Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

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

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe / 978-0-307-37920-7

It's sort of fitting that "How to Live" contains multiple mentions of the main character's masturbatory efforts, given the book's almost complete and total unwillingness to stop navel-gazing and actually dredge up a plot out of the pseudo-philosophical ramblings that make up the majority of this book - because the entirety of the novel feels like one big authorial indulgence. Or, as another reviewer aptly stated, there really ought to be a law that "stories about characters who live in phone booth sized time machines would have to extract their characters from the phone booth by means of plot...and within the first 50 pages." I couldn't agree more.

Sadly, I was really looking forward to this novel - I'm a big fan of humorous science fiction a la "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" - but this novel is nothing but a painful slog to the end. The pseudo-philosophical ramblings that go on for pages and pages, attempting to sound smart with sprinkling of quantum physics terms, did nothing to endear itself to me - nothing about this book feels "deep", but rather just self-important and preachy. Be prepared to invest several chapters of reading before anything genuinely *happens* - the first six or more chapters are a blur of whining about how crappy childhood can be, and how depressing it is that his mom has chosen to spend her life locked Vanilla Sky-style in a perpetual loop where it is always dinnertime (but never Christmas? Oh never mind.)

If you think I'm exaggerating, consider this: the *entirety* of chapter 5 (which is, granted, only two pages long) is about how, growing up, all boys always want to play as Han Solo, and whoever had "dibs" was the happiest kid, and one time someone accidentally picked Buck Rogers, and it was like the kid who had second dibs had won the lottery that day. Aside from the fact that I have no idea what age the target audience is here - Buck Rogers was from the 1920's; most readers, on the other hand, are not - this sort of stuff isn't deep and meaningful interpretations of modern masculinity as it evolves through the medium of our cultural icons... it's just self-aggrandizing. None of this really gives us any insight into the main character, because it's not just him who wanted to be Han Solo (which would at least give us some insight into his own personality) - it's ALL boys. Everywhere. Ever. So not only is our boring main character flat and devoid of interesting personality, he's an Everyman for the entire universe within this book. Fantastic.

The only possible audience for this book that I can think of are youngish men who really like philosophical diatribes laced with scientific-sounding terms, and who don't really require much of a plot to propel said diatribes. Unfortunately, with references to "Buck Rogers" and the like littering the pages, it will be a very narrow selection indeed of youngish men who enjoy this novel. Anyway, since I don't fit into any of that demographic, I found this novel to be utterly unpleasant to read, and to be less interesting than watching paint dry.

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.

~ Ana Mardoll

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