A man frozen in a universe of his own making must pursue the meaning of life.
In this debut novel, Yu (stories: Third Class Superhero, 2006) continues his ambitious exploration of the fantastic with a whimsical yet sincere tribute to old-school science fiction and quantum physics. His hero is Charles Yu, a kind of white-collar mechanic for time machines of the very near future. He’s a corporate drone for Time Warner Time, which operates multiple alternate universes for profit. The tech’s turf is Minor Universe 31, which is literally a science-fiction playground complete with sexbots, icons of genre fantasy and an unreliable set of physics. It all sounds rather magical—Charles has a memorable run-in with one Linus Skywalker, who carries a big chip on his shoulder about his famous father—but it’s really a very lonely world. Charles mourns the loss of his father, who invented time travel before disappearing into its void. His mother lives in a kind of time-assisted living, in which she experiences the same parcel of time again and again. Our narrator’s only real companions are Ed, a dog that may or may not exist, and TAMMY, an onboard operating system with a chronic case of self-doubt. “I have seen pretty much everything that can go wrong, the various and mysterious problems in contemporary time travel,” says Charles. “You work in this business long enough and you know what you really do for a living. This is self-consciousness. I work in the self-consciousness industry.” Inevitably, worlds collide, and Charles shoots his future self in a moment of panic. Then readers will have to reach the proverbial end of the story to find out whether Charles’ time loop (conveniently mapped out and including an X event, a point in time when he will learn something about himself) will let him go.
A fascinating, philosophical and disorienting thriller about life and the context that gives it meaning.