by Charles Yu

Vintage, $14.95, 240 pages

Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is a haunting, beautiful ode to understanding one’s own father.  Lucky for me I had very few preconceptions coming into this novel, I expected to read a funny, sci-fi yarn akin to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  I’ve never been quite so pleased to have my expectations overturned.

Yu’s proto-protagonist, (he’s got some maturing to do before he becomes a fully-fledged protagonist), also named Charles Yu, is a time-machine repairman.  He’s 30ish, a little softer than he should be, and filled with unrealized, unexplored regret.  He creates a time loop by accidentally murdering a future version of himself. It’s probably for the best that I stop explaining the events of the book at this point.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe isn’t about living safely in the future, it’s about how we become who we are through our understanding of the past. Proto-protagonist Charles Yu’s father is missing, the clues he has about his father are in his memories of a young boy who was incapable of truly understanding who his father was. Charles’ father was missing long before he disappeared. Who are our fathers?  How do we learn and grow from their mistakes, and overcome our own, or avoid creating them in the first place?  Author Charles Yu has written a book about forgiveness, it only happens to have time machines in it.

Reviewed by Bradley Wright