How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

by Charles Yu

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307739452
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/28/2011
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 117,313
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.79(d)

About the Author

Charles Yu is the author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Sorry Please Thank You, and Third Class Superhero and worked as a storyboard editor on Westworld. He received the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award 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.

Read an Excerpt

1

There is just enough space inside here for one person to live indefinitely, or at least that’s what the operation manual says. User can survive inside the TM-31 Recreational Time Travel Device, in isola­tion, for an indefinite period of time.
 
I am not totally sure what that means. Maybe it doesn’t actually mean anything, which would be fine, which would be okay by me, because that’s what I’ve been doing: living in here, indefinitely. The Tense Operator has been set to Present-Indefinite for I don’t know how long—some time now—and although I still pick up the occasional job from Dispatch, they seem to come less frequently these days and so, when I’m not working, I like to wedge the gearshift in P-I and just sort of cruise.
 
My gums hurt. It’s hard to focus. There must be some kind of internal time distortion effect in here, because when I look at myself in the little mirror above my sink, what I see is my father’s face, my face turning into his. I am beginning to feel how the man looked, especially how he looked on those nights he came home so tired he couldn’t even make it through dinner without nodding off, sitting there with his bowl of soup cooling in front of him, a rich pork-and-winter-melon-saturated broth that, moment by moment, was losing—or giving up—its tiny quan­tum of heat into the vast average temperature of the universe.

The base model TM-31 runs on state-of-the-art chronodiegetical technology: a six-cylinder grammar drive built on a quad-core physics engine, which features an applied temporalinguistics architecture allowing for free-form navigation within a ren­dered environment, such as, for instance, a story space and, in particular, a science fictional universe.

Or, as Mom used to say: it’s a box. You get into it. You push some buttons. It takes you to other places, different times. Hit this switch for the past, pull up that lever for the future. You get out and hope the world has changed. Or at least maybe you have.
 
I don’t get out much these days. At least I have a dog, sort of. He was retconned out of some space western. It was the usual deal: hero, on his way up, has a trusty canine sidekick, then hero gets famous and important and all of that and by the time sea­son two rolls around, hero doesn’t feel like sharing the spotlight anymore, not with a scruffy-looking mutt. So they put the little guy in a trash pod and sent him off.
 
I found him just as he was about to drift into a black hole. He had a face like soft clay, and haunches that were bald in spots where he’d been chewing off his own fur. I don’t think anyone has ever been as happy to see anything as this dog was to see me. He licked my face and that was that. I asked him what he wanted his name to be. He didn’t say anything so I named him Ed.

The smell of Ed is pretty powerful in here, but I’m okay with that. He’s a good dog, sleeps a lot, sometimes licks his paw to comfort himself. Doesn’t need food or water. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even know that he doesn’t exist. Ed is just this weird onto­logical entity that produces unconditional slobbery loyal affection. Superfluous. Gratuitous. He must violate some kind of conserva­tion law. Something from nothing: all of this saliva. And, I guess, love. Love from the abandoned heart of a non-existent dog.
 
. . .

Because I work in the time travel industry, everyone assumes I must be a scientist. Which is sort of correct. I was studying for my master’s in applied science fiction—I wanted to be a struc­tural engineer like my father—and then the whole situation with Mom got worse, and with my dad missing I had to do what made sense, and then things got even worse, and this job came along, and I took it.
 
Now I fix time machines for a living.
 
To be more specific, I am a certified network technician for T-Class personal-use chronogrammatical vehicles, and an approved independent affiliate contractor for Time Warner Time, which owns and operates this universe as a spatio-temporal structure and entertainment complex zoned for retail, commercial, and residential use. The job is pretty chill for the most part, although right this moment I’m not loving it because I think my Tense Operator might be breaking down.
 
It’s happening now. Or maybe not. Maybe it was earlier today. Or yesterday. Maybe it broke down a long time ago. Maybe that’s the point: if it is broken and my transmission has been shift­ing randomly in and out of gears, then how would I ever know when it happened? Maybe I’m the one who broke it, trying to fool myself, thinking I could live like this, thinking I could stay out here forever.
 
. . .
 
The red indicator light just came on. I’m looking at the run-time error report. It’s like a mathematically precise way of saying, This is not how you do this, man. Meaning life, I suppose. It’s computer for Hey, buddy, you are massively bungling this up. I know it. I know it better than anyone. I don’t need silicon wafers with a slightly neurotic interface to tell me that.
 
That would be TAMMY, by the way. The TM-31’s computer UI comes in one of two personality skins: TIM or TAMMY. You can only choose once, the first time you boot up, and you’re stuck with your choice forever.
 
I’m not going to lie. I chose the girl one. Is TAMMY’s curvilinear pixel configuration kind of sexy? Yes it is. Does she have chestnut-colored hair and dark brown eyes behind pixilated librarian glasses and a voice like a cartoon princess? Yes and yes and yes. Have I ever, in all my time in this unit, ever done you know what to a screenshot of you know who? I’m not going to answer that. All I will say is that at a certain point, you lose the capacity for embarrassment. I’m not there yet, but I’m not far from it. Let’s see. I’ve got a nontrivial thinning situation going on with the hair. I am, rounding to the nearest, oh, about five nine, 185. Plus or minus. Mostly plus. I might be hiding from history in here, but I’m not hiding from biology. Or gravity. So yeah, I went with TAMMY.
 
Do you want to know the first thing she ever said to me? enter password. Okay, yeah, that was the first thing. Do you know the second thing? i am incapable of lying to you. The third thing she said to me was i’m sorry.
 
“Sorry for what?” I said.
 
“I’m not a very good computer program,” she said.
 
“I’ve never met software with low self-esteem.”
 
“I’ll try hard, though,” she said. “I really want to do a good job for you.”
 
