Monday, January 21, 2013

Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe

I admit it: when this month's book club selection turned out to be a novel, rather than a nonfiction work explaining the vagaries and/or complexities of assorted science fictional realities or gambits, I felt distinctly disappointed. Sure, Charles Yu has won a fistful of acclaim, and not just for How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, though it has found plenty of positive reviews both by amateurs and in Wired and the New York Times, but I was expecting essays, details, quantum mechanics, rather than a comic novel about a depressed, middle-class repairman of time machines.

A comic novel by turns self-reflexively postmodern, and winkingly anti-postmodern. It's about paradoxes, like most stories involving time machines, and memory and guilt and self-recrimination.

And I see myself in the hapless character, see all of us in him but especially myself, as you may see especially yourself, doomed never to figure out his life until after it's too late for the understanding to make a difference. (This may be the Powerful Social Critique that some of the novel's readers appear so keen on, as if science fiction isn't enough on its own.)

Unless I accept the ending as somehow a redemptive rupture.

But I didn't, I don't, I won't. The mechanics and physics and sequentiality of the closing pages didn't make sense to me, not on a first reading nor on a second, and I'm too tired to believe in a reset button that this novel's success depends on my bringing with me into the reading.

And also, Ander Monson, writing in the Times?
"Yu’s sound and fury conceal (and construct) this novel’s dense, tragic, all-too-human heart.... The novel’s central, lonely story is wrapped in glittering layers of gorgeous and playful meta-science-fiction.... These pyrotechnics balance the tender moments, creating a complex, brainy, genre-hopping joyride of a story, far more than the sum of its component parts, and smart and tragic enough to engage all regions of the brain and body."
Rewrite this review, right now. Don't leave it like this out in the open, online, where people can just find it.

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