Science fiction goes postmodern in this story collection from Yu (How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, 2010, etc.).
Using various narrative strategies (though all but one of these 13 stories is written in the first person), Yu explores provisional identities (including those of a character named Charles Yu) in multiple universes, typically employing a conversational style that makes for easy reading even when the themes are troubling or the formalistic elements challenging. In one story, “Note to Self,” a writer begins writing “Dear Alternate Self,” before the response he receives suggests that his alternate self may simply be another dimension of himself, and then, later, that the person to whom he’s actually writing is the reader: “We are correspondents corresponding in our corresponding universes. Is that what writing is? A collaboration between selves across the multiverse?” Where some stories just seem like gamesmanship, literary parlor tricks, one of the shorter and best ones, “Open,” strikes an existential chord in its meditation on words and what they signify, in its epiphany that “It was like we were actors in a play with no audience.” A couple stories offer heroic epics for the video game generation, while the longest, “Human For Beginners,” begins as a chapter in a self-help book on dynamics within extended families, proceeds into an inquiry on the identity of Charles Yu, and culminates in unanswerable questions such as “What is possible? What is conceivable? Do all worlds have rules? Do dreams?”
A collection of playful stories that often have a dark undercurrent. Far out, man.