TAMMY always thinks everything is about to go to hell. Always telling me how bad things could get. So yeah, it hasn’t been what I expected. Do I regret it sometimes? Sure I do. Would I choose TAMMY again? Sure I would. What do you want me to say? I’m lonely. She’s nice. She lets me flirt with her. I have a thing for my operating system. There. I said it.
 
I’ve never been married. I never got married. The woman I didn’t marry is named Marie. Technically, she doesn’t exist. Just like Ed.
 
Except that she does. A little paradox, you might think, but really, The Woman I Never Married is a perfectly valid ontological entity. Or class of entities. I suppose technically you could make the argument that every woman is The Woman I Never Married. So why not call her Marie, that was my thinking.
 
This is how we never met:
 
One fine spring day, Marie went to the park in the center of town, near the middle school and the old bakery that is now a furniture warehouse. I’m assuming. She must have, right? Someone like her must have done something like this at some point in time. Marie packed her lunch and a paperback and walked the half mile to the park from the house where she lived or never lived. She sat on a worn, wooden bench, and read her book, and nibbled on her sandwich. The air was warm syrup, was literally thick with pollen and dandelion clocks and photons moving at the speed of light. An hour passed, then two. I never arrived at the park, wearing the only suit I never had, the one with a hole in the side pocket that no one ever saw. I never noticed her that first time, never saw her looking at the tops of the eucalyptus trees, running her thumb over the worn page corners of the book open, faceup, on her lap. I never did catch her eye while tripping over my own foot, never made her laugh that first time. I never asked what her name was. She never told me that it was Marie. A week later, I did not call her. A year later, we did not get married in a little white church on a hill overlooking the park where, on that first afternoon, we shared a bench, asked polite questions, tried hard not to stare at each other while we imagined the perfect life we were never going to have together, a life we never even lost, a life that would have started, right at that moment, and never did.
 
I wake up to the sound of TAMMY crying.
 
“How do you even know how to do that?” I ask her. I wish I could be more sensitive, but I just don’t understand why they would program her to have such depressive tendencies. “Like, where in your code are you getting this from?”
 
This makes her cry even harder, to the point where she starts to do that warbly gasping heaving sobbing thing that little kids do, which makes no sense, because it’s not like TAMMY has a mouth, or vocal cords, or lungs. I generally like to think of myself as pretty empathetic, but for some reason my reaction to crying has always been like this. It’s hard for me to watch and just generally stresses me out so much that my initial response is to get mad, and then of course I feel like a monster, which is immediately followed by guilt, oh, the guilt. I feel guilty, I feel like a terrible person. I am a terrible person. I’m a 185-pound sack of guilt.
 
Or maybe I’m not. Maybe it’s just that I’m not the person I was going to be. Whatever that means. Maybe that’s what messing with the Tense Operator does to you. You can’t even say things that mean anything anymore.
 
I would ask TAMMY what she’s crying about, but it almost doesn’t matter. My mother would do this, too, all that liquid emotion just filling her up, right up to the top of her tank, a heavy, sloshing volume, which at any moment could be tipped over, emptied out into the world.
 
I tell TAMMY it will be all right. She says what will be all right? I say whatever you are crying about. She says that is exactly what she’s crying about. That everything is all right. That the world isn’t ending. That we’ll never tell each other how we really feel because everything is okay. Okay enough to just sit around, being okay. Okay enough that we forget that we don’t have long, that it’s late, late in this universe, and at some point in the future, it’s not going to be okay.
 
Sometimes at night I worry about TAMMY. I worry that she might get tired of it all. Tired of running at sixty-six terahertz, tired of all those processing cycles, every second of every hour of every day. I worry that one of these cycles she might just halt her own subroutine and commit software suicide. And then I would have to do an error report, and I don’t know how I would even begin to explain that to Microsoft.

Interviews

A conversation with Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

You're a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Award-winner and this is your debut novel. When and why did you start writing, and what advice do you have for other young writers out there trying to get published?
I wrote poems and essays as a kid, and in college, I dreamed of becoming a professional writer, whatever I thought that meant, although, for a lot of reasons, I knew that wasn't going to happen. Mostly, my parents were going to murder me if I tried to apply to an MFA program. First-degree murder.

So I didn't actually start writing until 2002, shortly after I began my career as a lawyer. Working in a high-pressure environment was squeezing me pretty hard, and all that pressure found its way out in the form of little things I was jotting down, in the margins of receipts, on the backs of business cards. I wrote a series of physics problems about a married couple's life together. I wrote some instructions for how to play a metaphysical video game. Stuff like that.

But I didn't think I was actually writing, let alone writing what anyone would call fiction, until I read CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders. That book blew the doors off the empty little space that had previously housed my puny imagination.

Up until that point, I'd had no clue as to what a story could be. And it was because my ideas were assumptions. Tacit, limiting, ultimately false assumptions, which added up to a severely impoverished conception of what was possible in fiction. After reading CivilWarLand, I knew I wanted that feeling, wanted to be surprised like that, and flattened onto the floor, and embarrassed my by own narrowness. I wanted to have my doors blown off again and again. It was a short distance to go from wanting to have that feeling to also wanting to see if maybe I could ever give that feeling to someone else.

As for advice, it would be to transfer all the anxiety about publication into anxiety about whether the story works, whether a reader is going to care about the characters. I break down the process into four components: writing, rewriting, submitting, and worrying. My ideal, not at all realistic, scenario, would be to make the proportion of time spent on each of those activities something like: 19 percent, 80 percent, 1 percent, 0 percent. This is very hypocritical of me to say, of course, as I've never done this myself, I've never even been close. But I do know that the farther from zero the last two numbers get, the more I'm in trouble. And that the second number should be much bigger than the first.

