Monday, July 18, 2011

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

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu, is the story of a book. In fact, it is the story of some of the minds behind the book, one of whom, the aforementioned Charles Yu, is a Recreational Time Travel Device repairman who chooses to spend most of his life hiding in limbo, living in a time machine which is not bigger on the inside, with only an imaginary dog and a manically depressed artificial intelligence for company.

This would be an appropriate moment for the reviewer to interject, and explain that the book itself is not quite as derivative of hitch-hikers as this review has been so far. There are certainly shades of Adams-esque humour (for instance, physics was only 93 per cent installed when construction was halted on Minor Universe 31), but the similarities in plot are, I think limited to those mentioned so far. The concept of a science fictional universe, of course, may also put one in mind of the Thursday Next novels, but all these comparisons are not doing the book in question any favours.

In fact, How to Live Safely is one of the most mind-bendingly original books in the whole of chronogrammatical space-time. If I was to attempt to give it a sub-genre, it would probably be literary sf, with the somewhat scant (but imaginative) plot serving primarily to hold all the author’s crazy ideas together and explore the father-son axis in a completely non-linear, temporally confusing manner.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is good, clean, science fictional fun. Movingly funny, nicely written, weirdly conceptual, insanely brilliant and… well, frankly, one of the best time travel stories I’ve read in a long time.

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