I’d heard of this book before, actually in a few literary magazine articles, so I thought I’d give it a go. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is a true science fiction novel that is being lauded as literary in quality, so I was more than intrigued. Author Charles Yu presents to us a very interestingly constructed monologue on the theories of time, science fiction, and familial relations in such a mind-bending way that you finish the book feeling a little bit exhausted.
Here’s the thing. His main character, Charles Yu, begins the novel by killing his future self as he steps out of his time machine. It was in an effort to prevent a paradox, you see, but he instead traps himself in a time loop in which he is forced to travel along his now predetermined path to death, all while trying to find his father before it’s too late for him.
Now, the novel does not take place in our standard universe, but is instead set in Minor Universe 31 on the outskirts of fiction. Physics wasn’t quite completely installed, the people are pretty uniformly unhappy, and it’s easy to find a retconned dog for a companion. Charles, a time machine mechanic, spends most of his time floating in neutral in time, sort of just outside the time stream living in his repair machine. Until he shoots his future self.
The plot is rather griping, but I think it would have been boring and trite except for the delivery, which is in itself rather fascinating. The book which we are reading was read/written by Charles Yu while in the time loop. It is one of those curious items that can spontaneously appear in said time loops that cannot exist separate from them because they have no real origin. Charles was to have written it, but he’s reading it before he’s written it, so when was the original text ever written?
The whole book is flawlessly executed from start to finish, and you don’t need to be a theoretical physicist to understand the time mechanics since they are more literary than anything else. And, rare as it is with a novel lauded by the literary community, I was very happy when I got to the end of the book. The ending wasn’t dark and depressing and resolute. It was actually quite uplifting.
So, if you’re looking for an intriguing and mind-bending, extremely well-written literary science fiction, I would definitely give this a read.