How has your interest in and knowledge of science and science fiction contributed to and inspired your writing of this book?
I read and collected comics as a kid, read pretty much everything I could find of Asimov, including the whole Foundation series in one semester in eighth grade (to the detriment of my English grade), and so much else, too much to list or even remember. Then, at some point in high school, I got the idea that there were serious books we read in school, and there was science fiction, and there was not a lot of overlap. That lasted until my senior year in college, when I stumbled on Richard Powers's Galatea 2.2, which wasn't exactly science fiction, it was this amazing love story. It also handled actual science (cognitive science, artificial intelligence) without watering it down, and yet was still clearly Serious Fiction, whatever that meant to me back then, the kind that was in the Sunday book review sections. After that, I began to search out more writing like that, more Powers, and Jonathan Lethem.

Currently, I read more science than I do anything else, including fiction. I especially enjoy reading books written by scientists for lay folk, like me. I was a biochem major in college, and so part of it is that I am interested in the science itself, but I'm just as interested in the process of explanation, how the author, an expert in a specialized field, tries to explain difficult concepts through simplification and creative analogy. I am fascinated by that process of distilling something really complex into something most people can understand. There are so many examples of great books that do this, but the one that still stands out for me is Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe. After finishing that book, I was convinced I had a working knowledge of string theory. I was like, I can do this stuff; I could hang with string theorists at a cocktail party. Of course, when I tried to explain even the simplest concept from the book to someone else, I realized how much Greene had been holding my hand. I was like a baby who thought he could walk, until I tried on my own.

Your book deals with time travel in a more serious and even tragic way than most stories about the subject, though you mask the severity with humor to keep the dialogue light and amusing. What made you decide to write about this complicated topic, and how did you come to write about it in this unique manner?
I knew I wanted the novel to be a family story, mostly about a father and son, but also about a marriage, and a son-mother story, too. But I could not find the right frame for the story. At the same time, I kept coming back to this idea that had been floating around in my head and on my laptop for years, but one that I could never find a home for. It was about of a man who keeps popping up in different hypothetical universes, trying to find the universe where he belongs. I'd been messing around with that conceit, on and off, for close to five years. Then I remembered a book I'd read years earlier, called The Fabric of Reality, by David Deutsch (which sets out, among other things, Deutsch's multiverse interpretation of quantum mechanics), and in particular, one specific sentence from that book: "Other times are just special cases of other universes." That sentence was a bridge for me. I realized I didn't want to write a story about hypothetical universes. I wanted to write a time travel story.

Once I decided that the novel would be about time travel, the book started to take shape. Not quickly, more like, I had a frame, and now little pieces started sticking to the frame, just odd scraps here and there, but the frame was the right one, and I could hang things on it. Most important, what happened was that the two vocabularies-the emotion of a father-mother-son story and the technical glossary of a time travel story-started to interact; like two dry wool blankets, they started to rub up against each other and crackle a bit. Things would pop out of that, phraselets and new words and little surprises of grammar and language and emotion, and science fiction would fall out from that interaction.

Whatever humor there is in there, if any, is probably also a product of that process, of smashing together two sub-languages, emotional and science fictional, and seeing what weird tonal particles are produced from the collision. I knew that the story needed weight, because if it were just whimsical, a reader might wonder why any of it mattered, and of course, the most important thing that I am trying to do is create characters who matter to the reader. I do hope that there are at least a few laughs in there.

How did you come to develop your protagonist's interesting sidekicks TAMMY, an operating system with low self-esteem, and Ed, a nonexistent but ontologically valid dog? Are they based on real people (or pets) in your life?
Ed is based on my dog, Mochi. Much of the writing of this book took place between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. Mochi kept me company in the cold, dark hours, as I stared at a mostly blank screen. And when she sighs, it really is the most emotionally charged and communicative sound I've ever heard. And her face is pretty mushy-looking, in a good way.

In terms of real people, I suppose TAMMY arose from, in part, my own self-defeating inner monologue. But mostly TAMMY is based on my real-life operating system, which is always telling me how it has just failed, and then asking if I want to report the failure to its parent company licensor. I'm always like, no, let's just keep this between the two of us.

Describe Minor Universe 31 and how you were inspired to write about such an intangible, mysterious place.
It's an interior space. But it's also real, a physical place. It's a box, a white space, a forgotten gap-filler between more important universes. The dimensions vary from moment to moment, as does the shape. It can feel claustrophobic one night, and then in the morning it's back to feeling large and noisy. Physics is not completely installed, and you can't count on anything the way you could in a more reliable universe. It was built for one purpose, but when that purpose was abandoned, the inhabitants felt it like a gravitational wave that swept through the cosmos, instantaneously leaving everyone with a feeling of incompleteness. I guess I wanted to describe a place where everyone was an underdog, and had something to prove, and wanted to be redeemed.

Your protagonist, a time travel technician attempting to save people from trying to alter their pasts, is named Charles Yu. How did you come to name him after yourself?
It was originally a placeholder, to be honest. So was the father's name, which is my father's name. I tried different names for the son and the father, but none of them would take, so I just put in my real name (and my dad's) so I could get going with the writing, but when I did that, a strange thing happened: the story started moving, fast, in a different direction. Suddenly, it was about a self meeting his self, and the details of the character's life started to come together, as did the relationship between the son and the father. I think having my actual name in there gave me a straw man, a straw story, that I could write in reaction to. For some reason, once the name of the character became Charles Yu, I stopped slipping in autobiographical or semi-autobiographical information, and actually started removing it. I think I realized, wow, if this character is going to have my name, I'd better take some of this stuff out. There is still a fair amount of it in there, semi- or pseudo-autobiographical, but much of it is more emotionally resonant than factually resonant.

Though there is a definite science fictional aspect to your novel, it is also heavily literary and much more about real life than it at first appears. How, then, would you characterize your novel? Fiction, science fiction, or something outside the realm of typical genre classifications?
I was hoping it would be characterized as a time machine, although I realize there is no section for time machines in most bookstores. In terms of topology, I think of it as a stable, looped, four-dimensional object with chronodiegetic properties. In terms of genre, I would be happy for it to be shelved in both fiction and in science fiction. Or maybe under a new category, where they would put books that resist either classification. A lot of my favorite books would be in that category.

