is the Christian God?” I asked him. “I always thought God was Jewish.”
“You’re an idiot,” he said. “It’s the same guy. Duh. The Judeo-Christian God.”
“Are you sure?” I said. He just shook his head at me. We’d had this conversation before. I figured he was probably right, but I didn’t want to admit it. Deepak was the smartest guy in our cube-cluster, as he would kindly remind me several times a day.
I endure a few more minutes of the foot, and then, right before the hour is up, right when the grief and guilt are almost too much and I wonder if I am going to have to hit the safety button, there it is, it’s usually there at the end of a funeral, no matter how awful, no matter how hard I am crying, no matter how much guilt my client has saved up for me to feel. You wouldn’t expect it— I didn’t— but anyone who has done this job for long enough knows what I’m talking about, and even though you know it’s coming, even though you are, in fact, waiting for it, when it comes, it is always still a little bit of a shock.
Death of a cousin is five hundred. Death of a sibling is twelve fifty. Parents are two thousand apiece, but depending on the situation people will pay all kinds of money, for all kinds of reasons, for bad reasons, for no reason at all.
The company started off in run-of-the-mill corporate services, basic stuff: ethical qualm transference, plausible deniability. The sort of things that generated good cash flow, cash flow that was fed right back into R&D, year after year, turning the little shop into a bit player, and then a not-so-bit player, and then, eventually, into a leader in a specialized market. In those early days, this place was known as Conscience Incorporated. The company had cornered the early market in guilt.
Then the technology improved. Some genius in Delhi had figured out a transfer protocol to standardize and packetize all different kinds of experiences. Overnight, everything changed. An industry was born. The business of bad feeling. For the right price, almost any part of life could be avoided.
Across the street from work is a lunch place I go to sometimes. Not much, really, a hot and crowded little room, a bunch of stools in front of a greasy counter. I come here mostly for the small television, up on a shelf, above the cash register. They have a satellite feed.
Today they have it switched to American television, and I am watching a commercial for our company’s services.
It shows a rich executive-looking type sitting and rubbing his temples, making the universal television face for I Am an Executive in a Highly Stressful Situation. There are wavy lines on either side of his temples to indicate that the Executive is really stressed! Then he places a call to his broker and in the next scene, the Executive is lying on a beach, drinking golden beer from a bottle and looking at the bluest ocean I have ever seen.
Next to me is a woman and her daughter. The girl, maybe four or five, is scooping rice and peas into her mouth a little at a time. She is watching the commercial in silence. When she sees the blue water, she turns to her mother and asks her, softly, what the blue liquid is. I am thinking about how sad it is that she has never seen water that color in real life until I realize that I am thirty- nine years old and hey, you know what? Neither have I.
And then the commercial ends with one of our slogans.
Don’t feel like having a bad day?
Let someone else have it for you.
That someone else they are talking about in the commercial is me. And the other six hundred terminal operators in Building D, Cubicle Block 4. Don’t feel like having a bad day? Let me have it for you.
It’s okay for me. It’s a good job. I didn’t do that well in school, after all. It was tougher for Deep. He did three semesters at technical college. He was always saying he deserved better. Better than this, anyway. I would nod and agree with him, but I never told him what I wanted to tell him, which was, hey, Deepak, when you say that you deserve better, even if I agree with you, you are kind of also implying that I don’t deserve better, which, maybe I don’t, maybe this is about where I belong in the grand scheme of things, in terms of high-end low-end for me as a person, but I wish you wouldn’t say it because whenever you do, it makes me feel a sharp bit of sadness and then, for the rest of the day, a kind of low-grade crumminess.
Whenever Deep and I used to go to lunch, he would try to explain to me how it works.
“Okay, so, the clients,” he would say, “they call in to their account reps and book the time.”
He liked to start sentences with okay, so. It was a habit he had picked up from the engineers. He thought it made him sound smarter, thought it made him sound like them, those code jockeys, standing by the coffee machine, talking faster than he could think, talking not so much in sentences as in data structures, dense clumps of logic with the occasional inside joke. He liked to stand near them, pretending to stir sugar into his coffee, listening in on them as if they were speaking a different language. A language of knowing something, a language of being an expert at something. A language of being something more than an hourly unit.
