Charles determines that everyone wants to be Han Solo because he is an achievable hero, not born to a special destiny. “But no one grows up wanting to be the time machine repair guy.” So, what are the other options for a guy who isn’t protagonist material? “My cousin is in accounts receivable on the Death Star, and whenever we talk he always says how nice it’d be if I joined him. He says they have a good cafeteria. So that’s an option.”
First dibs always does get Han Solo, even in our entirely prosaic universe. But, of course, not everyone can be the hero. Somebody has to keep books on the Death Star or sweep the Enterprise. Even in a universe where fact touches fiction, someone has to do the menial work, and someone has to fail. Part of Charles’ inability to move out of an indeterminate present lies in his past.
Charles’ father, a disappointed man from “a part of reality, a tiny island in the ocean, a different part of the planet, really, a different time, where people still farmed with water buffalo and believed that stories, like life, were all straight lines of chronology,” set out to develop his theories of time travel. Beaten to the corporate punch by a failure of his machine and another inventor, the elder Yu disappears one day into time.
The looping journey of Charles in search of his father, the disappearance (distance) of the father, and the endless one-hour loop in which Charles’ mother exists speak to the fears and failures of families and individuals. It would have been easy for Yu to stray too far into the minutiae of science fiction and lose the more serious reader. Conversely, he risks the literary novel trap of falling into introspection at the cost of plot. However, with a thoughtful, yet wry and self-deprecating voice, Charles Yu has achieved an ideal blend of genre and literature in a novel that keeps us guessing while making us wonder. Through How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu shows us that perhaps safety interferes with the living.