What is your favorite genre of books to read? What book have you read recently that you found particularly fascinating?
I love books that defy genre: Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter, The Fabric of Reality. I love short stories, and for whatever reason, I think genre-bending or -breaking seems to be much more permissible in stories than in novels. Or at least people are more flexible about reading a "literary" short story that has science fictional elements, or a "sci-fi" story with, say, formal experimentation more frequently found in "literary fiction," and not worrying too much about what area of the store they found the book in. Over Christmas, I read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, and I can't get over it. It changed my understanding of not just comics, but all visual storytelling, and even creative work in general.

What's next for you?
I'm working on a new novel that takes place in "America," i.e., not America, but a dream-and-desire-fueled holographic projection of the collective mental environment of Americans, which exists as a geographical place that happens to overlap the physical America. It's also a story about a man looking for his ex-wife and daughter. I hope I can figure out a way to make that make sense.

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How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 105 reviews.
Frisbeesage More than 1 year ago
In Minor Universe 31 there is one cardinal rule - you can't change the past and trying will only cause trouble. Yet everyday people climb in time machines and go back to undo the wrongs in their past. That's where Charles Yu comes in. He's a time travel repairman and he spends his days rescuing all the hapless time travelers from themselves. His sidekicks are TAMMY, his machine's operating system and Ed, a nonexistent dog. The only problem is Charles, himself, is stuck in the past, brooding on his distant and missing inventor father and his unhappy mother. It is interesting to see the wide range of feelings this novel has produced!I'll start by admitting that I am not normally a sci-fi reader, so I was looking for an entertaining novel, not good sci-fi. I was definitely entertained! To begin with the book is written in long, drawn-out, run on sentences and is full of time-travel, science fiction jargon. It took me awhile to get into the rhythm, but before long I relaxed into it and the story seemed to flow easily. The plot felt unique and interesting, the characters likable and well rounded, and the problems they deal with real world and timely. Who doesn't have something they'd like to change about their past? A day they wish they could live differently? Ultimately Yu uses his original and funny protagonist of a time-travel machine repairman to address some serious issues - father/son relationships, living in the past, and failure - yet the book remains light and entertaining throughout. A great debut novel, I'll be watching to see what he does next!
Phillybrarian More than 1 year ago
Hiding behind subtle and humorous puns that will delight science fiction readers (Skywalker, L. is a client of the main character, the detailed descriptions of the time machine and time travel, the hilarious use of techno-babble and mention of his time machine's "Niven Rings" are some examples), the author weaves a poignant tale of a son not only searching for his father, but his relationship with his father as well. Similar to the Thursday Next novels by Jasper Fforde, Yu's characters know they are living in a fictional universe, in fact in "Minor Universe 31." Indeed, the main character is Christopher Yu, himself, who is given a book written by his future self that he must read (and write) in hopes of unraveling the mystery of his father's whereabouts and is the very book being reviewed here. Confusing? Don't panic, the whole thing arrives at a revealing, and touching, personal conclusion. Yu's work will delight those who like a unique, "pushing-the-envelope" kind of book, those interested in exploring the relationships fathers and sons can develop, and sci-fi fans everywhere.
Suspensemag More than 1 year ago
"Sometimes at night I worry about TAMMY. I worry that she might get tired of it all. Tired of running at sixty-six terahertz, tired of all those processing cycles, every second of every hour of every day. I worry that one of these cycles she might just halt her own subroutine and commit software suicide. And then I would have to do an error report, and I don't know how I would even begin to explain that to Microsoft." Charles Yu is a time travel technician. The title flows off of the tongue as well as any other corporate programming job, but in this truly original debut, Yu not only bends time and the idea of the average 9-5, he bends the line between author and protagonist as he learns that the key to finding what he is looking for may be found in a book written by his future self, "How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe." Poignant, gut-hurting funny, original to the point of wondering if this isn't some earth-shattering memoir from the real future, Yu's work is a powerful new presence in the literary world. Reviewed by J.S. Chancellor, author of "Son of Ereubus" with Suspense Magazine
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Minor Universe 31, time travel is a way of life as is paradoxes caused by someone tinkering with the past. Time technician Charles Yu fixes the stupid actions of those wanting change without comprehending the consequences. He councils these idiots, but does so calmly even when he tries to pacify his harried boss Phil. Yu visits his mother, who is trapped in a life of one-hour in which she prepares dinner infinitely. He still seeks his father who invented the machines that enable time travel, but vanished while testing his gizmos. Accompanied by TAMMY the operating system with Yu's personality (to include a lack of self-worth) and Ed the imaginary ontological canine, he continues his personal quest to meet and talk with his dad; having gained hope by a book he will one day author, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. This is an intriguing time travel science fiction tale starring a stay out of trouble extremist (think of Columbus in most of the movie Zombieland) who as a bureaucrat quietly rectifies the mistakes of others while searching for his lost dad to have a father-son chat. The story line feels like a Moebius series of loops so is difficult to follow yet quite fun to do so. Although the climax is abrupt and seemingly out of character for the safety only lead protagonist, SF fans who enjoy something radically different will want to read Charles Yu's escapades in time and space. Harriet Klausner
TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
Charles is a time machine repairman on Minor Universe 31. Technically, he is like the auto club for time machines. When a machine fails, he travels across time to fix it. But, these "repairs" are often needed because people go back in time to change the past, and that's something that should never be done. He runs into all types of people, with his robotic dog by his side, but he's got problems of his own. In a moment of rash judgment, he shoots his future self. Now, THAT's a problem. To further complicate things, he comes across a book he's written, a survival guide for living in a science fictional universe. But at the point of discovery, he's already gone against much of what it recommends. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe was wonderful but in a totally weird, quirky way. Parts of it were absolutely touching and sweet and parts of were complete mind benders. It's really a book about so many things. The relationship between Charles and his family is achingly sad. Charles yearns for so much more, and he doesn't really understand where things went wrong, so he re-lives moments over and over again in order to gain an understanding. It's a book about self-discovery, about love and loss but it's also very funny. There are lots of funny moments to chuckle over. Fans of science fiction will certainly enjoy this one, but readers who enjoy "what if" scenarios will enjoy this one too. I found myself working stuff out in my head (sort of like what I did when I watched Back to the Future III and thought, wth??) This was a fun, completely different book. The story was very unique and thoughtful. I'm so glad I read it.
