How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
by Charles Yu
Cover Artist: Adam Simpson
Review by Mel Jacob
Pantheon Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780307379207
Date: 07 September 2010 List Price $24.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Charles Yu's debut novel tackles a number of concepts involved with time and time travel. He takes the reader on a journey with his hero as he struggles to find meaning in his own life and to search for his father, the inventor of time travel, who deserted the family.
His mother, devastated by her husband's departure, has chosen to live in a temporal loop repeating the same events in an endless cycle. Yu has opted to become a time travel mechanic who rescues people when they misuse their time machines. He observes most travelers want to change some event in their past, but he informs them that is not possible. Instead, they would end in another universe that differs from their own. The major problem would come from two entities trying to exist at the same instant in the same universe, which would violate the laws of science.
Yu has the help of Ed, a pseudo dog, and TAMMY, a computer controlling his time travel module. Yu creates interesting software constructs that have trouble accepting they are not human. With the exception of Ed, they have human characteristics, even families. For the main part, Yu accepts them, but sometimes wants to disillusion them.
Yu uses familiar mechanisms to tell his story. Others have also used such sidekicks effectively. Time travel and extra-dimensional travel have become commonplace in science fiction. Yu focuses on coming to grips with one's family and heritage, following many others who also treat these themes. In one sense, the novel is a coming of age story of the thirty-something hero.
Like Jamil Nasir, Yu is an accomplished literary writer and his prose flows easily. Some readers will love this debut novel, while others may regard it as pretentious and boring, especially because of the conceit of the author in naming his main character after himself. A few may consider the title of the novel as a joke. It will be interesting to see what Yu tackles next.