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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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Caught it in audiobook format.

I was expecting something in the vain of Replay, the book that, so they say, inspired the movie Groundhog Day. In Replay, the protagonist goes over the same ~25 years again and again and lives the period between the ’60s and the ’80s countless times. Here, it’s the period between Harry August’s birth in 1918 and his eventual death in the ’90s of the same illness every time (I forget what it is) that goes over and over and over.

Clearly, if you cannot see the point of time-loop stories such as these, the premise might sound boring. And in the case of Harry August it did get boring at some point. I thought character development was rather shallow for all the lives they had gone through; yes, they, because—minor spoilers ahead—Harry isn’t the only person to have the gift of apparent immortality in his world. There’s a whole club of them, in fact, but at no point during the story did I feel as if the lives and storylines of the other characters really matter. To top it all off, the bad guy’s motive was very hazy and his relationship with Harry could have been more meaningful and intricate. It was an opportunity lost, especially at a point closer to the end of the book when everything, or so I thought, pointed to Harry having actually fallen in love with the bad guy. Claire North didn’t go through with that, though.

I realise it must be very difficult to write characters that are immortal in the conventional sense while managing to weave a narrative that makes them neither amazingly powerful on the one hand— still somewhat relatable—nor too much like a mere mortal in their wishes, desires and motivations on the other. Harry August and many of the book’s other special characters seemed to fall closer into the latter part of the spectrum above—they had all this power, yet could do so relatively little with it to break their curse of what the Buddhist would call samsara, the pains of (repeating) earthly existence.

What’s more, the world itself didn’t change almost at all between Harry’s different incarnations (if you exclude the plot-related accelerating technological progress), which disappointed me a lot since half the reason I read books like this is for the alternate histories and timelines that emerge. Replay, again, did a better job.

All in all Harry August was an okay book. I found Claire North’s rationalistic, deterministic, somewhat strict writing style enjoyable and quite fitting, and props go to her for writing a book such as this in her ’20s. Regrettably though it fell short in most other respects. It didn’t use its own material sufficiently well, I found.

In other words, I would recommend Replay before The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August if you want to read about a character who goes through time loops.

PS: I went back and read my review for Replay. I seriously remember I had enjoyed it more. Well if you look at that!

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Review: Momo

MomoMomo by Michael Ende
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Es gibt ein großes und doch ganz alltägliches Geheimnis.
Alle Menschen haben daran teil, jeder kennt es,
aber die wenigsten denken je darüber nach.
Die meisten Leute nehmen es einfach so hin und
wundern sich kein bisschen darüber.
Dieses Geheimnis ist die Zeit.
Es gibt Kalender und Uhren,
um sie zu messen,
aber das will wenig besagen,
denn jeder weiß,
dass einem eine einzige Stunde
wie eine Ewigkeit vorkommen kann,
mitunter kann sie aber auch
wie ein Augenblick vergehen –
je nachdem, was man in dieser Stunde erlebt.
Denn Zeit ist Leben.
Und Leben wohnt im Herzen.

Diese Worte kann einfach “Momo” beschreiben, als das einzigartige Buch es wirklich ist. Momo ist das Kind wir allen gern bekommen würden , die Person auch ich als Erwachsene werden möchte.

Momo war mein erstes wirkliches Buch, das ich auf unvereinfachtem Deutsch gelesen habe. Obwohl ich das 100% des Texts nicht verstehen kannte, sondern etwa das 60%, ich fühle, dass ich genug verstanden habe, um die Schönheit des Wesentliches gut begreifen zu können. Es ist einfach eins von diesen Büchern, die gut wenn man ein Kind ist sind aber in mancher Beziehung sind sie besser wenn sie von Erwachsenen gelesen werden sind. Andere solche Bücher sind, meiner Meinung nach, His Dark Materials, Werke von Jostein Gaarder und Evgenios Trivizas, zu ein Paar Beispiele erwähnen.

Michael Ende ist einer diesen Menschen, die den Sinn gefunden haben. Deshalb bin ich sicher, dass wenn mein Deutsch besser wird, wird mir auch Momo noch besser gefallen. Bis dann wünsche ich mir, dass ich setze fort, die Zeit-Dieber zu vermeiden und widerstehen. Also, kein Zeit sparen! Las uns alles geniessen, auch die Arbeit und die schwierigen Tagen. Und warum? Lesen Sie einfach das Schnipsel droben und sicher werden sie, genau wie Momo und die Schildkröte Kassiopeia, auch verstehen!

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