OB-at-OTR More than 1 year ago
If your a fan of time travel stories Yu gives the reader a different take on an old theme.
readerSZ More than 1 year ago
Awsome Book!
fakelvis on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This is the story of time machine repair man, Charles Yu: the "real-life" author of this book, the author of this book inside this book, and more). Yes, it's self-referential and full of wonderful and slightly-confusing science fiction conundrums and paradoxes.In the acknowledgements, the author nods to Douglas Hofstadter for his excellent tome, 'Gödel, Escher, Bach'. Fans of that book may get a idea for what is in store here, but on a much smaller scale, and with the story of a time machine repair man as the backdrop.With a wonderful story of loss and of a man searching to fill a void left by his father and their forgotten dreams, we are given an equally wonderful metaphor for the complications of living in the modern world.Some quotes that I particularly liked that may pique your interest:"The axes of past, alternate present, and future, or more formally, the matrix operators of regret, counterfactual, and anxiety.""The good news is, you don't have to worry, you can't change the past.The bad news is, you don't have to worry, no matter how hard you try, you can't change the past."
JeffV on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out what I just read. The book is a narrative by someone who fixes time machines. His dad was obsessed with building them in the first place...but then disappeared. Among the threads in this convoluted book is finding out what happened to dad. But time is of the essence, because the narrator knows he will shoot himself at a precise day and time -- and history can't be changed.John Hodgman wrote something to the effect that "made up facts are, nevertheless, still facts." There is a lot of that going on the book, where science fiction memes are trotted out almost randomly. When the narrator gets an email from "LSkywalker" he is bummed to discover it is not from "the savior of the universe" but his son, Linus. Well, all geeks know that Star Wars took place in a galaxy far, far away and long, long ago. The inappropriate use of such a character is typical of failed attempts to be clever -- little about this book is clever; haphazard would be a better description.The second half of the book featured much droning on and on about his relationship with his parents, and the disconnected, dysfunctional relationship between the 3 of them. It didn't really seem to fit the theme of the book. Attempts to explain temporal paradoxes were also awkward and confusing.How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe has a promising premise but suffers from poor execution.
kaipakartik on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This is a story of a time machine operator but its more a memoir of a father son relationship. There is sadness and melancholy in equal parts.Its probably the geekiest book on father son relationships currently in existence. A good and light read (Although you will get a headache if you dwell deeply on the time loops like I did)
BurgandyIce on LibraryThing 5 months ago
My Review Part I:Good grief. This book is an inventive knot. It takes Science and the Space Travel and mooshes it together with Fiction and alternative universes, kneads it into an artistic, theoretical whole and then lets it expand into something completely unique. The result is scientific and impossible simultaneously in equal measure.This guy writes a book ¿ his name is Charles Yu ¿ and he writes this book while traveling through time in his ship which is about as big as a hotel shower (like his hotel room doesn¿t have.) He has a dog (that isn¿t real) and falls in love with someone whom he can¿t marry (because she isn¿t entirely human).So, Charles Yu writes this book while getting jambed into a time loop, which sounds really freaky. It doesn¿t last but a minute, the same minute over and over, but takes the entire book to write out (over and over) so he can move on.[SPOILERS] He figures out, by the end, how to forgive his dad for leaving, and forgive his mom for preferring her hypothetical dream to real life. He also forgives himself for not appreciating people (or non-people) around him or living life in the present tense moving chronologically into the future (vs. present indicative that does not progress into the future, even if he continues to age.)It¿s dramatic when he runs into himself (not the time he shoots himself, but the other time) and he slaps himself around and then kisses himself, which is really weird, but significant. He basically gives himself the shove he needed to move on and make decisions that may or may not be good, to love and live.I quote his self, ¿You¿re bigger than you think. More complicated than you think¿. You don¿t always have your own best interests at heart. That¿s true. You are your own best friend and your own worst enemy¿. Only you know what you need to do¿ you are the only you. Does that make sense?¿ And of course he answered himself, ¿Not really.¿My Review Part II:I loved the way Yu attacks the idea - of ditching the minutes ticking away on a clock that kill creativity with the hope of doing something amazing. His dad had a dream that if he put enough effort into his invention of time travel, that he would get equal parts success out of it, which wasn¿t true. Sometimes people succeed very well by happening upon great ideas accidently, sometimes over and over, like Charles¿ Dad¿s boss. Sometimes, effort is doubled and the result is getting lost and needing to be rescued. But should he give up? Cease caring? This book left me feeling like regret is a waste of time. The past can¿t be changed, even if we figured out time travel and attempted to fix it. This book also made me feel like depression was a waste of time because even if Yu could pass ten years in the same moment, it didn¿t change anything except his age. He could live there, suspended, `til he died, but what was the point? Once he figured out why he was depressed, then he was able to unravel the mystery that got him out of that suspension.My Review Part III:En fin, this is one of the weirdest books I have ever read. It¿s absolutely memorable, although, without writing down what happened, I think I will forget the semi-direct storyline. I think what I¿ll remember forever is that this book is hugely quotable. When it was funny, I snorted, laughing so hard. When it was sad, my jaw dropped and I was in shock. When it launched into the technicalities of science fictional space travel with xy loops and stuff, my brain spaced out while my eyes continued to read¿ and I finally decided that it wasn¿t understandable, and I probably grasped the gist, anyway. Oh, and then there were moments, unforgettable moments, like describing the wonder of writing on a pad of paper, the feel of the ink and the depression of the layers of paper that cling to the ink just that smallest of moments longer to make a thicker, blacker mark. Those moments I will remember (and wonder where in the world I read them, b/c some of the greatness of this book has not
