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On Sale: September 07, 2010
Pages: 256 | ISBN: 978-0-307-37988-7
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Award winner Charles Yu delivers his debut novel, a razor-sharp, ridiculously funny, and utterly touching story of a son searching for his father . . . through quantum space–time.
 
Minor Universe 31 is a vast story-space on the outskirts of fiction, where paradox fluctuates like the stock market, lonely sexbots beckon failed protagonists, and time travel is serious business. Every day, people get into time machines and try to do the one thing they should never do: change the past. That’s where Charles Yu, time travel technician—part counselor, part gadget repair man—steps in. He helps save people from themselves. Literally. When he’s not taking client calls or consoling his boss, Phil, who could really use an upgrade, Yu visits his mother (stuck in a one-hour cycle of time, she makes dinner over and over and over) and searches for his father, who invented time travel and then vanished. Accompanied by TAMMY, an operating system with low self-esteem, and Ed, a nonexistent but ontologically valid dog, Yu sets out, and back, and beyond, in order to find the one day where he and his father can meet in memory. He learns that the key may be found in a book he got from his future self. It’s called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, and he’s the author. And somewhere inside it is the information that could help him—in fact it may even save his life.
 
Wildly new and adventurous, Yu’s debut is certain to send shock waves of wonder through literary space–time.

Excerpt

1

There is just enough space inside here for one person to live indefinitely, or at least that’s what the operation manual says. User can survive inside the TM-31 Recreational Time Travel Device, in isola­tion, for an indefinite period of time.
 
I am not totally sure what that means. Maybe it doesn’t actually mean anything, which would be fine, which would be okay by me, because that’s what I’ve been doing: living in here, indefinitely. The Tense Operator has been set to Present-Indefinite for I don’t know how long—some time now—and although I still pick up the occasional job from Dispatch, they seem to come less frequently these days and so, when I’m not working, I like to wedge the gearshift in P-I and just sort of cruise.
 
My gums hurt. It’s hard to focus. There must be some kind of internal time distortion effect in here, because when I look at myself in the little mirror above my sink, what I see is my father’s face, my face turning into his. I am beginning to feel how the man looked, especially how he looked on those nights he came home so tired he couldn’t even make it through dinner without nodding off, sitting there with his bowl of soup cooling in front of him, a rich pork-and-winter-melon-saturated broth that, moment by moment, was losing—or giving up—its tiny quan­tum of heat into the vast average temperature of the universe.

The base model TM-31 runs on state-of-the-art chronodiegetical technology: a six-cylinder grammar drive built on a quad-core physics engine, which features an applied temporalinguistics architecture allowing for free-form navigation within a ren­dered environment, such as, for instance, a story space and, in particular, a science fictional universe.

Or, as Mom used to say: it’s a box. You get into it. You push some buttons. It takes you to other places, different times. Hit this switch for the past, pull up that lever for the future. You get out and hope the world has changed. Or at least maybe you have.
 
I don’t get out much these days. At least I have a dog, sort of. He was retconned out of some space western. It was the usual deal: hero, on his way up, has a trusty canine sidekick, then hero gets famous and important and all of that and by the time sea­son two rolls around, hero doesn’t feel like sharing the spotlight anymore, not with a scruffy-looking mutt. So they put the little guy in a trash pod and sent him off.
 
I found him just as he was about to drift into a black hole. He had a face like soft clay, and haunches that were bald in spots where he’d been chewing off his own fur. I don’t think anyone has ever been as happy to see anything as this dog was to see me. He licked my face and that was that. I asked him what he wanted his name to be. He didn’t say anything so I named him Ed.

The smell of Ed is pretty powerful in here, but I’m okay with that. He’s a good dog, sleeps a lot, sometimes licks his paw to comfort himself. Doesn’t need food or water. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even know that he doesn’t exist. Ed is just this weird onto­logical entity that produces unconditional slobbery loyal affection. Superfluous. Gratuitous. He must violate some kind of conserva­tion law. Something from nothing: all of this saliva. And, I guess, love. Love from the abandoned heart of a non-existent dog.
 
