When it happens, this is what happens: I shoot myself.
Not, you know, my self self. My future self. He steps out of a time machine, introduces himself as Charles Yu. What else am I supposed to do? I kill him. I kill my own future.
Hoo boy. I can't say this is a great book but, hm, why am I talking about it immediately after finishing it. Maybe because I just grabbed it off the shelf four hours ago.
I got How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe from Barnes and Noble last month or so, then promptly forgot about it. Tonight, without much to do, I grabbed it (was actually looking for Verily, A New Hope but this dropped into my hand first), made a note of the 9:20 time, shrugged, and figured I'd give it a go. I read the last page (for the second time, but just that page) at 12:40 and immedioately felt the need to get out of my head what was bouncing around in there.
I don't like the writing style. For a chapter or two, the meandering and loose sentence structure is fine. Towards the end of the book, this got longer, more twisted. Single sentences would run for two thirds of a page; a parenthetical started on one and ended a third of the way down the next, and I had to flip back to figure out where we'd left off. Now, this isn't amateur; I'm sure you could give English profs a headache but they'd confirm that they're perfectly grammatically sound, but still, a long sentence is something you start to gloss over while reading anyway. A specific passage towards the end makes me thing that it's intentional, actually.
I do like the structure of the story. Similar to the sentences, it meanders. It's quite a while before we get a grasp of who the protagonist is (again, intentional; in a science fictional world, he's someone who works in the background as protagonists and heroes play out their stories*). It's not until more than a third into the book that the storyline is actually set into motion - where Charles becomes the protagonist of his own story, just then starting.
What I wasn't expecting was how personal a story it would be. From what little I'd sampled, including the quote above (the first prose you see, before chapter 1, and also [somewhat modified] what sets Charles' story into motion), the back-of-the-book synopsis (humorous, inaccurate, even humorously inaccurate) and even the title made me think of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but that really wasn't the case at all.
The Meat of the Book
In a few parts, when talking about the human existence of past, present, and future, the emotion posited that is tied most strongly to the past is "regret", and that, and the sadness it brings to mind, is the overriding emotion through this book. Sometimes it's "dead inside" and sometimes there's triumph (though a bit too little for my personal liking). And the focus of regret for the protagonist is his relationship with his father, somehow literally lost to time but lost to his family even before then. In Module α (the first and longest of the book's four sections) the flashbacks to Dad stuff seem somewhat normal, formative for our protagonist as he goes on his own adventures; it wasn't until maybe midway through (shortly after the adventure begins) that I realized that this would be the focal point of the entire story, with time travel and all the book's science fiction and grammatical weirdness just serving to facilitate it.
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is a good book, I'll say. I don't know that I'll be re-reading it, but considering I tore through it all at once, I did enjoy my time with it (though keeping in mind I skimmed some titanic passages towards the climax). I recommend grabbing it off the shelf and reading a short chapter or two and seeing what you think; if you can deal with meandering sentences (of which I've had a few in this review, I realize, though certainly not on the same scale), it's definitely one that I recommend reading. Just don't go into it, as I did, expecting Douglas Adams. It's a different kind of book, and hopefully one you'll enjoy.
*Minor Universe 31 gets explained to some detail; how it is set apart from others, or even to reality as we know it (as opposed to the Reality level inside MU-31) is never expounded upon and eventually you just shake your head and take things at face value. It took me a frustratingly long time to "really just relax" and go with it.
Edit Hm, that came out longer than intended. Hope it's fine here but if you'd rather I re-posted as a Reviews thread I could do that too.
Last edited by Boter (2014-05-26 05:14:48)
Boter, formerly of TF.N as Boter and DarthArjuna. I like making movies and playing games, in one order or another.