norabelle414 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Charles Yu is searching for his father, who disappeared several years ago. His father almost invented time travel, but then things in his family went badly and he vanished. Charles Yu now fixes time machines for a living. The solitude gives him time to think about where his father might be. However, Charles Yu lives inside of science fiction (Minor Universe 31, to be exact). So he doesn¿t actually work on time machines, he works on chronogrammatical vehicles, which move people back and forth through narratives. His personal time machine has an operating system named TAMMY, and Charles and TAMMY are accompanied by a non-existent dog named Ed.One day, Charles Yu meets his future self, and does exactly what any experienced time traveler knows not to do: he shoots himself. Before he dies, he gives himself a book: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu. It¿s an autobiography, which he hopes will tell him where he can find his father. As soon as he writes it.Does your head hurt yet? :-) This book is spectacular. It¿s everything I could hope for from meta-science fiction. It¿s nerdy and complicated and confusing and satisfying. I loved it. My only complaint is that I¿m now desperately craving more of this world.
lorax on LibraryThing 5 months ago
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe isn't really science fiction; it's more of a modern literary novel in a science fictional setting. While the trappings of SF are present, from time machines (the protagonist is a time machine repairman) to artificial pocket universes, the concerns of the novel are the hoariest of mainstream cliches - the relationship between father and son, regret and introspection.That's not to say the time travel is metaphorical or symbolic - it's there, and it's real in the book, even if it's not at all rigorous and if the sorts of questions and setup that would characterize an SF novel are absent. Rather, the real-in-universe time travel is used to explore the questions that interest the author - memory, the nature of consciousness, and of course the protagonists' relationship with his missing father, who he spends much of the book searching for. When Charles (the character shares the author's name, which is a rather large pointer to the self-referential nature of the novel) is trapped in a time loop, an SF reader would expect the novel to be concerned with whether and how he gets out, which would depend on something he does - instead, he spends his time thinking about the loop and what it means for - you guessed it - his relationship with his father.It's an interesting book, and I'm glad that I read it (three stars for me means "solidly average", not the condemnation it is from some), but dedicated SF readers may be disappointed (especially since the book starts out seeming more like a straightforward SF story).
TheAmpersand on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I'd heard it mentioned in a year-in-review forum that Charles Yu participated in at Slate that his "How to Live Safely in a Science-Fictional Universe" had something of a video-gamer sensibility, but actually reading it still brought me up short: anyone who's spent any time at all on Second Life, or remembers the charmingly clunky, lo-res internet of the nineties, will feel very much at home in this novel. The author doesn't take the easy way out by playing up his setting's kitsch value, either: this book's viritual reality isn't science-fictional gee-whizzery or information-age nostalgia, it's a Conrad-quality framing device. Built and then abandoned by an unseen hand, rent by economic instability and transcultural shifts, slightly decrepit and home to the struggling, the bored and the lonely, the place where this novel is set -- "Mirror Universe 031," you want to be specific -- is, in other words, a world uncannily like our own. The author's choice of setting also frees him up to play all manner of clever metafictional games. Some of these, such as the time-travel storyline that makes up most of the book's plot, may seem prosaic to readers in search of cutting-edge science fiction, but Yu's mein is literary, not genre-specific. His book's spacier, more futuristic elements contrast sharply and elegantly with his narrator's casually self-deprecating, unmistakably human tone. Yu's also has something very right about the way that most humans interract with the machines at their disposal. In the "real world," people use unimaginably powerful informational appliances connected to an immense global network to look at funny pictures of cute kittens. Yu's main character, or author doppelganger, toys with the fabric of space and time but maintains a worldview more appropriate to a bored TV repairman. That's pretty realistic, too. In a certain sense, I sort of wish that Yu had decided to stick with Mirror Universe 031's very artificiality. As the book progresses, and the "time loop" that the author/narrator finds himself in draws tighter and tighter, Yu shifts his focus to the novel's more traditionally fictional elements. That's not exactly a bad thing, since his story of growing up in a financially disadvantaged, emotionally unresponsive immigrant family rings true and his articulation of a specifically twenty-first century class divide is skillful and important. At he same time, "How to Live Safely in a Science-Fictional Universe" is a good example of how technogical progress can also spur artistic creativity. I'm thrilled with the idea that video games and synthetic online environments might provide writers with whole new categories of experience to explore. Of course, you might argue that writers have been wedding computer-age concepts to literary form since "Neuromancer," or even "Tron," but this novel still feels like a major advance. There's still, I feel, lots to be said about the way that we live in "science fictional" universes, and about how what happens in those imaginary places spills out into the world we live in.
kkisser on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A story about a young man working as a time travel technician filled with genre intelligence and wit. The story has a unique way of exploring father-son relationships and one¿s path in life through the use of the time machine which keeps the narrator¿s life stagnate. I enjoyed the play between the fantastical and the mundane of the family drama providing evidence that science fiction can indeed be more than adventure novels.
maritimer on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Sometimes this is entertainingly weird, and sometimes it is edifyingly weird. Too often though, it is just weird weird, and this is all down to the clever time travel motif. Time travel's oblique perspective affords certain otherwise less accessible insights, but in the end it is the enemy of narrative flow. Useful as this device may be for the novelist, it does present obstacles that can derail the reader. This novel is informed however, by a redeeming spirit of generosity that makes me look forward to reading more Charles Yu, preferably without the time travel, and in a universe more fiction than science.
frisbeesage on LibraryThing 5 months ago