. . .

Because I work in the time travel industry, everyone assumes I must be a scientist. Which is sort of correct. I was studying for my master’s in applied science fiction—I wanted to be a struc­tural engineer like my father—and then the whole situation with Mom got worse, and with my dad missing I had to do what made sense, and then things got even worse, and this job came along, and I took it.
 
Now I fix time machines for a living.
 
To be more specific, I am a certified network technician for T-Class personal-use chronogrammatical vehicles, and an approved independent affiliate contractor for Time Warner Time, which owns and operates this universe as a spatio-temporal structure and entertainment complex zoned for retail, commercial, and residential use. The job is pretty chill for the most part, although right this moment I’m not loving it because I think my Tense Operator might be breaking down.
 
It’s happening now. Or maybe not. Maybe it was earlier today. Or yesterday. Maybe it broke down a long time ago. Maybe that’s the point: if it is broken and my transmission has been shift­ing randomly in and out of gears, then how would I ever know when it happened? Maybe I’m the one who broke it, trying to fool myself, thinking I could live like this, thinking I could stay out here forever.
 
. . .
 
The red indicator light just came on. I’m looking at the run-time error report. It’s like a mathematically precise way of saying, This is not how you do this, man. Meaning life, I suppose. It’s computer for Hey, buddy, you are massively bungling this up. I know it. I know it better than anyone. I don’t need silicon wafers with a slightly neurotic interface to tell me that.
 
That would be TAMMY, by the way. The TM-31’s computer UI comes in one of two personality skins: TIM or TAMMY. You can only choose once, the first time you boot up, and you’re stuck with your choice forever.
 
I’m not going to lie. I chose the girl one. Is TAMMY’s curvilinear pixel configuration kind of sexy? Yes it is. Does she have chestnut-colored hair and dark brown eyes behind pixilated librarian glasses and a voice like a cartoon princess? Yes and yes and yes. Have I ever, in all my time in this unit, ever done you know what to a screenshot of you know who? I’m not going to answer that. All I will say is that at a certain point, you lose the capacity for embarrassment. I’m not there yet, but I’m not far from it. Let’s see. I’ve got a nontrivial thinning situation going on with the hair. I am, rounding to the nearest, oh, about five nine, 185. Plus or minus. Mostly plus. I might be hiding from history in here, but I’m not hiding from biology. Or gravity. So yeah, I went with TAMMY.
 
Do you want to know the first thing she ever said to me? enter password. Okay, yeah, that was the first thing. Do you know the second thing? i am incapable of lying to you. The third thing she said to me was i’m sorry.
 
“Sorry for what?” I said.
 
“I’m not a very good computer program,” she said.
 
“I’ve never met software with low self-esteem.”
 
“I’ll try hard, though,” she said. “I really want to do a good job for you.”
 
TAMMY always thinks everything is about to go to hell. Always telling me how bad things could get. So yeah, it hasn’t been what I expected. Do I regret it sometimes? Sure I do. Would I choose TAMMY again? Sure I would. What do you want me to say? I’m lonely. She’s nice. She lets me flirt with her. I have a thing for my operating system. There. I said it.
 
I’ve never been married. I never got married. The woman I didn’t marry is named Marie. Technically, she doesn’t exist. Just like Ed.
 
Except that she does. A little paradox, you might think, but really, The Woman I Never Married is a perfectly valid ontological entity. Or class of entities. I suppose technically you could make the argument that every woman is The Woman I Never Married. So why not call her Marie, that was my thinking.
 
