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How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe: A Novel Kindle Edition
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—The New York Times Book Review
"Compulsively rereadable. . . . Hilarious. . . . Yu has a crisp, intermittently lyrical prose style, one that's comfortable with both math and sadness, moving seamlessly from delirious metafiction to the straight-faced prose of instruction-manual entries. . . . [The book itself] is like Steve Jobs' ultimate hardware fetish, a dreamlike amalgam of functionality and predetermination."
—Los Angeles Times
"Douglas Adams and Philip K. Dick are touchstones, but Yu's sense of humor and narrative splashes of color–especially when dealing with a pretty solitary life and the bittersweet search for his father, a time travel pioneer who disappeared–set him apart within the narrative spaces of his own horizontal design. . . . A clever little story that will be looped in your head for days. No doubt it will be made into a movie, but let's hope that doesn't take away the heart."
"If How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe contented itself with exploring that classic chestnut of speculative fiction, the time paradox, it would likely make for an enjoyable sci-fi yarn. But Yu's novel is a good deal more ambitious, and ultimately more satisfying, than that. It's about time travel and cosmology, yes, but it's also about language and narrative — the more we learn abou...
About the Author
- ASIN : B003V1WXIW
- Publisher : Vintage (September 7, 2010)
- Publication date : September 7, 2010
- Language : English
- File size : 8573 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 258 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #185,280 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Reviews with images
Top reviews from the United States
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The novel is strongest where it imagines the science fictional universe that the protagonist spends his time in (a partially finished, relatively small universe). It also is strong where the novel shows us how people use time travel when it is commonplace (the protagonist’s mother repeating a short loop of cooking and serving dinner was especially memorable).
Unfortunately the majority of the novel lays down a fairly common and uncomplicated approach to father/son husband/wife family dynamics with only a tangential connection to the science fictional time travel world the author created. That is to say, the science fiction ends up serving as “local color” for a family story that is relatively forgettable or at least whose dynamics have been well trod.
I’d recommend the novel for readers interested in a fascinating take on the idea of time travel, but the family history that bogs down the more interesting aspects of the novel is a hazard that may try the reader’s patience.
It’s not really a story. Well, it kind of is. The narrator having the same name as the author and it tells the story of his father inventing time travel and a kid looking up to his father. But if you’re in this for the plot, you might be let down a bit.
There is a blurb on the cover of my edition calling this a “A great Calvino-esque thrill ride of a book”. That really directed me how to read this book. It turns out that it is not science fiction. It science metafiction or metascience fiction. I’m not sure which one fits better. It’s a book about science fiction and time travel and paradoxes. It is an interesting text if you approach it in that sort of manner. I hated Invisible Cities, but loved If on a winter’s night a traveler, so I can image there are some mixed reactions here. In any manner, it is worth the read you just have to know to come at it obliquely.
Story Flavor: Post-modern psycho-social technological sci-fi (think "Raw Shark Texts" has a baby with "Psychohistorical Crisis" that gets adopted and raised by "Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse").
Audio Narration Flavor: Ascerbic, all-knowing humor reminiscent of noir tough-guy, blended with the tentative consideration of a philosophy student.
...and, believe it or not, that was the perfect voice to narrate this book. Many kudos to the audiobook narrator, and the producer who seems to have carefully read the book before choosing him.
The story follows a main character through a bildungsroman event with the unlikely catalyst of getting stuck in a time loop. As is typical, the reader will not necessarily like the main character in the beginning, but will inevitably be pulling for him (partially facilitated by the fact that he is quite literally confronting his own mortality; partially facilitated by the considerable and constant self-referential/fourth-wall-eclipsing nature of the book that gives the distinct notion that the whole thing may not be the main character's fault and perhaps the author is a meta-villain) and the supporting characters around him (for having to deal with him). The flavor text of the book is rife with partially scientific theories and considerations of what disciplines would have to develop in a universe wherein time travel is common and a recreational commodity. It also dabbles in geography, literature, and a numerical view of sociology. Very interesting, and each tidbit discussed in just enough detail to leave the reader wanting more.
This is also one of the more sensible methods of handling the concept of a loop in time travel. Anyone who wants to explore the loop concept without getting dizzy should enjoy this book.
There is one character that was severely underdeveloped throughout the book, and that was Ed the dog. Do not expect the dog to be a source of humor or non-vocal comment for the storyline, as he serves more to demonstrate the nature of the world the author is telling.
Overall summary: Five out of five. Excellent read. One of the rare Post-moderns that gives the reader plenty to consider without regretting the reading and getting depressed.
I also believe that WOW, how awesome! This person had an idea crawling around their brain and then BOOM! It’s a book. They suffered for this book, put a lot of time into it. They deserve a 5 star review.
This book reminded me a little of reading Jasper Fforde or Robert Rankin. It was fun, sometimes confusing but I wanted to know what happened next.
