How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

In How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu rejuvenates the time travel subgenre with a bravura performance featuring an alternate version of the author as narrator. This "Charles Yu" repairs time machines for a living, in a future where time travel is part of everyday existence and Time Warner's "Time" division owns and operates the universe. Along with his mangy dog Ed, Yu also lives in a time machine—a model TM-31 running "on state-of-the-art chronodiegetical technology" that allows for "free form navigation within a rendered environment, such as, for instance, a story space and, in particular, a science-fictional universe." Yu's sidekicks, the melancholy time machine operating system TAMMY and the writing aid TOAD (with which the narrator creates the novel), are comedic yet never baldly satirical.


Within this basic frame, the author tells the tale of Yu's relationship with his father, who has vanished, and sends up or renovates every conundrum in every time travel story ever written, complete with charts and graphs. Ruminations on the Minor Universe 31, which "was slightly damaged during its construction" are both haunting and hilarious. But other scenes—like a childhood reminiscence on why, in role-playing, "First dibs gets Hans Solo," or a moving portrait of Yu's father working alone in his garage—ground the wild extrapolation in real human emotions. Science fiction geeks will admire Yu's stunning accomplishments at the level of Novel of Ideas, but the rich vein of emotional depth makes this first novel a delight and a wonder—in this or any other universe.

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."