This is how we never met:
 
One fine spring day, Marie went to the park in the center of town, near the middle school and the old bakery that is now a furniture warehouse. I’m assuming. She must have, right? Someone like her must have done something like this at some point in time. Marie packed her lunch and a paperback and walked the half mile to the park from the house where she lived or never lived. She sat on a worn, wooden bench, and read her book, and nibbled on her sandwich. The air was warm syrup, was literally thick with pollen and dandelion clocks and photons moving at the speed of light. An hour passed, then two. I never arrived at the park, wearing the only suit I never had, the one with a hole in the side pocket that no one ever saw. I never noticed her that first time, never saw her looking at the tops of the eucalyptus trees, running her thumb over the worn page corners of the book open, faceup, on her lap. I never did catch her eye while tripping over my own foot, never made her laugh that first time. I never asked what her name was. She never told me that it was Marie. A week later, I did not call her. A year later, we did not get married in a little white church on a hill overlooking the park where, on that first afternoon, we shared a bench, asked polite questions, tried hard not to stare at each other while we imagined the perfect life we were never going to have together, a life we never even lost, a life that would have started, right at that moment, and never did.
 
I wake up to the sound of TAMMY crying.
 
“How do you even know how to do that?” I ask her. I wish I could be more sensitive, but I just don’t understand why they would program her to have such depressive tendencies. “Like, where in your code are you getting this from?”
 
This makes her cry even harder, to the point where she starts to do that warbly gasping heaving sobbing thing that little kids do, which makes no sense, because it’s not like TAMMY has a mouth, or vocal cords, or lungs. I generally like to think of myself as pretty empathetic, but for some reason my reaction to crying has always been like this. It’s hard for me to watch and just generally stresses me out so much that my initial response is to get mad, and then of course I feel like a monster, which is immediately followed by guilt, oh, the guilt. I feel guilty, I feel like a terrible person. I am a terrible person. I’m a 185-pound sack of guilt.
 
Or maybe I’m not. Maybe it’s just that I’m not the person I was going to be. Whatever that means. Maybe that’s what messing with the Tense Operator does to you. You can’t even say things that mean anything anymore.
 
I would ask TAMMY what she’s crying about, but it almost doesn’t matter. My mother would do this, too, all that liquid emotion just filling her up, right up to the top of her tank, a heavy, sloshing volume, which at any moment could be tipped over, emptied out into the world.
 
I tell TAMMY it will be all right. She says what will be all right? I say whatever you are crying about. She says that is exactly what she’s crying about. That everything is all right. That the world isn’t ending. That we’ll never tell each other how we really feel because everything is okay. Okay enough to just sit around, being okay. Okay enough that we forget that we don’t have long, that it’s late, late in this universe, and at some point in the future, it’s not going to be okay.
 
Sometimes at night I worry about TAMMY. I worry that she might get tired of it all. Tired of running at sixty-six terahertz, tired of all those processing cycles, every second of every hour of every day. I worry that one of these cycles she might just halt her own subroutine and commit software suicide. And then I would have to do an error report, and I don’t know how I would even begin to explain that to Microsoft.
Charles Yu|Author Q&A

About Charles Yu

Charles Yu - How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

Photo © Larry D. Moore/Creative Commons ShareAlike License

Charles Yu is the author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which was named one of the best books of the year by Time magazine. He received the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award for his story collection Third Class Superhero, and was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award. His work has been published in The New York Times, Playboy, and Slate, among other periodicals. Yu lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Michelle, and their two children.

Author Q&A

A conversation with Charles Yu
author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
 
           
You’re a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Award-winner and this is your debut novel. When and why did you start writing, and what advice do you have for other young writers out there trying to get published?
 
I wrote poems and essays as a kid, and in college, I dreamed of becoming a professional writer, whatever I thought that meant, although, for a lot of reasons, I knew that wasn’t going to happen.  Mostly, my parents were going to murder me if I tried to apply to an MFA program.  First-degree murder. 

So I didn’t actually start writing until 2002, shortly after I began my career as a lawyer.  Working in a high-pressure environment was squeezing me pretty hard, and all that pressure found its way out in the form of little things I was jotting down, in the margins of receipts, on the backs of business cards.  I wrote a series of physics problems about a married couple’s life together.  I wrote some instructions for how to play a metaphysical video game.  Stuff like that. 
But I didn’t think I was actually writing, let alone writing what anyone would call fiction, until I read CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders.  That book blew the doors off the empty little space that had previously housed my puny imagination. 