I’m not doing a grade school book review, even though I truly appreciate the people on here that do. I’m just here to say, if you are on the fence about this book - read it. Unless being a little bit confused annoys you. Then don’t.
I’m going to read everything this man has written. 🤷🏼♀️
Top reviews from other countries
The protagonist lives in diegetic space like Thursday Next in the Jasper fforde novels, but it is less convincingly described. The novel starts off almost in a humorous vein with lots of intriguing ideas, but later degenerates into a lengthy and depressing discussion of the relationship between the protagonist and his father (I almost wrote the author and his father because I am sure the book is pseudo-biographical). The ending, when it finally comes, is rather incomprehensible as the author tries to explain how the protagonist escapes from a time loop, except you can’t escape from a time loop. But he does find his father, for what it’s worth.
The kindle version is not worth the relatively high price.
The first thing to say about this story is that to me, it is not a real science fiction story. The author describes Minor Universe 31 as "a core of reality wrapped in a layer of science fiction" and to me that describes this whole book. The book is really about relationships. It describes and explores the authors relationships with himself, with TAMMY, with Phil (his manager who is actually just a piece of software - Microsoft Middle Manager Version 3.0), with his mother, but primarily with his father.
The time travel element of the story is just a plot device to enable the author to go back to key points in his relationship with his father and to observe (but not to participate in) them again. There is also a fair degree of discussion around determinism versus free will especially concerning the author becoming trapped in a repeating loop of time.
Personally I struggled with this story and at several points I almost gave up, but other reviewers mentioned that it gets better towards the end, so I kept on reading hoping it would get better. I also found some of the science fiction descriptive parts of the story to be unnecessary techno-babble that really added little if anything to the story.
On the presentation side, the Kindle presentation is exceptionally good - the story features quite a few drawings and diagrams and these are faithfully reproduced, also there are several links to footnotes that work perfectly too, even if they are quite easy to miss. Also, make sure you page back from the initial page that the Kindle first opens, as there are a few things before the first real page that you should read.
Overall: Two stars - Science Fiction is my first love in literature, but as I said earlier, I really don't class this as a sci-fi book. I finished the story eventually even though it took me almost a week as I could only cope with reading a few pages at a time. It did get slightly better towards the end but I certainly won't be reading it again and I would not recommend this story to other hard core science fiction fans.
More on that later
Charles Yu's book is hard to discribe.With only TAMMY - a slightly tearful computer with self-esteem issues - a software boss called Phil - Microsoft Middle Manager 3.0(who thinks it is human!Hilarious)and ED an nonexistent but "ontologically valid" dog for company, fixing time machines is a lonely business Charles.
He's spent the better part of a decade spying on 39 different versions of himself in alternate universes (and discovered that 35 of them are total jerks). And he's kind of fallen in love with TAMMY, which is bad because she "doesn't have a module for that".
That is his work place:
"Minor Universe 31 is a vast story-space on the outskirts of fiction, where paradox fluctuates like the stock market, lonely sexbots beckon failed protagonists, and time travel is serious business. Every day, people get into time machines and try to do the one thing they should never do: change the past."
Charles is at some point given the very book we are reading by his future self, whom he shoots, thus becoming stuck in a time loop.
Before collapsing, his future self tells him that the key is in the book. Charles then runs away in his time machine and slowly realizes that he has to write the book to be able to give it to his past self when he comes out of his time machine and be shot so as not to create a time paradox.
Thanks to voice recording systems and various other hi tech gadgets in the time machine, a copy of the book is actually being written as Charles is reading it. So that means that the very book we're reading has no real origin, it's a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy, etc... as there's no way of knowing how long Charles has actually been in this time loop, or going to be.
This leads to some interesting questionings:
"I am typing what appears to be somewhat digressive and extemporaneous rambling, all of which is starting to make me have serious doubts in terms of the whole free will versus determinism situation"
The book is packed with this . I love it.It's genius- like reading an Douglas Adams update.
Charles Yu's time traveling is an idea, a concept that serves the narration more than actual HG Wells time traveling. It's hilarious , the ideas are great( Yu ties laser beams, quantum physics and Han Solo into philosophical discussions of what it means to be human.) and the father/son story is very moving. This is definitely a Marmite book, you will either love it or hate it.
I know I could have read reviews beforehand, but in my defense the book is sold with a cartoony, bright cover full of rayguns, so I took the chance.
Having got half way through, I would describe this book as a "dysfunctional family drama" along the lines of Jonathan Franzen's "the Corrections", except it used sci fi metaphors to make its points about the emotionally troubled family it describes.
It seems basically to be a novel about a man's memories of his troubled life, cold father and sad mother, only with all his emotional problems described in sci fi illustrations.
I was not really in the mood for it, but if that sounds like your kind of thing go ahead, but know what you are getting.