In Minor Universe 31 there is one cardinal rule - you can't change the past and trying will only cause trouble. Yet everyday people climb in time machines and go back to undo the wrongs in their past. That's where Charles Yu comes in. He's a time travel repairman and he spends his days rescuing all the hapless time travelers from themselves. His sidekicks are TAMMY, his machine's operating system and Ed, a nonexistent dog. The only problem is Charles, himself, is stuck in the past, brooding on his distant and missing inventor father and his unhappy mother. It is interesting to see the wide range of feelings this novel has produced!I'll start by admitting that I am not normally a sci-fi reader, so I was looking for an entertaining novel, not good sci-fi. I was definitely entertained! To begin with the book is written in long, drawn-out, run on sentences and is full of time-travel, science fiction jargon. It took me awhile to get into the rhythm, but before long I relaxed into it and the story seemed to flow easily. The plot felt unique and interesting, the characters likable and well rounded, and the problems they deal with real world and timely. Who doesn't have something they'd like to change about their past? A day they wish they could live differently? Ultimately Yu uses his original and funny protagonist of a time-travel machine repairman to address some serious issues - father/son relationships, living in the past, and failure - yet the book remains light and entertaining throughout. A great debut novel, I'll be watching to see what he does next!
UnderMyAppleTree on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Charles Yu, not to be confused with the author Charles Yu, is a time travel technician; more specifically, Charles is ¿a certified network technician for T-Class personal-use chronogrammatical vehicles¿. His job is to fix the errors of other time travelers.In Minor Universe 31 time travel is commonplace. Anyone can rent a machine and go for a ride. Breakdowns occurs when people try to do things they are not supposed to do. Give people the opportunity to travel back in time and most end up choosing to go to the worst day of their lives and try to fix it rather than going back to a day they enjoyed. Fixing the past is not allowed and ultimately their machine gets stuck in place until Charles arrives to rescue them.Charles lives in his time machine. Instead of parking it when not working he continuously travels in the Present-Indefinite mode except when he is peeking into alternate universes to spy on other versions of himself. P-I mode allows him to avoid straight forward travel and live achronologically. He can ignore the future and see everything as the present. He has been living like this for the past 10 years while in reality only a few weeks have passed.All this sounds like the makings of a great science fiction adventure; but it¿s not. The story does not revolve around Charles¿ adventures as a time travel repairman or anyone that he might be sent to rescue. There are lots of science fiction elements and we are in a science fiction world but it¿s more of a literary story about a young man searching for his father, worrying about his mother and confronting his dysfunctional childhood. Charles has issues. He is searching for his father, an inventor of time machines, who disappeared into time years ago and was never seen again; he visits mother who lives in a time-loop of her own choosing, ¿the sci-fi version of assisted living¿, but only observes her; and now he is stuck in his own time loop because he abused P-I mode and the gear broke down.This was not an easy book to read, follow or understand. I¿m still not sure I understand it. I could not get engaged in it and I really tried. After reading about 40 pages I thought, ¿huh? what? I¿m lost¿. So I went back and re-read them hoping to gain better understanding. At about half way through this book still wasn¿t happening for me but I finished it anyway. There was just enough there to keep my interest and, frankly, I wanted to know how it ended.I liked the concept but the story wasn¿t going anywhere. The idea was original, the writing clever, sometimes a little too clever, quite a bit geeky and often funny. I loved the blending in of pop culture and science fiction references. Time Warner Time, a division of Google, owns the rights to Universe Minor 31. Charles has a software boss called Phil ¿ Microsoft Middle Manager 3.0 who doesn¿t know he¿s software (that one made me laugh out loud) and a neurotic operating system named TAMMY. As children, everyone wants to be Han Solo, except Charles.I kept waiting for a plot to develop, but it never happened. Everything was about the main character, Charles, and he spent too much time pontificating and whining. We learn little about anyone else. Sentences were rambling, often with long wordy paragraphs, to the point where it got tedious to read. I kept thinking this would have made a great short story. Perhaps I was expecting a Doctor Who type adventure or a Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy type universe, and that is not what this book is. Or maybe, as an old-time science fiction reader (think Heinlein, Asimov, PK Dick, Bradbury) I¿m not the target audience. Or maybe the book needed more editing for my tastes.This is not a book for everyone. If you don¿t read any science fiction at all I can¿t recommend it but if you enjoy the genre you might want to give it a try. Would I read any future works from this author? Yes, definitely. There¿s a lot of promise here, I just didn¿t like the way it was carried out.
Course8 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Charles Yu, the author, has created a fictional universe for Charles Yu, the time machine repairman. Yu choses to live in solitude inside his own time machine and each night returns to a nameless, dateless day in a cul-de-sac of space time rather than the apartment he rents. He seeks his father who is lost in time but cannot be compassionate to his mother who is still present, although living in a one-hour time loop. He could not bring himself to start a conversation with a woman with whom he shared a park bench, yet is attracted to TAMMY, the operating system of his time machine. His pet is a non-existent dog that was retconned out of another story. He creates tiny quantum windows to spy on his alternative selves in other universes but when he meets his own future self immediately shoots him (self), killing his own future. In his desire to avoid anything bad happening, Yu puts himself in a position where nothing good can happen. It is difficult to unpack all of the science/fiction concepts presented by Yu, the author. He spins off intriguing phrases, images and constructs from every page. Helpful hints are provided on what to do if you are caught in a time loop. He provides factors for determining one's coefficient of attachment, (1.00 or higher is required for one to be a hero.) He postulates math functions that operate on literary concepts. While I found it a great book to read I felt that the ending was a coasting down, like the end of a Cedar Point ride which has lots of great twists and turns but in the end you haven't really gone anywhere. It is as if Yu, the author, tried to get every great idea that he every had into one book and then cobbled together an ending when he reached the end of the list.
richardderus on LibraryThing 5 months ago
The Book Report: I have no bloody idea what this, this hideous waste of a perfectly good tree is about. If anything.My Review: DO NOT READ IT. No one on Planet Earth could conceivably be geeky enough to want to read this. It is ungainly in its lineaments and sounds like what would happen if you gave Stephen Hawking a big dose of ketamine and stood back to watch.Unpleasant.
