Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Fiction Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

I love the fun, interesting book lists posted by BookBub, and I took special note of one titled, "13 Uplifting Science Fiction Novels." I wrote down every title listed there that involved any kind of time travel/twisting of time (my favorite sci fi trope). One of those was How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu, and my husband gave me the novel for Christmas. It was a very unique, weird novel but one with heart and humor.

Charles Yu (yes, the main character has the author's name - weird thing #1) works as a time travel machine repairman in Minor Universe 31. He lives 24/7 in his own time travel machine, about the size of a small closet, with a space-age dog (who doesn't need food or water but still pants and drools) named Ed and the female AI named TAMMY that runs his little ship. Charles goes out on calls whenever someone in MU-31 gets stuck somewhere (or somewhen), perhaps attempting something they shouldn't have, like trying to change the past, and needs a repairman. That's Charles' job, but his true purpose in life is to find his missing father. His dad is one of the inventors of time travel, who figured out the science working in his garage at night and on weekends. In fact, Charles was usually by his side, working with his dad from the time he was a little boy, though he didn't know back then what they were working on. When he's not working or visiting his lonely mother in the real world, Charles goes back in time to visit his own childhood, to observe these early scenes of he and his father working together in the garage on their mission, looking for clues as to where his dad might have gone. He also thinks the key might be found in a manual, given to him by a future version of himself, called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. As Charles goes back and forth in time and studies the manual, accompanied by Ed and TAMMY, he gets closer and closer to figuring out the mysteries that define his life.

Interspersed between the narrative chapters of this novel are excerpts from that titular manual. In addition, the entire thing is set in a "science fictional universe," so there is a lot of made-up science here, too. But, surprisingly, this is a very warmhearted and funny novel. As Charles travels back to observe his own childhood, the reader (and TAMMY) come to understand the relationship that Charles had with his father, though his dad was not an affectionate man. You can see how years of working together side-by-side developed an emotional closeness that Charles now yearns for, hence his desperation to find his father. The novel also has a quirky sense of humor, resulting in plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, like when Charles gets called out to help Luke Skywalker's son or dealing with TAMMY's low self-esteem. In short ... yeah, it's a very weird novel, but with humor, an unexpected warmth, and even some real-world life lessons. I enjoyed it.

233 pages, Vintage Contemporaries

 Recorded Books

This book fits in the following 2022 Reading Challenges:

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, explaining how he found Ed, ended up in his job, and about TAMMY, and/or download it from Audible.


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  1. I'm not sure this novel is for me, but the fact that it infuses humor is great!

    1. Yes, I love a sense of humor in a novel! And this one definitely isn't for everyone, though I enjoyed it!