Tuesday, 21 May 2013

How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yee

I wanted to like this book a great deal more than I did. I wanted to be moved. But in the end, it left me a little cold.

I enjoyed the premise, the set up, the notion of living already in a science fictional universe where, at certain points, the reality ratio went up, but at others, significantly down. I liked the idea of born Protagonists, and what happens to all the poor Joes in a science fictional universe who live in the background of the stories, and keep things running. Except these things were alluded to, once or twice, but never developed.

And dammit, I liked the idea of time travel as a metaphor for what we all do anyway, sometimes, which is dwelling in the past. Yu's time travellers never seem to go to the future, they go to their pasts, to the moments they find unbearable in their own personal histories, and try to change them, or simply watch. The main character lives in his time machine, repairs the time machines of others, but he is constantly looking for where his father might have gone in time, how he might have gotten unstuck, while his mother is trapped (voluntarily, at the start) in the same slice of time - dinnertime with her family, over and over again. 

And then, of course, the main character (with the same name as the author) meets himself coming out of his time travel machine one day, and shoots him. And then has to go through what he has, in many ways, gone through many times before, and leads up to being present to be shot. On the way, he reads a book as he writes, and uses this to watch some of the moments that tell him where his father might be lost.

These metaphors this books uses to tell the story are powerful, and yet somehow, at the end, I wasn't particularly moved. The ideas themselves are evocative, but I didn't feel like the writing itself helped really bring home the emotional impact. I hope Charles Yu writes more, because he has great and poignant ideas, and the seeds of being a great writer. But this book didn't quite deliver.

How to Live in a Science Fictional Universe is a good book, but not a great one. Yet it has seeds of greatness within it.

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