At Slog Happy, I gave commenter and prolific Slog Book Reporter Enigma a copy of How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe, which just came out in paperback. Enigma's report is below (please note that this piece has been edited, and any errors you may find are entirely my fault). I loved the book. How did Enigma feel about it?
This is indeed an amazing book.
I finished it last week and the story just keeps coming into my thoughts at random moments. Everyday events around me bear a strange narrative they didn't have before I started the book.
Time travel has always fascinated and horrified me. My brain reels at imagining time paradoxes, but I also find it extremely simplistic to imagine time travel as something possible. We are all moving through time at the same regular pace, but we manipulate time all the time. Marijuana slows our perception of time. We speed up audio tracks or slow them down to create new sounds. Our memories bring back vivid experiences of 20 years ago, but can't recall what we had for lunch on April 2nd of this year.
So why is it so far-fetched to think that someone could invent a machine that can skip a track like a record needle skips a groove?
This digression has nothing to do with the book really, but it demonstrates the kind of thought processes that occur as you read it. Charles Yu wrote one of the most jarring books I have ever read.
A son (named Charles Yu) trying to reconnect with his father; how much more simplistic of a plot can you get? Yet that's hardly the point. The simplistic framework lets Yu-the-author aim for higher concepts, because you've already read this story before. The time travel trope is just that—a useful trope—but it's necessary because otherwise Yu's reminiscing would be grating.
Describing this book is like describing an emotion you had two weeks ago. It matters, just like all your experiences and emotions matter to who you are now, but it mattered more at the moment you felt it. This is a book to re-read. I'm looking forward to seeing moments in the book that I glanced over the first time, to the book having more meaning the second time around.
Of course, I've already re-read the book in the future, and am remembering how much more I enjoyed it the first time because it was all so novel.