Exhibit 1.8.12

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe


How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe


So I’ve obviously given up on writing about books I’ve been reading, but I’ll make an exception solely to push my nonsensical drawings further down the page. Also, it would be nice to start again even if just a paragraph or two.

So, this book by Charles Yu which I picked up last week at The Strand–as excellent a bookstore as its reputation promises–and read on the plane home. It should be difficult to be objective about something so in my teenage wheelhouse–and from an author whose stories I enjoy as much as Yu’s–but there’s something really fascinating about certain aspects here that I’ve been thinking about them almost as much as the book as a whole (even if as a whole it’s smart, funny, and often touching). But as a book divided along certain axis–to get all Yu–it’s sort of interestingly, even if mostly harmlessly at odds with itself.

Yep, there’s more than a little Douglas Adams here in the world building (sadsack people! sadsack computers!), a little Vonnegut in the casual metafiction (Yu is our author and our protagonist), and something Philip K. Dick-y about the whole thing serving as one big allegory (time travel as memory and the reclaiming of a father-son relationship). It is, as Colson Whitehead says in his blurb, “Cool as hell.”

And that’s maybe the most interesting thing to talk about. The parts that are “cool” in the sense of 13-year-old-me’s wheelhouse are mostly front-loaded in the description of this science fictional universe which, ultimately, become irrelevant halfway through when the “time loop” starts and the metaphor takes over. Up until the narrator shoots his future self–it’s in the first sentence, don’t worry–we basically are getting the Douglas Adams novel–complete with nerdy references and jolly satire–then after the Philip K. Dick novel (there’s probably a better way to describe a metaphor-heavy scifi made personal but he’s the best reference I’ve got). The metafictional stuff doesn’t really matter except, like meeting Luke Skywalker’s kid, it gives us a wink. It is, like much here, totally cool.

And I like the cool stuff, but the rest of the story isn’t cool. It’s better than that–personal and heartfelt and very much of our world. So it’s an interesting book, one without cohesion but still with purpose (or maybe a sense of the short story writer’s “Am I doing enough?” panic) that drives it toward these beats it doesn’t seem to need to hit just long enough to get us to the real story which still gets told in this interesting scientific and mathematic language for human emotions that is where the work really stands out on its own terms. That, more than the sci-fi world building, is where the cohesion is here but the book doesn’t seem to think that’s a selling point. Maybe the book is right. It’s certainly easier to describe as a metafictional romp through a sci-fi world than it is as a book about family but… it might not be a better book. It’s not, I don’t even think, the book we have after page 89.

None of this is to say it’s not completely enjoyable–it is–or that I wouldn’t recommend it–I would–but it’s the kind of book that ultimately might make a better case for Yu than for itself.

Comment / Posted in 2013, Fiction, Yus