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Monday, January 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Light Snow Fog/Mist
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A Book A Week: How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is mind-bending. It didn't help that in the same weekend that I read this, I also watched the movie Inception and several episodes of Season 5 of Lost. I was lucky I could find my own kitchen, given all the time travel/dream-within-a-dream/bright flashes of light that were going on in my own personal entertainment universe.

How To Live Safely is the story of a traveling time-machine repairman. Did you try to use your time machine to change the past? Uh-oh. You broke it. Charles Yu to the rescue. But Charles (yes, the protagonist's name is the same as the author's) also uses his own time machine to avoid living in any particular year or place and instead (against the rules) hovers in a kind of no-time space where his only friends are his virtual dog Ed and TAMMY, his management software with an inferiority complex. Only when he is forced to return to real time when his own time machine breaks down do actual things start to happen.

I wanted to like this book, and I did, in some ways. It has a sweet father-son relationship story buried inside the layers of overly clever science fictional technojargon. Even some aspects of the science fictional world-building are funny and original, but mostly it's over the top.

Yu can be an interesting writer and reminds me a little of Nicholson Baker, but he (like some other alternate-reality writers) can get so caught up in his own details that he forgets that he is telling a story, that someone else is trying to follow what he is saying, that he has to work to maintain the reader's interest. About halfway through I started skimming, resulting in no loss of comprehension (because I was only getting about 60% of it anyway).

Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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