Up until that point, I’d had no clue as to what a story could be.  And it was because my ideas were assumptions.  Tacit, limiting, ultimately false assumptions, which added up to a severely impoverished conception of what was possible in fiction.  After reading CivilWarLand, I knew I wanted that feeling, wanted to be surprised like that, and flattened onto the floor, and embarrassed my by own narrowness.  I wanted to have my doors blown off again and again.  It was a short distance to go from wanting to have that feeling to also wanting to see if maybe I could ever give that feeling to someone else.

As for advice, it would be to transfer all the anxiety about publication into anxiety about whether the story works, whether a reader is going to care about the characters.  I break down the process into four components: writing, rewriting, submitting, and worrying.  My ideal, not at all realistic, scenario, would be to make the proportion of time spent on each of those activities something like: 19 percent, 80 percent, 1 percent, 0 percent.  This is very hypocritical of me to say, of course, as I’ve never done this myself, I’ve never even been close.  But I do know that the farther from zero the last two numbers get, the more I’m in trouble.  And that the second number should be much bigger than the first.
 
How has your interest in and knowledge of science and science fiction contributed to and inspired your writing of this book?
 
I read and collected comics as a kid, read pretty much everything I could find of Asimov, including the whole Foundation series in one semester in eighth grade (to the detriment of my English grade), and so much else, too much to list or even remember.  Then, at some point in high school, I got the idea that there were serious books we read in school, and there was science fiction, and there was not a lot of overlap.  That lasted until my senior year in college, when I stumbled on Richard Powers’s Galatea 2.2, which wasn’t exactly science fiction, it was this amazing love story. It also handled actual science (cognitive science, artificial intelligence) without watering it down, and yet was still clearly Serious Fiction, whatever that meant to me back then, the kind that was in the Sunday book review sections.  After that, I began to search out more writing like that, more Powers, and Jonathan Lethem.

Currently, I read more science than I do anything else, including fiction.  I especially enjoy reading books written by scientists for lay folk, like me.  I was a biochem major in college, and so part of it is that I am interested in the science itself, but I’m just as interested in the process of explanation, how the author, an expert in a specialized field, tries to explain difficult concepts through simplification and creative analogy.  I am fascinated by that process of distilling something really complex into something most people can understand.  There are so many examples of great books that do this, but the one that still stands out for me is Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe.  After finishing that book, I was convinced I had a working knowledge of string theory.  I was like, I can do this stuff; I could hang with string theorists at a cocktail party.  Of course, when I tried to explain even the simplest concept from the book to someone else, I realized how much Greene had been holding my hand.  I was like a baby who thought he could walk, until I tried on my own.
 
Your book deals with time travel in a more serious and even tragic way than most stories about the subject, though you mask the severity with humor to keep the dialogue light and amusing. What made you decide to write about this complicated topic, and how did you come to write about it in this unique manner?
 
I knew I wanted the novel to be a family story, mostly about a father and son, but also about a marriage, and a son-mother story, too.  But I could not find the right frame for the story.  At the same time, I kept coming back to this idea that had been floating around in my head and on my laptop for years, but one that I could never find a home for.  It was about of a man who keeps popping up in different hypothetical universes, trying to find the universe where he belongs.  I’d been messing around with that conceit, on and off, for close to five years.  Then I remembered a book I’d read years earlier, called The Fabric of Reality, by David Deutsch (which sets out, among other things, Deutsch’s multiverse interpretation of quantum mechanics), and in particular, one specific sentence from that book:  “Other times are just special cases of other universes.”  That sentence was a bridge for me.  I realized I didn’t want to write a story about hypothetical universes. I wanted to write a time travel story. 

Once I decided that the novel would be about time travel, the book started to take shape.  Not quickly, more like, I had a frame, and now little pieces started sticking to the frame, just odd scraps here and there, but the frame was the right one, and I could hang things on it.  Most important, what happened was that the two vocabularies—the emotion of a father-mother-son story and the technical glossary of a time travel story—started to interact; like two dry wool blankets, they started to rub up against each other and crackle a bit. Things would pop out of that, phraselets and new words and little surprises of grammar and language and emotion, and science fiction would fall out from that interaction. 

