How to Live Safely in a Science-Fiction Universe

Okay, so I finished it. And I’m left a little unsatisfied. Don’t get me wrong: The prose was solid and the ideas were terrific. But, it was almost too thick to really get to the meat of the story.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not very smart. I’m really an idiot, when it comes right down to it. So, I had to read a lot of the book’s technical descriptions two or three times to really grasp them.

And, to me, that really drew me out of the story.

I’m not saying this style is necessarily a bad thing. I don’t think it is. I just don’t think it’s for me. As I said, I’m an idiot. I really enjoy my Sci-Fi when it has a solid story as its base, and builds its ideas from that.

HTLSSIASFU has a good story, but it almost feels like an after-thought. It feels like Charles Yu had these great concepts and then laced them with the story. That being said, there’s a good chance this style your thang. As a piece of Speculative Fiction (God I hate that term) it works. It speculates. But, as a story, it feels kind of hollow.

To kind of elaborate, the beginning of the book has some pretty neat world-building, as we’re introduced to Universe 31 and time-travel. We learn about our protagonist, a time-machine repairman who prefers to live between tenses, aging in his bubble, as the world around him barely moves. His only companions are a fictional dog and an A.I. with low self-esteem.

We follow him on a couple of jobs, including a time machine repair for a very famous Sci-Fi family. Now, this is all good. At this point, I’m loving it. I’m really feeling the setting and ideas presented. I’m ready for the story to start.

And it does… about 1/3 of the way through the book. At this point, it becomes a biography, as we learn about the protagonist’s childhood, family and personal life. This is all interspersed within the aforementioned technical jargon, as we examine theoretical formulas of time and space.

Here’s the thing that frustrates me the most. There are some really, really good story concepts within here. We learn about the character’s history and why he chooses to live between tenses. We learn of the frustrations and disappointments that turned him into who he is. But, it feels so shallow.

It feels like Charles Yu wrote a technical manual, full of Sci-Fi concepts, and then laid a character story on top of it, letting it seep in and fill the cracks where it fit.

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