Okay, so, Deepak said, so this is how it works. The client, he books the time, and then at the appointed hour, a switch in the implant chip kicks on and starts transferring his consciousness over. Perceptions, sensory data, all of it. Then it goes first to an intermediate server for processing and then gets bundled with other jobs, and then a huge block of the stuff gets zapped over here, where it gets downloaded onto our servers and then dumped into our queue management system, which parcels out the individual jobs to all of us in the cubicle farm.
Okay, so, it’s all based on some kind of efficiency algorithm—our historical performance, our current emotional load. Sensors in our head assembly unit measure our stress levels, sweat composition, to see what we can handle. Okay? he would say, when he was done. Like a professor. He wanted so badly to be an expert at something.
I always appreciated Deepak trying to help me understand. But it’s just a job, I would say. I never really understood why Deep thought so much of those programmers, either. In the end, we’re all brains for hire. Mental space for rent, moments as a commodity. They have gotten it down to a science. How much a human being can take in a given twelve-hour shift. Grief, embarrassment, humiliation, all different, of course, so they calibrate our schedules, mix it up, the timing and the order, and the end result is you leave work every day right about at your exact breaking point. A lot of people smoke to take the edge off. I quit twelve years ago, so sometimes when I get home, I’m still shaking for a little bit. I sit on my couch and drink a beer and let it subside. Then I heat up some bread and lentils and read a newspaper or, if it’s too hot to stay inside, go down to the street and eat my dinner standing there, watching people walking down the block, wondering where they are headed, wondering if anyone is waiting for them to come home.
**The above is an excerpt from “Standard Loneliness Package,” the first story in the new collection SORRY PLEASE THANK YOU by Charles Yu.**
Excerpted from Sorry Please Thank You by Charles Yu Copyright © 2012 by Charles Yu. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Charles Yu is the author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which was named one of the best books of the year by Time magazine. He received the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award for his story collection Third Class Superhero, and was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award. His work has been published in The New York Times, Playboy, and Slate, among other periodicals. Yu lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Michelle, and their two children.
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Charles Yu, the author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe follows up with an anthology of short stories, the perplexing title being, Sorry Please Thank You: Stories, provokes the question, “What does that mean?” The premise of the stories in SPTY: Stories are intriguing. Anthologies are a tricky recipe to get right, and some stories will be better than others. When reading a novel and you get to a part that is dull, you can’t skip ahead a chapter without the risk of missing important plot development. When reading an anthology, if you don’t like one story, just go to the next. No harm and no foul. Is SPTY: Stories the sort of book you will enjoy? Read the following except from the story, Open, and then decide: "We need to talk about that," I said. "Why? Why do we always have to talk everything to death?" "The word 'door' is floating in the middle of our apartment. You don't think maybe this is something we need to discuss?"| Does that interchange interest or annoy you? If that annoys you, this book is full of THAT; absolutely brimming with it. Much of the humor is not from what is happening but how it is told. I enjoyed about half of this book and that part seemed unorthodox, fresh and insightful; character studies that were interesting. The other half got on my nerves, like an intelligent but emotionally stunted ten-year-old always asking, ‘Why?’ for every statement made. Anyway, here are the stories I enjoyed from SPTY: Stories: Small spoiler warning – These are brief descriptions of the stories. If you don’t want to read that, jump to the final paragraph. Standard Loneliness Package – This was the first story in the book and it explores what would happen if it were possible to outsource the unpleasant bits of our lives, such as dealing with the loss of a loved one and specifically, what it would be like to be the hourly worker these bits were outsourced to. Hero Absorbs Major Damage – Imagine a story told from the character’s side of a MMORPG and you get the premise behind this story. Anyone who has ever been trapped by the allure of EverQuest or WOW will immediately get this concept. The main character, heavy with the burdens