Whatever humor there is in there, if any, is probably also a product of that process, of smashing together two sub-languages, emotional and science fictional, and seeing what weird tonal particles are produced from the collision.  I knew that the story needed weight, because if it were just whimsical, a reader might wonder why any of it mattered, and of course, the most important thing that I am trying to do is create characters who matter to the reader.  I do hope that there are at least a few laughs in there.   
 
How did you come to develop your protagonist’s interesting sidekicks TAMMY, an operating system with low self-esteem, and Ed, a nonexistent but ontologically valid dog? Are they based on real people (or pets) in your life?
 
Ed is based on my dog, Mochi.  Much of the writing of this book took place between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m.  Mochi kept me company in the cold, dark hours, as I stared at a mostly blank screen.  And when she sighs, it really is the most emotionally charged and communicative sound I’ve ever heard.  And her face is pretty mushy-looking, in a good way.

In terms of real people, I suppose TAMMY arose from, in part, my own self-defeating inner monologue.  But mostly TAMMY is based on my real-life operating system, which is always telling me how it has just failed, and then asking if I want to report the failure to its parent company licensor.  I’m always like, no, let’s just keep this between the two of us. 
 
Describe Minor Universe 31 and how you were inspired to write about such an intangible, mysterious place.
 
It’s an interior space.  But it’s also real, a physical place.  It’s a box, a white space, a forgotten gap-filler between more important universes.  The dimensions vary from moment to moment, as does the shape.  It can feel claustrophobic one night, and then in the morning it’s back to feeling large and noisy.  Physics is not completely installed, and you can’t count on anything the way you could in a more reliable universe.  It was built for one purpose, but when that purpose was abandoned, the inhabitants felt it like a gravitational wave that swept through the cosmos, instantaneously leaving everyone with a feeling of incompleteness. 

I guess I wanted to describe a place where everyone was an underdog, and had something to prove, and wanted to be redeemed.
 
Your protagonist, a time travel technician attempting to save people from trying to alter their pasts, is named Charles Yu. How did you come to name him after yourself?
 
It was originally a placeholder, to be honest.  So was the father’s name, which is my father’s name.  I tried different names for the son and the father, but none of them would take, so I just put in my real name (and my dad’s) so I could get going with the writing, but when I did that, a strange thing happened: the story started moving, fast, in a different direction.  Suddenly, it was about a self meeting his self, and the details of the character’s life started to come together, as did the relationship between the son and the father.  I think having my actual name in there gave me a straw man, a straw story, that I could write in reaction to.  For some reason, once the name of the character became Charles Yu, I stopped slipping in autobiographical or semi-autobiographical information, and actually started removing it.  I think I realized, wow, if this character is going to have my name, I’d better take some of this stuff out.  There is still a fair amount of it in there, semi- or pseudo-autobiographical, but much of it is more emotionally resonant than factually resonant. 
 
Though there is a definite science fictional aspect to your novel, it is also heavily literary and much more about real life than it at first appears. How, then, would you characterize your novel? Fiction, science fiction, or something outside the realm of typical genre classifications?
 
I was hoping it would be characterized as a time machine, although I realize there is no section for time machines in most bookstores.  In terms of topology, I think of it as a stable, looped, four-dimensional object with chronodiegetic properties.  In terms of genre, I would be happy for it to be shelved in both fiction and in science fiction.  Or maybe under a new category, where they would put books that resist either classification.  A lot of my favorite books would be in that category.
 
What is your favorite genre of books to read? What book have you read recently that you found particularly fascinating?
 
I love books that defy genre:  Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter, The Fabric of Reality.  I love short stories, and for whatever reason, I think genre-bending or -breaking seems to be much more permissible in stories than in novels.  Or at least people are more flexible about reading a “literary” short story that has science fictional elements, or a “sci-fi” story with, say, formal experimentation more frequently found in “literary fiction,” and not worrying too much about what area of the store they found the book in.  Over Christmas, I read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, and I can’t get over it.  It changed my understanding of not just comics, but all visual storytelling, and even creative work in general.
 
What’s next for you?
 
