How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

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

I mentioned this book in passing in an earlier post, but now that I’ve finished reading it, I think it’s appropriate to give this book its own review.

I love this book. While at first glance this book may appear to be just really clever science fiction, Yu’s novel, in fact, uses science fiction’s conventions as a smokescreen to hide a truly moving story about a son and his father, about being the child of immigrants, about living life to the fullest– and so much more. Stylistically, Yu’s self-reflectiveness and metanarrative carry postmedernism to its parodical end: Forget the hyperreal; what if there is only the hypothetical real? What if, in fact, we are all variations on fictional selves? What if we, the fictional characters, are also the authors of our own lives? This novel is by turns mind-bending, hilarious, and touching. It’s really great stuff.

I think the message that resonated most with me is the idea of really living one’s life. At the beginning of the novel, the narrator (also named Charles Yu) “lives safely” in his universe by hiding from it in a time machine virtual grammatic space (it makes sense in the book). He watches life, but avoids experiencing it himself. Then the moment comes when he realizes that in order to get out of his time-loop (both metaphorical and literal), he has to get out of the time machine and do something scary. He faces his fear, and things go pretty well for him after that. Like I said, good stuff.

Here’s an excerpt:

Everyone has a time machine. Everyone is a time machine. It’s just that most people’s machines are broken. The strangest and hardest kind of time travel is the unaided kind. People get stuck, people get looped. People get trapped. But we are all time machines. We are all perfectly engineered time machines, technologically equipped to allow the inside user, the traveler riding inside each of us, to experience time travel, and loss, and understanding. We are universal time machines manufactured to the most exacting specifications possible. Every single one of us.


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