Saturday November 13th, 2010

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

yuYu’s first novel (his debut was a collection of stories called Third Class Superhero) stars a time-machine repairman on a mission to find his father. His best friends, in the small box in which he travels, are computer programs, and if all that reminds you of someone, it should. In the New York Times Book Review, Ander Monson writes: “You might be forgiven for thinking that this setup smells strongly of vintage Douglas Adams. It does. Like 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.”

In the Guardian, Adam Roberts ups the ante on Douglas comparisons. “[The novel is] sometimes a touch too cute for its own good,” he writes. “But it is all redeemed in the telling by the charm and skill of Yu’s voice, pitched somewhere in that interDouglas space between Coupland and Adams.”

Critics tend to agree that Yu succeeds in marrying his wacky inventions — which Monson calls “enjoyably batty” — to an emotionally engaging story. In the Los Angeles Times, Ed Park says: “Stripped of its [sci-fi] trappings, the emotional core of the novel is about a family trying to make its way in a new country, trying and failing to fit into its culture and learn its strange tongue. What Yu does is take this familiar story (too familiar, perhaps) and, in the guise of science fiction, make it potent again.”

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
Pantheon, 256 pp., $24.00