How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe was an unexpectedly imaginative read. To be perfectly honest, I picked it up because of its obnoxiously bright cover and its quirky title.
I’m glad I did.
Charles Yu writes with a creativity that I haven’t encountered in some time. How to Live Safely straddles the line between science fiction and magical realism — and the result is wonderful.
The novel is, at its heart, an immigrant story. However, the immigrant narrative is cleverly hidden behind all of the unusual ideas (linguistically-enabled time travel and all manner of inconvenient time loops, for instance) so that what it feels like you’re reading is a terribly imaginative tale of one lonely man’s misadventures through Minor Universe 31. However, what you’re also reading as you navigate time and space with the character Charles Yu (yes, he shares the author’s name in a sometimes-confusing but mostly-comical metafictional move) is the story of a boy and his (immigrant) father: their relationship, how it broke apart, and how the boy-turned-man comes to terms with the life he’s avoiding living.
I have been recommending this book to just about everyone I can — it’s a great read, and a very interesting series of ideas on loneliness, time travel, immigration/discrimination, failure, parent/child relationships, and even love.
GOOD FOR: Time-travelling enthusiasts, fans of intelligent humor, and anyone who needs to be re-inspired by a creative story.
BAD FOR: People who dislike metafiction (the entire book is rife with the stuff!), those craving a lite-and-easy read, and anyone who’s going to be bothered by theories of time travel that aren’t explained down to the last detail at every turn.