Book Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

I love to read science fiction every now and then. Especially time travel has my interest. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is about a time machine repair man. It sounded quirky and good fun, but I didn’t like it as much as I’d hoped.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe: What it is about

From the publisher’s website: “With only TAMMY – a slightly tearful computer with self-esteem issues – a software boss called Phil – Microsoft Middle Manager 3.0 – and an imaginary dog called Ed for company, fixing time machines is a lonely business and Charles Yu is stuck in a rut. He’s spent the better part of a decade navel-gazing, spying on 39 different versions of himself in alternate universes (and discovered that 35 of them are total jerks). And he’s kind of fallen in love with TAMMY, which is bad because she doesn’t have a module for that.

With all that’s on his mind, perhaps it’s no surprise that when he meets his future self, he shoots him in the stomach. And that’s a beginner’s mistake for a time machine repairman. Now he’s stuck in a time loop, going in circles forever. All he has, wrapped in brown paper, is the book his future self was trying to press into his hands. It’s called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. And he’s the author. And somewhere inside it is the information that could save him.”

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe: What I thought

What I like about time travel, is exploring different times, the author’s ingenuity of predicting the future or of giving an apparently accurate account of what the past is like to live in for a modern person.

In this book, there is nothing like that because Charles Yu is stuck in time. He lives in his time machine, which is rather small, think Tardis without the expansion inside. This situation turned out to be rather too limited for me.

Some of it went over my head and roughly the first half of the book wasn’t all that exciting. When it got to the book that Charles got from his future self, it became a bit more interesting. Especially the search for his father (and where he found his father) was quite clever.

The book is all about Charles Yu and his thoughts. Very little actually happens. You have to be a pretty geeky person to enjoy this book, I think. I tried, went into it expecting to enjoy it (I’m half-geek, half non-geek) but the book never really grabbed me.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 244

First published: 2010

I got this book: from Bookmooch, a book swap site

Genre: science fiction

Have you read this book?

Did you enjoy it?


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

27 Responses to Book Review: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu

  1. Tesney Ap says:

    Judith, the stories about time machine are my obsession. I love the possibility and amazing adventure along with it. But I would love if this book have more exploring stuffs to it. Thanks for the review 🙂

  2. As I told you before, Judith, this was an okay read for me, but not the exciting one I had hoped for. The finding of his father was clever, though, but as for you, a lot of this book went over my head.
    One of these days (or weeks) I am going to read The Time Machine by Wells. Have you read this? I have no idea exactly what to expect from it, though I hope I will like it better than Yu’s book.

  3. Brooke says:

    I’ve been eyeing this book for a while now, but worried I wasn’t sci-fi geeky enough to enjoy it. After your review, I’m going to assume most of the knowledge would be well over my head as well. Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to give it a go!

  4. Book Nympho says:

    I adore time travel books too and thought I’d love this one but ended up not finishing it. It just started so slowly and I couldn’t get into it. Can you recommend some time travel books that are better?

  5. parrish says:

    I’ve got this on my kindle & hope to read it some point soon.

  6. Leslie says:

    I was sooo disappointed in this book. I wanted science fiction and time travel and instead I got a literary story about a young man searching for his father, worrying about his mother and confronting his dysfunctional childhood… all while stuck in time machine. A very weird book. I figured I wasn’t the target audience.

  7. The techies at work would love this one! I do love the concept, but time travel is always a bit of a brain-addler for me!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Stephanie, I do feel this is more a men’s book than a women’s book. I’m fine with time travelling, but not the way it was dealt with in this book.

  8. Care says:

    I want to read this! I pitched it to my bookclub but it got soundly voted down.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Care, I think it’s for the better that your book club didn’t want to read this book. It’s not for everyone. I hope you get round to reading it. Wonder what you make of it!

  9. Chinoiseries says:

    I can’t believe you found it through Bookmooch! I’ve been a bit disappointed with the site lately… but this means that there is hope 🙂 This book was recommended to me by a friend, but I’ve not yet read it. I like geeky books, but this sounds like parts of it may just go over my head…

    • Leeswammes says:

      Chinoiseries, on the long run, I’ve been OK with bookmooch, but not if I quickly wanted a book. Some books never become available and others sometimes. I wonder if you’d like this. I do like geeky books but it wasn’t for me.

  10. Hmm, this book intrigues me. Like you I’d describe myself as part-geek and I have a pretty good grounding in classic SF. I’ll keep it on the “maybe” backburner.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Maybe it helps to have read a lot of classic SF, Kate. You may at least appreciate the book more than me. Whether you will actually like it, I’m not sure.

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