TheoClarke on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A post-modern non-linear is what makes this such a remarkable work: literary fiction flavoured with science fiction. It is more than author as subject; a book about the book — with delicious humour Yu explores loss, family, and romance. The mass of rayguns on the cover misled me into expecting something with more pace and it took a while for me to get with the programme. Fortunately, the piece merits rereading and I can enjoy it fully.
reannon on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Charles Yu (the main character has the same name as the author) lives in a science fictional universe, which means that odd things can happen. He is a time machine mechanic, and lives in a bubble of no time in a closet-sized time machine with his ship's AI, Tammy, and a dog, Ed, that may or may not exist. He accidentally creates a time loop in which he shoots himself, and has to figure out how to stop it.I didn't like most of the book. It seemed to fit in the category of experimental literature, which reminds me of smart aleck kids screaming "Look at Me!!!!". I think I'm just too old for it. However, when he begins talking about his family, especially his father, the book becomes compelling reading.This is the author's first novel, though he has won awards for his short fiction.
tottman on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This book has a great premise, and starts off interestingly enough. Time travel machines, an actual science fictional universe that's not quite finished, and a search for a father who disappeared. After a while though, it becomes an existential examination. Who am I? What does my life mean? What is fate and can it be escaped. Interesting in small doses, but it sort of gets beaten to death in the last half of the book.
raboyer on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Tumultuous Time TravelI absolutely adored this book it gets a terrific 5 out of 5 gnomes for having a sincere engaging main character and a story that really keeps you thinking. This is one of the most well written and lyrical stories that I've read in a long time. It is so full of great quotes and lines, I have over thirty pages bookmarked where I wanted to go back and note what was said. The overall story is intriguing in both structure and theme. Throughout there are excerpts from How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe so it's like a book inside a book. The plot is explained like a story. Charles, the main character, lives in Minor Universe 31 where, "physics was only 93 percent installed,..." Some universes have more heroes and better protagonists then others. Minor Universe 31 though is very small.Charles is a time travel technician, he repairs or helps people when they or the machine go wrong. He can open windows to other universes and see what he's like there. Just thinking about that would be enough to paralyze me and most people because what if you find out that you're the worst off out of all the possible yous? Charles doesn't really live in the present, he uses his time machine and stays in between certain minutes so when he has to go in for repairs it turns out that from the present he's been gone for ten years.The secondary characters in this book are full of quirks but also very fun to read about. There's Ed, TAMMY, Phil and Charles's Mom. Ed, Charles's dog he found was retconned out of a western show. TAMMY is the operating system of the time machine who has low self esteem and is extremely funny in her interactions with Charles. Phil, his manager doesn't know he's a computer program. His Mom lives in one hour of time because that's all he could afford for her retirement. (This buying of a certain hour or time limit to live over and over is another interesting concept that is introduced which makes you contemplate what you would choose. An incident occurs that leads to a time loop (because as any watcher of Star Trek can attest to, meeting yourself in the past or future is not the best idea). He has to figure out how to get out of the loop and why the book How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, a book seemingly written by him that he hasn't written yet, is important. Because of the loop he gets to look back at important events in his life between him and his father. What follows is an epic journey to find his father that he lost long ago. The father and son relationship is vividly explored and it's shown how he and his father came to build a time machine and the ramifications it had between them. It's shown how the past impacts him and what happens to people that tend to live in the past. There is plenty of adventure along the way and a plethora of surprises as Charles goes through the time loop trying to figure everything out before it starts all over again.Overall this book has quite the story to tell and will leave you thinking about it for a long time past the last page. Last but certainly not least is the major plus that How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe ends happily.
suetu on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Yu¿s fanciful debut would have benefited from warp driveThere¿s a great deal to like in Charles Yu¿s debut novel, and not much to hate. It¿s the story of a reclusive time machine repairman also named Charles Yu. Yu has sort of been drifting through life, a not very active participant. He lives in a closet-sized time machine with a fictional dog:¿It¿s not comfortable in here. But it¿s not not comfortable either. It¿s neutral, it¿s the null point on the comfort-discomfort axis, the exact fulcrum, the precise coordinate located between the half infinity of positive comfort values to the right and the half infinity of negative values on the left. To live in here is to live at the origin, at zero, neither present nor absent, a denial of self- and creature-hood to an arbitrarily small epsilon-delta limit.Can you live your whole life at zero? Can you live your entire life in the exact point between comfort and discomfort? You can in this device. My father designed it that way.¿He has a crush on his computer¿s operating system:¿Is TAMMY¿s curvilinear pixel configuration kind of sexy? Yes it is. Does she have chestnut-colored hair and dark brown eyes behind pixilated librarian glasses and a voice like a cartoon princess? Yes and yes and yes. Have I ever, in all my time in this unit, ever done you know what to a screenshot of you know who? I¿m not going to answer that.¿For me, the principal joy of this novel was Yu¿s delightful use of language, often amusing and Jasper Fforde-clever, but also philosophical and even poignant at times. Where Fforde mostly sticks to peppering his novels with literary references, no aspect of pop culture is off-limits to Yu:¿Client call. Screen saysSKYWALKER, LAnd my first thought is oh, man, wow, but when I get there, it¿s not you know who, with the man-blouse and soft boots and the proficiency at wielding light-based weapons. It¿s his son. Linus.¿So, this is all charming, right? Where the book falls down is narrative drive. The novel opens with Yu offering some exposition about his life, the world, and the ins and outs of time travel. So far, so good. However, it bogs down in the middle. After the set-up, there¿s a meandering plot about Yu¿s search for his lost father, the inventor of time travel. The meta-fictional Yu reflects at length on his dysfunctional family and rambles in circles about the physics of time travel. As short as this small novel is, it¿s a bad sign that it tended to drag due to a lack of real plot. At one point, deep in the middle, Yu mused, ¿But what if I were to skip forward? Just cut out all of this filler in the middle?¿ I found myself wondering the same thing.