I’m working on a new novel that takes place in “America,” i.e., not America, but a dream-and-desire-fueled holographic projection of the collective mental environment of Americans, which exists as a geographical place that happens to overlap the physical America.  It’s also a story about a man looking for his ex-wife and daughter.  I hope I can figure out a way to make that make sense.

Praise

Praise

"Glittering layers of gorgeous and playful meta-science-fiction. . . . Like [Douglas] Adams, Yu is very funny, usually proportional to the wildness of his inventions, but Yu's sound and fury conceal (and construct) this novel's dense, tragic, all-too-human heart. . . . Yu is a superhero of rendering human consciousness and emotion in the language of engineering and science. . . . A complex, brainy, genre-hopping joyride of a story, far more than the sum of its component parts, and smart and tragic enough to engage all regions of the brain and body."
The New York Times Book Review

"Compulsively rereadable. . . . Hilarious. . . . Yu has a crisp, intermittently lyrical prose style, one that's comfortable with both math and sadness, moving seamlessly from delirious metafiction to the straight-faced prose of instruction-manual entries. . . . [The book itself] is like Steve Jobs' ultimate hardware fetish, a dreamlike amalgam of functionality and predetermination."
Los Angeles Times

"Douglas Adams and Philip K. Dick are touchstones, but Yu's sense of humor and narrative splashes of color–especially when dealing with a pretty solitary life and the bittersweet search for his father, a time travel pioneer who disappeared–set him apart within the narrative spaces of his own horizontal design. . . . A clever little story that will be looped in your head for days. No doubt it will be made into a movie, but let's hope that doesn't take away the heart."
--Austin Chronicle

"
If How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe contented itself with exploring that classic chestnut of speculative fiction, the time paradox, it would likely make for an enjoyable sci-fi yarn. But Yu's novel is a good deal more ambitious, and ultimately more satisfying, than that. It's about time travel and cosmology, yes, but it's also about language and narrative — the more we learn about Minor Universe 31, the more it resembles the story space of the novel we're reading, which is full of diagrams, footnotes, pages left intentionally (and meaningfully) blank and brief chapters from the owner's manual of our narrator's time machine. . . . . Yu grafts the laws of theoretical physics onto the yearnings of the human heart so thoroughly and deftly that the book's technical language and mathematical proofs take on a sense of urgency."
--NPR

"How to Live Safely is a book likely to generate a lot of discussion, within science fiction and outside, infuriating some readers while delighting many others."
--San Francisco Chronicle

"An extraordinary work. . . . I read the entire book in one gulp."
—Chris Wallace, GQ

"A great Calvino-esque thrill ride of a book."
--The Stranger

"
Science and metaphor get nice and cozy in Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. The novel joins the likes of Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story and Jillian Weise's The Colony, fiction that borrows the tropes of sci-fi to tell high-tech self-actualization narratives."
--Portland Mercury

"A brainy reverie of sexbots, rayguns, time travel and Buddhist zombie mothers. . . . Packed with deft emotional insight."
--The Economist

"A funny, funny book, and it’s a good thing, too; because at its heart it’s a book about loneliness, regret, and the all-too-human desire to change the past."
--Tor.com

"A keenly perceptive satire. . . . Yu’s novel is also a meditation on the essentials of human life at its innermost point.. . . Campy allusions to the original Star Wars trilogy, a cityscape worthy of the director’s cut of Blade Runner and a semi-coherent vocabulary of techno-jargon cement these disparate elements into a brilliant send-up of science fiction. . . . Perhaps it would be better to think of the instructional units of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe in terms of the chapters of social commentary which John Steinbeck placed into the plot structure of The Grapes of Wrath."
--
California Literary Review

"How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is the rare book I pick up to read the first several pages, then decide to drop everything and finish at once. Emotionally resonant, funny, and as clever as any book I have read all year, this debut novel heralds the arrival of a talented young writer unafraid to take chances."
--largehearted boy

"A wild and inventive first novel . . . has been compared to the novels of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and Jonathan Lethem, and the fact that such comparisons are not out of line says everything necessary about Yu's talent and future."
--Portland Oregonian

