Tag Archives: Charles Yu

10 More Top 10 Time Travel Books

from the MGM Motion Picture "The Time Machine"

Recently, I posted a positive review of the new novel by Charles Yu, entitled How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. So I was delighted to come across an article by Yu written for The Guardian of Great Britain in which he names his top ten time travel books.

In case you’re interested, here’s the list of what he recommended:

  1. Slaughter-House Five, or the Children’s Crusade by Kurt Vonnegut
  2. Garden of Forking Paths”  (short story) by Jorge Luis Borges
  3. Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman
  4. The Fermata by Nicolson Baker
  5. The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch
  6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madelaine L’Engle
  7. All You Zombies” (short story) by Robert Heinlein
  8. Six Walks in the Fictional Woods by Umberto Eco
  9. An example of a new type of cosmological solution of Einstein’s field equations of gravitation” by Kurt Gödel (Rev. Mod. Phys. 21: 447–450.)
  10. Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

As you can see, Mr. Yu has played it a little loose with his list, which he readily admits. Besides fiction, there is non-fiction, including an article on time travel by Kurt Godel, of Gödel, Escher, Bach fame. I don’t have a problem with that per se, but I do take issue with calling the list ten time travel books, when two are short stories in larger collections (not devoted to time travel stories) and one is a journal article. Still, it is a pleasure to see what he likes and, since they are his rules, he’s allowed to break them.

Here’s an additional list of ten more time travel books, all novels this time, to supplement the list above. A couple of my favorite time travel books did not make Yu’s list, though his own book certainly makes mine. I am going to carry over one; though not on my list, Slaughter-House Five, which is one of my favorite books, period, it certainly deserves to be.

  1. Time and Again by Jack Finney
  2. Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut
  3. Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
  4. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
  5. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
  6. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  7. Kindred by Octavia Butler
  8. The Female Man by Joanna Russ
  9. Martin Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick
  10. The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

And two Bonus novels:

These 12 additional time travel novels hardly address how many are missing from the original list; in fact, this list is lopsided in its own way: a bit too literary from some folks, I’m thinking.

So, what do you think? Anything missing?

– Don

PS  The only edition of Behold the Man any of the libraries has is the original abbreviated novella, which Michael Moorcock expanded into a full novel — we intend to correct that situation by ordering a copy ASAP.

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“How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe:” Meta-Fiction with Heart

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In the book business, it’s called hand-selling.  In the library biz, it’s reader’s advisory.  Here’s one of the shortest, sure sell pitches ever, for the book entitled How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu:

It’s about a time machine repairman. 

Long pause.

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Ok, if this is your kind of book, chances are you’ve already put a reserve on it or jotted it down to do so later.  If it isn’t your kind of book (and you’re still with me), I’m going to “go deep.”

How to Live is about a time machine repairman who spends most of his life in a cubicle-like time machine.  In the “science fictional universe” in which he lives, it seems time travel is real and his father one of its inventors.  The science, or pseudo-science, in the novel is fine stuff.  When describing the machine and time travel, words like “chronogrammatical,” “tense operator,” and “grammar drive” evince themselves convincingly. 

Oh, the time machine repairman is named Charles Yu. 

Before you flee in your own time machine, operated with a simple click of the machine beneath your hand, know that this isn’t your granddad’s post-modern novel; I like to think that this is meta-fiction at its best.  There is nothing cold or dispassionate about this book.

Here’s why.

What you’d never expect is this is a highly emotive, lyrical story, deeply whimsical, sometimes humorous, and a melancholic examination of fictional time theory, with the kicker that it probes the first thing we’d all do if we actually could travel in time: attempt to change the past.  And we all know how that always turns out. 

There is an ennui here, a pervading sadness about the human condition, something that might best be described by that most elusive of Japanese terms, wabi-sabi.  There is regret, there is angst, there is nostalgia, there is longing, there is guilt.

And there is a time machine.

If I had to describe this book in its own vocabulary, I’d say that it conjures narrative truths in a unified, emotionally resonant field.  Outside of the science fictional universe, you can think of it as a winning mix, replete with a touch of Adams, a dollop of Vonnegut, a measure of Proust, and pinches of Wells and Bradbury.

Yup, this is definitely not the old man’s post-modern, or even science fiction, novel.

– Don

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