Intriguingly, most people, when given access to a time machine, will choose to visit, not the best, but the worst day of their lives. “My vocational training was in the basics of closed time-like curves, but what they should have taught me was how that relates to people’s regrets and mistakes, the loves of their lives that they let get away.”
Yet, for all of his awareness of the seduction and danger inherent to time travel, Charles finds himself so unwilling to move forward, to progress beyond his search for his father that he panics, shoots his future self, and dives back into his time machine. “…I end up shooting him, once, in the stomach, just as he is saying something to me, it all happens very quickly but what I am pretty sure he says is ‘It’s all in the book. The book is the key.’” The book, handed to Charles by his future self, is entitled How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe and turns out to be written by Charles Yu.
See, I told you things got more confusing. If the requirement for the enjoyment of fiction is the suspension of disbelief, then it must be presumed that the requirement for the enjoyment of science fiction is acceptance, and thus that the requirement for the enjoyment of science fiction involving time travel is complete surrender to the forces of the narrative. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is not for those readers who wish to keep their feet safely on the ground while checking off plot points on a list. The convergence of author and protagonist, fictional work and work of fiction, not to mention the convolutions of time travel, produces only one possible way to read this book – abandon your own present and jump in the TM-31.
Trust me, the gems delivered by Yu along the way more than make up for any confusion. For instance, if you live in a universe where science fiction meets reality, why would you choose to become a time machine repair guy? “When you are a kid, playing with the other kids on your street, and everyone is fighting over who they are going to be, you have to call dibs early, as soon as you see one another, pretty much as soon as you step outside your house, even if you’re halfway down the block. First dibs gets Han Solo. Everyone knows that.”