Review: How To Live Safely In A Science Fiction Universe

Charles Yu’s How To Live Safely In A Science Fiction Universe is the sort of interesting exercise that makes writers happy to create and a certain kind of reader happy to see done.  Generally I am one of those kinds of reader; I like to see an interesting idea executed well.  Here Yu takes science fiction tropes and uses them as the basis for a sort of magical realism.  It is an interesting idea, especially given how large these tropes loom in modern life.

He chooses challenging ideas and arranges them in intricate and illuminating ways.  He obliquely comments on escapism, regret, fixation on the past, and how modern technology and narcissism reinforce one another.  All this is clear without bludgeoning the reader very much.

The problem I had with the book is that it is relentlessly bleak.  While I can respect the work that goes into setting a powerful consistent tone, How To Live Safely felt like a dirge of a book to me, with brief moments of optimism coming only at the end.  To make it worse, those moments felt like a tacked-on Hollywood ending, unearned and unbelievable.

It is tough to critique an author for being too pure in their vision, but for me, this was too hopeless a world to enjoy visiting.  It is well built, though (despite the author’s repeated assertions to the contrary), so perhaps you fill find more there.

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