“When it happens, this is what happens: I shoot myself.
Not, you know, my self self. I shoot my future self. He steps out of a time machine, introduces himself as Charles Yu. What else am I supposed to do? I kill him. I kill my own future.”
So begins Charles Yu’s strange and fascinating novel about a time machine technician, also named Charles Yu, who wanders Minor Universe 31, helping stranded time travelers with their pasts but trying to avoid the present.
His mother is in the present, stuck in a one-hour loop of time, reliving her past. His father, who invented time travel and disappeared, is missing from the present. And Charles Yu from the future comes to the present, delivering a book called How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe. It may hold the key to finding his father and starting his life again.
Quirky In A Good Way
If the above description didn’t sum it up, then how about this: this book is quirky with a capital Q. To go along with his dysfunctional family, Charles has two faithful companions: a dog named Ed who doesn’t know that he doesn’t exist and a computer program named TAMMY who has crippling self-esteem issues, but whom Charles loves anyway.
In addition, this book is filled with high scientific concepts such as time travel, paradoxes, and artificial story-based universes, all of which are presented in fast blips of nonsensical techno jargon. At times it can be rather overwhelming, trying to figure out exactly what the science is saying and how it relates to the story. But in the end what is important is not so much what the words say as what they represent.
Because beneath all the techno-babble is a book that celebrates the classics of science fiction. Not everything is going to be explained, but this book acts as a love letter to the high concepts and out-of-this-world ideas that original science fiction embodied.
Time and Time Again
For all its quirkiness, there’s a large heart to this story that Yu explores with depth: If having a time machine means you can’t change the past, why do people try? If you could live away from reality, from time itself, would you? If you could view but not change your past regrets, would you ever be able to stop watching and move on?
Yu asks these questions and often helps answer them, but leaves a lot of it up to the reader. You see through Charles’s eyes the regrets of his past, the frozen nature of his present life, and the hopes, if any, he has for the future. He has to decide if it’s worth it to become a part of time again, and what that will mean for him.
Ultimately this book is about acceptance, inevitability, and learning that, at the end, maybe all you can do is move forward despite your past.
So Why Should You Read This Book?
How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe is a hilarious, poignant look into the life of a man who has stepped out of time and what happens when he decides to jump back in to find his father. It’s full of a love for science fiction and its quirkiness is only outshone by its wonderful characters. It’s one of the most fun, most bizarre books I’ve read this year, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.