Friday, July 15, 2011
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (Book)
A Time Machine Repairman. Present Indefinite. A Computer Program with Low Self-Esteem. Universe 31. A Boy and His Dad. Regret. A Science Fictional World. Grammar. Time Loops. The Chromo-adventurer’s Survival Kit. Boxes Within Boxes. Buddhas. Causal Loops. Chromodiegetic Experiments.
A nominee for the 2011 Campbell award, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu is the type of novel that pushes the boundaries of what we normally think of as a story. We —well, at least I—normally think of novels in terms of threads: woven, intertwined, looping back, loosely gathered, etc. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is more of a collage, with layers. One of those layers consists of a story about a boy and his dad trying to build a time machine. An overlapping layer is the grown boy, now a time machine repairman, shooting his future self and then getting caught in a time loop. Some of the layers are incredibly literal and sensate. Other layers are mostly metaphor. Humor is interspersed with deep psychological insight. At times the novel reminds me of a prose poem.
The novel works for me. The story feels familiar; I have lived some of those moments. The novel has expanded my way of thinking about how to construct a novel. As much as I adore The Dervish House, I wish that How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe had won the Campbell award simply so that more people would be encouraged to read it. I am a firm believer that we need to continue to expand the way we think and the way we express ideas.