Cheer up, emo kid.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

“How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe,” Charles Yu, 2010

This should be right in my nerdy/pretentious wheelhouse, being as it’s literary fiction with a shiny, self-conscious veneer of sci-fi, but it left me cold. Worse, it made me think of this annoying line from the annoying trailer for “Happythankyoumoreplease” in which Josh Radnor sighs “my great shame as a writer is that I’m just this suburban kid with good parents.”

The main character of this novel, who shares a name with the author, doesn’t have good parents, but they’re not-good in a deeply nondescript way that involves withdrawal and vague discontent and abandonment and occasional fighting in the kitchen, just not-good enough to send their adult son into a passive kind of depression that involves drifting around alone in a time machine for years on end, unengaged with the current timeline.

You don’t need Gigantic Issues to have a good story, but the problem with the Smallish Issues at the heart of HTLSIASFU are that the book reads like the author believes them lacking too, and that the SF trappings — the pseudoscientific terms, the girlish but troubled operating system, the theoretical dog — are all just there to obscure the fact that there otherwise no there there.

One thing I did like: the protagonist’s mother is living out her days in an hour-long time loop in which she prepares dinner for her son over and over again, a terrible/wonderful Asian mother fantasy, if one she doesn’t seem to buy into as much as her offspring believes.


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