"
Bends the rules of time and literary convention."
--Seattle Weekly

"Getting stuck with Yu in his time loop is like watching an episode of Doctor Who as written by the young Philip Roth. Even when recalling his most painful childhood moments, Yu makes fun of himself or pulls you into a silly description of fake physics experiments. In this way, he delivers one of the most clear-eyed descriptions of consciousness I've seen in literature: It's full of self-mockery and self-deception, and yet somehow manages to keep its hands on the wheel, driving us forward into an unknowable future. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is intellectually demanding, but also emotionally rich and funny. . . . It's clearly the work of a scifi geek who knows how to twist pop culture tropes into melancholy meditations on the nature of consciousness."
io9

“Funny [and] moving. . . . Charles Yu's first novel is getting ready for lift-off, and it more than surpasses expectations which couldn’t be any higher after he was given the 5 Under 35 Award . . . How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe is one of the trippiest and most thoughtful novels I've read all year, one that begs for a single sit-down experience even if you're left with a major head rush after the fact for having gulped down so many ideas in a solitary swoop. . . . Yu's literary pyrotechnics come in a marvelously entertaining and accessible package, featuring a reluctant, time machine-operating hero on a continual quest to discover what really happened to his missing father, a mysterious book possibly answering all, and a computer with the most idiosyncratic personality since HAL or Deep Thought. . . . Like the work of Richard Powers . . . How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe fuses the scientific and the emotional in ways that bring about something new.”
Sarah Weinman, The Daily Beast

“One of the best novels of 2010. . . . It is a wonderfully stunning, brilliant work of science fiction that goes to the heart of self-realization, happiness and connections. . . . Yu has accomplished something remarkable in this book, blending science fiction universes with his own, alternative self's life, in a way, breaking past the bonds of the page and bringing the reader right into the action. . . . Simply, this is one of the absolute best time travel stories . . . even compared to works such as The Time Machine by H.G. Wells or the Doctor Who television series.”
—SF Signal

"Within a few pages I was hooked. . . . There are times when he starts off a paragraph about chronodiegetics that just sounds like pseudo-scientific gibberish meant to fill in some space. And then you realize that what he’s saying actually makes sense, that he’s actually figured out something really fascinating about the way time works, about the way fiction works, and the “Aha!” switch in your brain gets flipped. That happened more than once for me. There are so many sections here and there that I found myself wanting to share with somebody: Here—read this paragraph! Look at this sentence! Ok, now check this out!”
GeekDad, Wired.com

"In this debut novel, Charles Yu continues his ambitious exploration of the fantastic with a whimsical yet sincere tribute to old-school science fiction and quantum physics. . . . A fascinating, philosophical and disorienting thriller about life and the context that gives it meaning."
Kirkus, starred review

"With Star Wars allusions, glimpses of a future world, and journeys to the past, as well as hilarious and poignant explanations of “chronodiegetics,” or the “theory of the nature and function of time within a narrative space,” Yu, winner of the National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35 Award, constructs a clever, fluently metaphorical tale. A funny, brain-teasing, and wise take on archetypal father-and-son issues, the mysteries of time and memory, emotional inertia, and one sweet but bumbling misfit’s attempts to escape a legacy of sadness and isolation."
Booklist 

"This book is cool as hell. If I could go back in time and read it earlier, I would."
—Colson Whitehead, author of Sag Harbor

"Charles Yu is a tremendously clever writer, and How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is marvelously written, sweetly geeky, good clean time-bending fun."
Audrey Niffenegger, author of Her Fearful Symmetry and The Time Traveler's Wife

"Funny, touching, and weirdly beautiful. This book is awesome."
Nick Harkaway, author of The Gone-Away World

"How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is that rare thing—a truly original novel. Charles Yu has built a strange, beautiful, intricate machine, with a pulse that carries as much blood as it does electricity."
Kevin Brockmeier, author of The View from the Seventh Layer and The Brief History of the Dead

"Poignant, hilarious, and electrically original.  Bends time, mind, and genre."
David Eagleman, author of Sum

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