How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I read this on my phone.
Hey look! A novel about a guy in a corporate time machine killing/getting killed by his future/past self and getting all paradoxanalytical about it! That’s a word I just invented, by the way. It describes the way a lot of science fiction novels try to express and explain paradox just by throwing more words at you. It sort of works like writing a recipe for a cake just by using the chemical compounds and formulas involved, complete with instructions using moles for ingredient mass and the Kelvin scale for when it’s time for the cake to hit the oven.
Let’s get back to the book. It was just a ceaseless bout of self-reference. The premise was interesting and the writing had some inspired moments idea-wise, at least when it didn’t come out as narrated by a completely socially incompetent nerd – which the protagonist actually was, by the way… huh, maybe he was a well-written character after all and not just mirroring Mr. Yu himself… It didn’t take long, however, for all the meta to become too much for me. That and the oddly-used jargon too rigid to peer through, or the “science fiction” part of the story too often spoken about, described, but not represented in an engaging or memorable way. “Oh, this machine has permitted the existence, trademarking and patenting of entire universes”. Sounds great, it does, but where did you go with that Mr. YU?
It all felt like reading the diary of a Companion Cube (yes, I’m old) that suddenly through some bug in Portal’s code (the 2007 game we all loved) turned into a sentient hypercube and got existential agony. I respect the cube’s feelings but, yeah, I have no idea what being a hypercube would or should feel like. The protagonist was human, but his feelings came off as little more than the hearts the Companion Cubes have painted on them in Portal. Programmed into him, just like they were programmed into them, and just like they were programmed into the couple of sentient-like operating systems he had in his TARDIS – I mean time machine – I mean TARDIS; it even says in the book the time machine had the shape and size of a phone booth. Come on.
While in theory I should have enjoyed reading page after page of convoluted twisting thoughts on the paradoxical nature of time as part of the physical world and then some, I just couldn’t get into it.
Yes, left-brained. This book was left-brained through and through.
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