It's taken me about a year to finish How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu. For those who know me, this may seem odd, as I usually spend a few days on a novel, max. This is no Infinite Jest, after all. But I found it difficult, mainly because it's wistful tone is intensely depressing.
The lead character, Charles Yu, repairs time machines, and his only constant companion is his operating system, TAMMY. But after nine years, he "goes rogue" to hunt for his father, who invented time travel and promptly disappeared.
The novel speaks of humanity, and of the fact that no matter how much our physical circumstances change, how much even the reality of the universe changes, there are certain central truths about being human. Central truths about the perception of time as it passes you by, that even if you personally are able to put your life on hold for an eternity then others aren't. And then you realize you've lost them forever.
“To live in here is to live at the origin, at zero, neither present nor absent, a denial of self- and creature-hood to an arbitrarily small epsilon-delta limit. Can you live your whole life at zero? Can you live your entire life in the exact point between comfort and discomfort? You can in this device. My father designed it that way. Don’t ask me why. If I knew the answer to that, I would know a whole lot of other things too. Things like why he left, where he is, what he’s doing, when he’s coming back, if he’s coming back.”
I do believe you need to be nerd to enjoy this, not necessarily in the science fiction sense, but in the linguistic sense. Dig out your old French lessons, brush up on subjunctive, imperfect, all the tenses that even many professional writers confuse repeatedly.
And then again, maybe you'll enjoy it more if you don't give a damn about tenses and focus on the story, which offers plenty of tension of its own. Characters are frequently retconned out of time and space, and playful paradoxes abound.
But fundamentally, this is the story about a boy who lost his father, and struggles to find him even with the power of time at his fingertips.
Have you read it? Let me know what you think.