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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

I took me a little longer than it should have, but I finally finished reading Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.

Most of the reviews I've seen have focused on the humor and Yu's similarities to Douglas Adams. And while Adams is certainly in this book, I think a stronger influence might be Italo Calvino. A Calvino raised on a steady diet of Star Trek, Star Wars, Heinlein and X-Men comic books, but Calvino nonetheless. The following paragraphs from the book really sum up my thoughts on it:


Time travel was supposed to be fun, it was supposed to be about going to places and having a bunch of adventures. Not hovering over scenes from your own life as a detached observer. Not just lurching from moment to random moment, and never even learning about those moments. (401)

Get back in the box. Set it for home, present day. Go see your mom. Bring your dad. Have dinner, the three of you. Go find The Woman You Never Married and see if she might want to be The Woman You Are Going to Marry Someday. Step out of this box. Pop open the hatch. The forces within the chronohydraulic air lock will equalize. Step out into the world of time and risk and loss again. Move forward, into the empty plane. Find the book you wrote, and read it until the end, but don't turn the last page yet, keep stalling, see how long you can keep expanding the infinitely expandable moment. Enjoy the elastic present, which can accommodate as little or as much as you want to put in there. Stretch it out, live inside it. (459)


I read this as an Ebook through my Ipod touch. The book is filled with footnotes, diagrams and pictures that go along with the narrative. Now these aren't directly in the text, but presented to the reader as an optional hyperlink you can open by pressing with your finger. I've seen the footnote thing with non-fiction titles, but this is the first fiction title I've seen use the Ebook format in this way. Yu even takes an extra step by giving a link to a Youtube video demonstrating a brain experiment on how the human brain acts when it makes specific choices.

A small lightbulb went off in my little brain on how most of this isn't possible in your standard Ereader; it requires a tablet, cell phone or other web-ready device that can handle something more than B&W text and simple pictures. The whole experience reminded me a little of the web-based Hyperfiction texts you'd find at places like Alt-X in the mid to late 90's. It's kind of exciting and I'm really curious to see what a writer with a real formalist/expermentalist bent like Danielewski could do with a tool like an Ereader.

Excelsior

1 comment:

theoncominghope said...

I really tried to get into the book, but ultimately found it a little too obtuse for my liking.

Here are my thoughts, if you're interested:
http://theoncominghope.blogspot.com/2011/10/book-review-how-to-live-safely-in.html