How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

Are There Lesbians? No

What Happens?
Charles Yu is a time machine repairman. One day he sees himself coming out of a time machine and, against all the training advice he’s been given, shoots himself in the stomach, flinging himself into a time loop.

The Verdict:
Let me start off by saying that this is one of my favourite books ever. Definitely top 5, possibly even top 3 tho I don’t tend to rank my favourites per se, it’s more of a category than a competition. I can’t remember when I first picked it up and put it down and picked it up and finally couldn’t put it down again. I’d been eyeing it off for a while on account of the front cover – rows and rows of ray-guns and a dog and bright pink text proudly holding up the title. There isn’t even really a blurb, just those same pink letters announcing “My name is Charles Yu. I’m a time machine repairman. In one minute, I’m going to murder myself. Again” so you’d be correct in assuming I mostly bought it because I was fascinated by the cover.

I don’t think I’d even actually looked inside until it was bought and paid for and in my hands. It’s fine and good to wonder if I had known it would effect me so, if I would have bought it earlier, devoured it like a black hole any sooner, but to be whimsical for a moment I think we read books right at the time we’re meant to. And in a way this is a book about reading the thing we’re supposed to at the exact time we’re meant to, even if it might not change anything, even if it might change anything. Because this is the wonderful thing about this book – it is about a time machine repairman who shoots himself. It is about a time machine repairman who has seen every worst moment of people’s lives and knows they can’t do a thing about it. It is about a man who’s mother is trapped in a time loop of her own choosing and who’s father is lost somewhere to the past, a man who makes good and terrible decisions and makes his manager-who’s-a-microsoft-windows-program have an identity crisis and who makes his onboard computer who he’s sort of in love with, TAMMY, laugh and cry and who’s only real companion is a dog that isn’t actually real at all. It is 233 pages on the ways we relate to one another and to time and how we can try to stave off the future for as long as possible but the inexorable nature of time is that we are always moving into the future, except for when we trap ourselves in the past. It has one of my favourite quotes of all time.

…unfortunately, it’s true: time does heal. It will do so whether you like it or not, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. If you’re not careful, time will take away everything that ever hurt you, everything you have ever lost, and replace it with knowledge. Time is a machine: it will convert your pain into experience. Raw data will be compiled, will be translated into a more comprehensible language. The individual events of your life will be transmuted into another substance called memory and in the mechanism something will be lost and you will never be able to reverse it, you will never again have the original moment back in its uncategorized, preprocessed state. It will force you to move on and you will not have a choice in the matter.

Charles Yu, How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. p.54

It actually has several of my favourite quotes of all time but you’ll have to parse the goodreads quotes page and guess or just read the whole damn thing because if I put them all in here it’d probably be like half the book and I’d get pulled up on copyright infringement. And funny as I think that might be I’d really rather not. The thing about How to Live Safely… is that it is a very difficult book to actively quantify in any meaningful sense when I’m trying to tell someone about it – it’s really a rather all or nothing type explanation. I tend to find that with books I really like though, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it speaks to me. Maybe it’s the writing or the subject matter or the characters but  it makes me feel things and I like that.

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