2015 Reading Journey: How To Live in a Science Fictional Universe

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The story starts off in what seems like a deliberately confusing jumble of well-orchestrated time travel-based technobabble complete with temporal grammatical confusion, alternate universes, and things that never happened.

I’d like to say it gets better from there.

Sorry, maybe I should have started with well-done time travel is one of my favourite sub-genres in Science Fiction.

Confusing technobabble aside, we spent a fair bit of time on character introduction, but we also wait for 40 or 50 pages for it to actually become science fiction and not just a lonely 30-ish year-old man sharing a few disjointed bits of his life, regrets, and memories. Then we wait another 20 or so pages for it to actually become a story instead of just SF-tinged bits of life, regrets, and memories. The tinge is there before this little bit, but it could just as easily not have been and evoked the same set of potential emotions.

We’re now more than a third of the way through the novel and nothing has really happened yet. And really, we’re closing in on half way through the book before getting what might traditionally be called the “inciting incident”, the thing that breaks the protagonist out of his normal life and sends him to fix whatever is the problem with that life. In this case {spoiler} he shoots a future version of himself, jumps into his future self’s time machine, and gets trapped in a time loop.

A pretty good inciting incident, really.

But then there’s another period of “digressive and extemporaneous rambling”, which is a phrase used by the protagonist to describe himself reading the book, actually this book, the same book you’re reading, and the phrase fits for a lot of the text. There’s plenty of circular naval gazing and musing about multiple tenses, especially about the book itself and how it came into existence or didn’t, and about how we’re all passengers in our own lives.

When we finally get to the story for real (at least, I think it’s for real), we read about the protagonist watching key events in his own life. I don’t see the need for a time machine here. Vivid memories reflected on by an adult don’t require one. The time machine in the story is basically a device for enhanced reminiscing.

The book copy uses phrases like “razor-sharp”, “ridiculously funny”, and “utterly touching”, but it seems like I missed those parts. Looking back at the reading experience, I don’t recall even smiling, much less laughing, and I did a lot of mental sighing and eye-rolling at the heavy grammar-influenced technobabble and the, at times seemingly endless, repetition and slightly rephrased sentences to make sure that multiple tenses could be used to communicate the same idea. As far as touching, there are moments of emotion in the protagonist’s reminiscing about the failed father-son dynamic he was on the junior end of, but not enough to carry things.

And there are sentences in this book that span a page or more. Some of them must be several hundred words long, so long that, by the time you get to the end of them, you’ve long since lost the point it started at or the intention that might have been present. Add this to the what seems to be deliberately confusing and recycled text and you get a book that’s actually tiring to read at times, and not in a good way.

On the whole, there is a story here, but it’s not a novel. But once all of the unnecessary set up, technobabble, and repetition is stripped away, I don’t think there’s much more than a short novelette left and you could tell the same story. Probably without the science fiction trappings, because this is really just a memory reflection piece, which is fine, if that’s what you’re looking for, but this one is wrapped up as experimental literary fiction with a cloak made of time travel tropes, and that’s far less appealing. Especially when there really isn’t much of a resolution, just a bit of misdirection and an appendix that tells you the things that maybe might happen if there were a resolution.

Overall Rating: 1.5 stars, which I think I have to round down. I didn’t hate it, exactly, but I didn’t find enough to like to give it even a “meh” rating, either. Take a couple of pieces of this—killing your future self in a panic, building a time machine in the garage with your father, and trying to figure out how you screwed up your life—and you’ve got the germ of a good story. You also have the germ of this story.

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