How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

“Oh, so it’s come to this,” I suppose you are saying, “Minnesota Reads is reviewing instruction manuals. What’s next, Haynes manuals and cook books?”

Oh, you are a hoot. But seriously, shut up for a second Mr. Rickles.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu, is only part instruction manual. While it could be classified as Science Fiction, don’t let the title fool you or scare you away. There are aspects to this book that cover many different digits of the Dewey Decimal system.

The story centers around one Mr. Charles Yu (yes, the character has the same name as the author, but don’t confuse the two). Charles lives in Minor Universe 31 and works as a time machine repairman. He is there to repair the machines of customers who mostly rent other time machines to relive moments of regret and try in vain to change them. He is joined on this journey by TAMMY, the software interface of his time machine, and Ed his simultaneously existent and non-existent dog.

Charles Yu is looking for his father who stepped into a time machine and never returned. Now he’s trapped in space-time. It is Charles’ relationship with his father that is the real story here. Like all good Science Fiction, the science is used as a tool to tell stories that have real impact in the present.

Charles’ relationship and memories of his father are uncomfortable, but also, as viewed with the aid of a time machine, very real. The book focuses on Charles’ examination of the life of his father. But realizing that the examination of his life is also one of his own, Charles becomes the one reliving moments of regret.

The author can make all of this pretty confusing at times, with long paragraphs regarding chronodiegetics (which could totally be made up. . . I have no idea) and a philosophically deep “meta” segment in the middle of the book, but the humor placed at key points and in perfect portions saves things from getting frustrating.

Charles realizes that time travel is “not a technology built outside, with titanium and beryllium and argon and xenon and seaborgium, but rather it is a mental ability that can be cultivated.”

So what is How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe? For me, it is a book about remembering where you’ve been and finding out where you are going. It is a book about living life with regrets but not getting caught up in them.

And it might be about Han Solo . . . I’m not sure . . . I’ll need to read it again.

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