Charles Yu’s How to Live in a SFnal Universe and Other Best SF/F of the Year to Date

I just posted a kind of interim year’s best list, showcasing titles that energized and challenged me thus far in 2010. Novels by Michal Ajvaz, Darin Bradley, Brian Conn, N.K. Jemisin, Karen Lord, Thomas Mullen, Nnedi Okorafor, Dexter Palmer, and Charles Yu are all on the list, with further mentions of McDonald, Lowachee, and Holmes.

I want to focus on the Charles Yu novel, How to Live in a Science Fictional Universe, for a moment, as a kind of corrective.

The novel has gotten its share of praise in high-profile venues like the NYTBR, which published a great (and highly analytical) review. I’m not going to quote from it because it deserves to be read in full.

And then it’s gotten poor reviews from people like Andrew Wheeler, who I really respect as a reviewer, and Publishers Weekly—“Mainstream readers will be baffled by the highly nonlinear Oedipal time travel plot, but the passive, self-obsessed protagonist is straight out of the mainstream fiction that many SF fans love to hate, leaving this book without an audience.”—along with mixed reviews from places like The Book Smugglers. The Amazon reviews thus far are hit-or-miss as well.

I’d just like to say that…those negative reviews do not describe the novel I read at all. I read a very intricate, funny, and often sad book about a dysfunctional relationship between a father and a son against a backdrop of unbelievably amazing SFnal ideas. Some of these reviewers appear to believe Yu’s novel will be dissatisfying to both mainstream and SF readers. I believe that it will be intensely and wonderfully satisfying for most all of those readers, if they’ll just do the book the favor of ignoring these mediocre reviews and come to the book with an open mind.

I certainly respect the validity of the negative opinions, but I also know that sometimes novels that cross genres and approaches to fiction like this one does can be severely misinterpreted, and not enjoyed for the truly unique qualities they bring to readers.

I thought this was one of the best SF novels of the year, and I hope that readers will reject the idea of (1) a book being just one thing and (2) being just one thing themselves, and pick up this awesome book.


  1. Eric says

    I was surprised and happy to see that the author of the NYT review was Ander Monson. He has written some really incredible books. If you two are both recommending How To Live In A Science Fictional Universe I have no choice but to check it out.

  2. GlenH says

    It really irritates me when people make a blanket judgment about what some generalised audience will or won’t accept from their fiction. I was at a con where pair of historical fantasy writers said that they couldn’t write a unapologetic racist or a women who accepted oppression in a patriarchal society as a viewpoint character because their audience would stop reading – apparently you can do that sort of thing in Literature but not fantasy.

  3. GlenH says

    (It particularly annoyed me because I’d naively assumed that only editors, marketers and reviewers worried about that sort of thing and that the commercial imperative was keeping brave authors down. Authors censoring themselves because they don’t think something will sell is somehow more upsetting.)