Charles Yu is the author of the novel “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe” and the short story collections “Third Class Superhero” and “Sorry Please Thank You.” In 2007, Yu won the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award. When discussing Yu’s work, Italo Calvino comes up as does Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut. What strikes me is Yu’s flair for a natural and casual humor mixed in with philosophical musings and various games with language and narrative. You can read my review of “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe” right here.
“Most people I know live their lives moving in a constant forward direction, the whole time looking backward.”
― Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
There is a very strong contingent of sci-fi fans who take issue with Charles Yu’s time travel novel being true science fiction. Well, how about if we all just take a deep breath and relax and just call it fiction. Does that work for you? To get caught up in the sci-fi is not the right approach. Take, for instance, Stephen King’s “11/22/63.” The sci-fi in that book amounts to a very simple “portal,” you walk through a door and that’s it. For the hardcore crowd, well, one of the greatest, if not the greatest work on time travel, Jack Finney’s “Time and Again,” also employs a simple process to get on with the time travelin’. That’s not to say Yu is happy to settle for a magic door because, in fact, he goes all quantum physics on you in his own way. So, let’s revisit “How to Live,” which was recently reissued in print and is also now an e-book.
Comic-Con is many things: a focal point for learning about pop culture and a place to buy and sell pop culture. It is a fascinating place to be to observe a concentrated segment of consumer culture. With an estimated attendance this year topping off at 160,000, Comic-Con International: San Diego is an instant village. Not everyone is there for exactly the same reasons. But, at the same time, even the academically-inclined that claim that they are there only for the serious panel discussion, must admit to this event being like going to Disneyland.
You are there, caught in the sweep of humanity, and you can’t help but feel that you are part of something bigger. This is a mega-community all mashed together with various views and agendas. To be fair, I like to give credit to everyone for all the hard work they do. There is so much on display, with so many issues at play all at once. On the most basic level, we have a huge number of humans all seeking something. The only way it makes sense for me is to set up guideposts for myself ahead of time and go to the things that matter most to me. And, like a grand museum, you will only manage to see part of what you set out to see.
We’re only human, right? We are more complex than we give ourselves credit for. Comic-Con is not a bunch of rats set loose, even if it may seem like that at times. We are human. Comic-Con seems like one big spectacle sometimes but, just like they say about going to school, traveling, and life in general, you get back what you put into it. The thing to remember about Comic-Con is that, at its roots, it is about fandom and a love for comic books is at its core. If you gather together a group of young (and not-so-young) people who are sensitive to seeking out something more, whatever that might be, you’re on a good track right there. That something more, whatever it might be, will be an anchor, a gateway, a portal, all at once.
I know this is as good as it will ever get for me and it’s not that good. I have a small heart, a dark heart, a heart filled with exactly equal amounts of good and evil, one that is weak and will take us only so far, but for now it propels us higher and higher and higher.
Charles Yu was quite gracious to sit down with me during Comic-Con for this interview. Known for his inventive and hilarious, “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe,” Mr. Yu talks about his craft, life as a writer, his literay influences and his latest work, “Sorry Please Thank You.” If you enjoy character-driven stories spiked with the right amount of sci-fi and/or social commentary, if you enjoy Kurt Vonnegut and Philip Roth and Douglas Adams, then you will definitely enjoy the work of Charles Yu.
Thanks so much for this interview, Charles! And thanks so much to Random House for arranging it. Enjoy this video interview from Comic-Con 2012: