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How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

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How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

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How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles YuAs a piece of storytelling, which is the main reason I read fiction, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe fails badly. If you're looking to get lost in a good time travel yarn, this isn't it. If you want to read something that's meta to its own detriment, give it a shot.

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I would have entitled this book “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Comma” but that would be hard to do since I didn’t write it.  But as critics (and fellow writers) love to download their ideas and opinions on others, so I feel the need to inform readers of this book.

Except, in actuality, I wouldn’t have given the book that title because I didn’t love the comma, not one bit.  Despite my obvious disdain for the use of this lowly form of punctuation in this work, apparently Charles Yu and his editor never met a comma they didn’t love!!  Why am I starting with the commas?  Because it was distracting.  Charles Yu obviously has a knack for stringing together words…upon words…upon words…as if he were stuck in one of his own time travel loops continuing to spew the same random thought for two pages straight, phrase after phrase, divided by a staccato of never ending commas, and run on sentences, until the reader is wondering, will there ever be a need for periods again, where did this paragraph start, where did this page even start, what was the predication that started this train of though, this seemingly infinitely recursive word dump that pauses, loops, meanders, jumps, and yet, more importantly still, will it ever end, or will it just continue until Yu’s comma key breaks?

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Those who have read the book will know what I’m talking about.

This book is less about a man trying to tell a story, and more about a man struggling hard to establish himself as a writer who falls outside the narrative norms used by most successful storytellers.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles YuEvery day in Minor Universe 31 people get into time machines and try to change the past. That’s where Charles Yu, time travel technician, steps in. When he’s not taking client calls, Yu visits his mother and searches for his father, who invented time travel and then vanished. The key to locating his father may be found in a book. It’s called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, and somewhere inside it is information that will help him. It may even save his life.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
Genre:  kinda-Science Fiction-y-ish-New-Age-Meta-bruh
Awards:  None

Media:  Book, paperback, 233 pages
Cover Art:  Peter Quach
Year: 2010
2 out of 5 stars

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is also less a story about time travel, and more about the tale of a dysfunctional family (told in past tense).  It’s the tale of a man-child looking for his father who is lost in time (or in his memory), but there’s no real resolution except for a short (and unsatisfactory) two page appendix that glosses over what one should do when one finds their long lost time traveling (or memory lost) father.

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The book (or at least the press blurbs on it) promised much, but it didn’t deliver as a story. The only reason I am giving it 2.5 stars is that many of the themes (which have nothing do to with time travel or science fictional universes) resonated with me.  There were many instances of interesting personal insights within the narrative concerning father-mother-son relationships. If the author would have spent those 230 pages telling us a story, instead of using 180 pages to seemingly work through some personal issues (just conjecture on my part), while leaving only 50 pages to try and tell us a story, it would have been more effective. The premise was very cool and clever, but it was wasted.

But the aspect of the book that really cheapened the experience was the aforementioned ending.  Appendix A.  The two page summary of finding his father, after 230 pages of building up his father and describing how his father was torn down, left me cold. The whole theme of the book was about the relationship with his father (and mother), reconciliation, and finding his father…and we get a 2 page summary.  Not the way to end a novel.

As a piece of storytelling, which is the main reason I read fiction, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe fails badly.  If you’re looking to get lost in a good time travel yarn, this isn’t it.

About Neal Ulen

Neal Ulen
Editor/Webmaster - Neal is a writer and recovering engineer who likes pizza, the insidious power of sarcasm (and pizza), and debating science fiction (and pizza). You can also find his writing on Omni, Geeks, and other media platforms.