of leadership, struggles with his weaknesses, fears, and knowledge that the virtual lives of those in the party rest uncomfortably on his shoulders. Yeoman – Imagine being the red shirt guy on the landing party on a TV-show like Star Trek, and you aren’t a main character. Your life expectancy is less than commercial break #2. It’s amusing and strange to follow the character that is waiting for his time to be killed by something inexplicable and be fine with it. Designer Emotion 67 – This is a parody of a big executive as he speaks down to the huddled masses of the company. I didn’t laugh, though I saw the parts that were supposed to be funny. The forced jolliness of it all and the outright lampoon of the pharmaceutical industry were amusing. Adult Contemporary – Imagine a character in a TV show, suddenly becoming aware that he is merely a character, playing out a predefined role, and he decides to change it? Without a doubt, I thought Adult Contemporary was the best of the lot. It’s brilliant, funny and has an ending I found satisfying. As for the stories I did not enjoy, there were a few: First Person Shooter – Perhaps the most conventional story in the book, a zombie wanders the aisles of a late night department store staffed by a couple of clerks. I expected something to happen. It didn’t. Troubleshooting – Maybe to someone who doesn’t resolve problems of any kind for a living, this might be amusing. I hated it. Human for Beginners – It tries too hard to be ironic. Open – This was a character study that just didn’t work for me, though it had some fun concepts. Note to Self – This was an interesting premise that devolved into an uninspired line of consciousness conversation. It just didn’t work. It read like a writing exercise more than a story. The Book of Categories – More than once while reading this book, I wondered what Yu’s definition of a story is. This was a list. Sorry Please Thank You – This was the last story and the repeated word-play from the previous stories had worn me down. It does explain the title, but I didn’t like this one. It’s me, not Yu. Charles Yu demonstrates a great imagination and style that reminds me of Douglas Adams. Overall, I felt like there was a lot of potential in SPTY: Stories and there is stuff to like here, but when you hit a story that isn’t doing it for you, just flip ahead to the next. If you haven’t read How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, give it try.
ARC reviewed by Jessica for Book Sake. This is a good collection of short (some very short) stories to introduce a reader to the author. That’s why I opted to read it at least. Some of the pieces that felt like they were simply taking up space, or maybe leaving too much space behind – a line per page for most of a story, while usually artistic, or meant to drive a point home, did nothing for me. Other stories felt as if they could have been made into stand alone novels and still hold my interest. There were two in particular that I want to see again: Standard Loneliness Package and First Person Shooter. Standard Loneliness Package (in the Sorry section of the book) featured normal everyday characters that weren’t doing anything extraordinary in their world, but it was different from our world, and the main character was just so realistic I felt compelled to know more about him. In First Person Shooter (oddly enough in the same Sorry section of the book) a zombie is shopping, but it’s not your average zombie, although knowing that it was shopping might have led you to understand that. I would love to read a full book featuring the type of zombie’s features in this story. Again, the other characters in it were so real and flawed and lovable, that I found myself sad when those few pages were over. I think I was about half and half over the stories that I really liked and the ones that just didn’t click for me. I didn’t find anything laugh out loud funny, but thought that the sci-fi aspects of the stories, the ones that featured sci-fi, were intriguing and oddly believable.
Um, hi. I guess you're my sister and head councelor. I'm Natalie. I guess a daughter of Aphrodite explains why guys have hit on me my entire life, even though I am smarter than Annabeth and nerdier than Beckendorf (may Hades bless his soul). Can we chat sometime? I'm always looking for some fresh celeb and demigod gossip! Lots O Luv, Natalie, Daughter of Aphrodite.
*Cries* imiss sabaaaaaaa!!!! T.T
Whats wrong briana
Alucard yor leaveing?! No you cant leave!
She does a cart wheel.~Daisy
She comes in and instead of a cabin she sits in a tree.
can i join?
I have a elephant.
And you tried to kill him. Hey Cara
Funny, intelligent, sci-fi-influenced gems. The first story, "Standard Lonliness Package" is bleak and brutal satire. The writing is restrained and effective. I especially enjoyed Yeoman, a hilarious send up of Star Trek that had me laughing out loud. Check it out!
Where are you!!! AnnieStar11