Wednesday, December 5, 2012

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

The snazzy cover and promises of time travel are what initially drew me towards How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.    Reviews from around the web led me to believe that the author, Charles Yu, was a young and upcoming writer in the SF genre, and that this debut novel would herald in a great writing career.


The novel, stars Charles Yu, (yup, he's the character in his own book), who's a time travel repairman. Yu is an unambitious loner who's only companions in life are a dog and the sexy female voiced AI on his computer, which he happens to have the hots for.  In the universe How to Live Safely... is set in, time travel exists, but most people don't use it for much other than to continuously travel back to the worst day of their life and relive that moment over and over again.

Yu's own family isn't much different from the norm.  His mom is stuck in a one-hour time loop where she repeatedly prepares dinner, and his dad, who had a hand in inventing time travel, is somewhere lost in time doing who knows what.  And Charles, well, he's in a tough bind because one day he accidentally shoots his future self, and now he's inextricably getting closer and closer to the time when he becomes that future self who gets shot.  His key to survival is in a book called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which, of course, is written by none other than Charles Yu.

On the surface, this sounds like what might be an entertaining and humorous read, but that wasn't my experience at all.  I found this book to be a pretty slow and boring read.  Yu commits what is, in my books, a cardinal sin of writing and tells but doesn't show.  This led to long, windy paragraphs where Yu would describe events and what people were feeling to great, and excessive length to the point where I'd either get lost in the sentences, which felt quite repetitive, or I'd mentally fall out of the flow of the narrative completely due to the weak prose.  The end result was that I never really felt fully engaged in this book, and reading through it would feel like a chore at times.

There's not really any characters to speak of either.  Sure, there's Yu himself, but he's not really all that likable.  There's very little substance to the current version we see of him and for the most part he spends his time thinking back on his past and his relationship with his dad.  In those moments, he's a bit of a jerk.  As for other characters, there's Yu's parents, but they aren't much more than just names for completely undeveloped characters which play a small role in the narrative.

The plot isn't much to speak of either.  The whole thing where a time traveler runs into his future self resulting in a situation where his life is seemingly in irreparable peril has been done before.  More than once.  Yes, I'd have been okay with this if he had managed to put a twist on the plot, or do something new with it, but that wasn't the case.

With a stale plot, characters I couldn't care one way or the other for, and writing that failed to capture my interest, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe was a definite let down.  I can't find a reason to recommend this as it was a book that failed to hit the mark on multiple levels for me. Despite the many lows, my interest in the subject matter, (I do love me some time travel), and the bits of humor here and there, were just barely enough to keep me going on this one to the very end. That being said, "just barely" doesn't cut it, so, sadly, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is one book I do not recommend.

Grade: D-


Bryce L. said...

Ouch, this is definitely one of those love it or hate it books. It worked for me, mostly because it was so odd and different from anything else I've read. At least it's super short though right? :D

Ryan said...

I know! I think this might be the first time we disagree about a book we have both mutually read...A fact which plagued me while I was reading this.

At least it was a quick read.

Bryce L. said...

Haha, I guess it's okay for us to disagree sometimes. I think this is one of those fringe ones though that are so weird, it's just a crapshoot.

We at least agree on the important stuff. :D