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

This book. Hmm. I just finished it a few days ago, after about three weeks of reading it… or avoiding it, as the case may be. Perhaps I just read this at the wrong time, but although I was interested in where the story might go, I was dreading having to read the story to find out. Does that make sense? Probably not.

I guess the first problem I had with this book is that I expected it to be a different kind of odd than it was. The story is about a time-machine repairman, whose life is like this, according to the jacket flap: “When he’s not taking client calls or consoling his boss, Phil, who could really use an upgrade, Yu visits his mother (stuck in a one-hour cycle of time, she makes dinner over and over and over) and searches for his father, who invented time travel and then vanished.” I also knew that Yu eventually finds a book called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, written by himself (yes, this is also the book that I read), and that the book was a sort of meta treatment of science fiction in the way that the Thursday Next series is a meta treatment of books in general.

And… well. In the book, character Yu does visit a couple of clients, console his boss, visit his mother, and search for his father. He does find that book. The author Yu takes on science fiction. But Thursday Next, character Yu is not. It starts off strong, with a client visit to Linus Skywalker, who isn’t thrilled about his famous dad. And the introduction of TAMMY, who is a familiarly down-on-herself operating system. But my overall impression is that this is not a funny book. This is not even a generally amusing book. This book depressed the crap out of me.

And, okay, I can deal with depressing every once in a while, so I kept reading, waiting for the “ridiculously funny” also promised to me by the jacket flap. But it’s not even just regular depressing, with character Yu having a disappointing childhood and an aimless adulthood, which he does. It is beat-you-over-the-head depressing, with author Yu taking run-on sentences to a Henry James level and using them to repeat the same depressing concepts over and over until you think that you’re the one with a crappy and aimless adulthood. Goodness.

It is possible that this book isn’t actually that depressing. It is possible that it is actually highly entertaining. But I spent the majority of that three weeks stuck in an interminable depressing interlude, and that is what I remember best.

Maybe I need to come back to this one another time, without the shadow of Jasper Fforde hanging over this book. And without any expectations of humor whatsoever. Or maybe I could listen to it, so that someone else can point to the “ridiculously funny” parts for me? Someday, maybe.

Recommendation: For, I suppose, those who have read a lot of science fiction and have the strength to break through the depressing parts more quickly than I did.

Rating: 5/10
(A to Z Challenge)

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One thought on “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu

  1. Steph says:

    I am intrigued, I must say. Though I could see how these kind of books are tricky and if one of the pieces doesn't click, the whole thing can fall apart. I'm not a huge SF aficionado so although I was aware of this book, it didn't exactly call to me. I think I may do some more digging on this one. Thanks for piquing my interest!

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