How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional UniverseHow 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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Cuberick, rise!

Ahyawwwn… I’m typing this really tired, I’ve been awake for close to 30 hours straight now. Yesterday was all about fixing up Cuberick, my new mate and companion in the world of internet, IT, games and cyberculture. Together with Magebreeze a.k.a. Beast, that is my old computer (I’ve set them up in a LAN, both are downloading, Cuberick is downloading Celestia addons while Magebreeze is downloading Bioshock while also transfering all of my existing data from Magebreeze to Cuberick’s more spacious HDD) they’ve both put me in a really techie and computer nerdy mood, which also lead me to rearranging my furniture a bit. Nothing special, just moving some chairs around and wasting one and a half hours on some stupid DVD stand that I thought I had put together wrongly but in fact after trying to fix it ended up making it worse, realising in the process that not only was it defective out of the box, the way I had put it up originally was the best possible way to do it. Without it looking too bad I mean. Yes, I think those were some of the least useful, productive or enlighting 90 minutes of my life.

Anyway, back to the PC: I had some worrying difficulties while building Cuberick (can I have a SCREW SCREWLESS DESIGN? No, that’s SCREW SCREWLESS FUCKING DESIGN!) but fortunately after talking with people that could give me some meaningful advice, like trying everything out having the motherboard outside the case and even with no CPU, GPU or memories on, it finally worked. The problem was initially that, once powered on, the PC would stay on for around half a second then turn off and then after a few seconds do the same on its own. It could go on and on if I didn’t turn off the PSU every time. After playing around with the connectors, the battery and the CMOS, somehow I got it to work, and even though there are still some pretty minor points that I’d like to be able to correct sometime, like not being able to boot in Dual Channel mode or having some kind of power hickough at start-up, Cuberick is, I’m very happy to say, working fine. At this point, I’d like to thank my mum, the funding of which was necessary for the creation of Cuberick, Mario, who was with me at the very first stages of building the machine and helped me avoid some (crucial) mistakes I would have otherwise made, Kostas, who gave me the idea of trying to set-up the motherboard outside of the case and see what happens, Manos, whose Windows XP Pro SP2 CD I used at a time of need, and Alexandra, to whom I gave the honours to name Cuberick. This name just suits it fine, it hit bull’s eye. 🙂 Thank you, people! Even if some of you may never read this…

So what was the first thing that I did with my brand new PC? I played Portal, Valve’s most attractive inclusion to the Orange Box, at least personally. I had been keeping an eye out for this game ever since it was first announced, somewhat less than 2 years ago. I had bought the Orange Box when it had come out but Magebreeze just couldn’t cut it, 2004 tech just wasn’t enough for opening portals and solving interspatial puzzles. So once I had Cuberick up and ready with graphics drivers and the game installed, about 6AM today, I started the game and finished about 3 hours later. Short game, but wonderful nonetheless. Darkly humorous, clever, mindbending, potent and stylish. It seems to me that the gaming industry is less and less inclined to make good epic and long games rather depending on one-offs like Portal, which are short, cheap, stand-alone, based on an intriguing idea [;)] and creating a huge cyberculture following. I can’t even describe the success and appeal the Companion Cube, GlaDOS and the Cake have all had to the internet community. And today, I found out exactly why! Definitely one of the better games of 2007.

So here I am, even more tired, unable to up some pics I wanted of Cuberick because they’re too large and uuuhh… We watched Planet Terror earlied with Marios, Garret and Dimitris… Totally crazy and fun movie, if not slightly disgusting at times. Really gives off the cult feel a lot of people, including me, like. Staple of the movie was Cherry, with her mutilated limb replaced with a machine gun! Recommended if you’re into lots of blooooood!

So I better publish, before I… ah, zzz…