Charles Yu – How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

Yu, Charles (2010). How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. New York: Vintage. 2010.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

Un romanzo di profonda introspezione, che ho avuto la sfortuna di leggere, sul finire dell’estate scorsa, in un momento per me piuttosto difficile. E la lettura del romanzo di Yu ha contribuito ad aumentare la mia tristezza. Sono situazioni, però, in cui senti quello che leggi più tuo, e maturi una sorta di affinità e complicità con l’autore, come se lo conoscessi da tempo.

L’autore (Charles Yu) e il protagonista del libro (Charles Yu: omonimo, l’opposto di eteronimo, naturalmente) sono molto lontani da me, in realtà, quali che siano le metriche che si intende applicare: Yu l’autore è nato nel 1976 a Los Angeles, si è laureato a Berkeley all’University of California e alla Columbia Law School e vive a Santa Monica (sempre in California, vicino a Los Angeles) con la moglie Michelle e due figli.

Charles Yu

© 2011 Larry D. Moore -

Yu il protagonista del libro vive in un piccolo universo completo soltanto al 93% (MU31, Minor Universe 31) dove lavora come riparatore di macchine del tempo, autonomo ma affiliato alla Time Warner Time, proprietaria dell’universo che gestisce come un complesso spazio-temporale d’intrattenimento. Yu vive in una sorta di roulotte con un cane (per lo più ipotetico) e un computer intelligente dalla sexy voce femminile di cui è innamorato.

Ma c’è poco da ridere. O meglio, come nella vita vera, si ride, si piange e si riflette, tutto insieme. In MU31, apparentemente, la tecnologia conta poco e anche il divertimento, nonostante l’approccio della Time Warner Time, è secondario. Quello che gli umani di MU31 fanno con le macchine del tempo è soprattutto tornare nel proprio passato, soprattutto nei punti percepiti come momenti decisivi (eh sì, sempre l’ergodicità), per cercare di rimettere in carreggiata la propria vita disastrata. Ma questo non si può proprio fare. Il risultato è spesso quello di aggiungere disastro a disastro.

Lo stesso Yu non è immune da questo tipo di casini. L’anziana mamma è parcheggiata in un loop temporale, dove continua a cucinare il pranzo della domenica. Yu è alla ricerca del padre – ecco un altro novello Telemaco-Stephen Dedalus – che dopo avere scoperto i principi e le tecnologie che consentono i viaggi nel tempo, incompreso, si è perduto nel cronoverso. Yu, poi, incontra il suo sé futuro e gli spara …

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Concludo la mia breve recensione, come faccio sempre, con le citazioni che mi sono appuntato durante la lettura: danno comunque un’idea dell’atmosfera e dello stile del romanzo. Come di consueto il riferimento è alla posizione sul Kindle:

Time isn’t an orderly stream. Time isn’t a placid lake recording each of our ripples. Time is viscous. Time is a massive flow. It is a self-healing substance, which is to say, almost everything will be lost. We’re too slight, too inconsequential, despite all of our thrashing and swimming and waving our arms about. Time is an ocean of inertia, drowning out the small vibrations, absorbing the slosh and churn, the foam and wash, and we’re up here, flapping and slapping and just generally spazzing out, and sure, there’s a little bit of splashing on the surface, but that doesn’t even register in the depths, in the powerful undercurrents miles below us, taking us wherever they are taking us. [225]

[…] what my mother felt, all the way right up to the end, before she stopped having new feelings and became content to have the old feelings over and over again. [271]

The workweek was a structure, a grid, a matrix that held him in place, a path through time, the shortest distance between birth and death. [471]

[…] it’s true: time does heal. It will do so whether you like it or not, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. If you’re not careful, time will take away everything that ever hurt you, everything you have ever lost, and replace it with knowledge. Time is a machine: it will convert your pain into experience. Raw data will be compiled, will be translated into a more comprehensible language. The individual events of your life will be transmuted into another substance called memory […] [719]

As if I were an incense stick incrementally burning off, first into smoke, and then becoming a part of the room. [1444]

The present incense will become the very stuff that props itself up, and allows other, future incense to stand vertically, for a time, each current incense unable to stand alone, only able to perform its function with the help of all other past incense, like time itself, supporting the present moment, as it itself turns into past, each burning stick transmitting the prayers sent through it, releasing the prayers contained within it, nothing but a transitory vehicle for its contents, and then releasing itself into the air, leaving behind only the burnt odor, the haze and residue of uncollectible memory, and at the same time becoming part of the air itself, the very air that allows the present to burn, to combust, to slowly work itself down into nothingness. [1476]

This isn’t the past or the future tense, it’s the subjunctive. [1538]

Are you sure you’re you? Are you sure you didn’t slip out of yourself in the middle of the night, and someone else slipped into you, without you or you or any of you even noticing? [1624]

Living is a form of time travel. Time travel is a physical process. [1814]

My father had begun asking my opinion about the world. He was admitting, in his way, what he didn’t know, what confused him, what frustrated him in this country, at work, in this town, both close and far from the center of everything. He was asking me if I was ready to be part of our family, ready to help him, ready to be a numerator. [1923]

Everyone has a time machine. Everyone is a time machine. It’s just that most people’s machines are broken. The strangest and hardest kind of time travel is the unaided kind. People get stuck, people get looped. People get trapped. But we are all time machines. We are all perfectly engineered time machines, technologically equipped to allow the inside user, the traveler riding inside each of us, to experience time travel, and loss, and understanding. [1955]

This man is someone for whom the world isn’t a mystery. The world is a boulder, but it has levers and he knows when and where and how to apply just the right amount of force, and it moves for him, while my father and I, pushing up against it, don’t have any angle, any torque, no grip or traction or leverage. My father thinks success must be in direct proportion to effort exerted. He doesn’t know where or how to exert the least amount for the most gain, doesn’t know where the secret buttons are, the hidden doors, the golden keys. He thinks that, even if you have a great idea, there have to be trials and tribulations, errors and failures, a dark night of the soul, a slog, a time in the desert, a fallow period, a period of quiet, a period of silent and earnest and frustrated toiling before emerging, victorious, into the sunshine and acclaim. [2070]

[…] for a brief moment at the top of the arc, we weigh nothing and it seems like maybe the arc wasn’t an arc after all, but a straight shot, up to where we have been looking, not aiming, afraid to even admit our aim could ever be so high, but looking, secretly, at a different trajectory of life, and in that moment I think maybe we might have escaped the pull of our lives […] [2147]

Failure is easy to measure. Failure is an event. Harder to measure is insignificance. A nonevent. [2158]

Hitting the peak of your life’s trajectory is not the painful part. The painful day comes earlier, comes before things start going downhill, comes when things are still good, still pretty good, still just fine. It comes when you think you are still on your way up, but you can feel that the velocity isn’t there anymore, the push behind you is gone, it’s all inertia from here, it’s all coasting, it’s all momentum, and there will be more, there will be higher days, but for the first time, it’s in sight. The top. The best day of your life. There it is. Not as high as you thought it was going to be, and earlier in your life, and also closer to where you are now, startling in its closeness. That there’s a ceiling to this, there’s a cap, there’s a best-case scenario and you are living it right now. [2163]

At some point in your life, this statement will be true: Tomorrow you will lose everything forever. [2450]

Holy Mother of Ursula K. Le Guin. [2481: come esclamazione. Chi conosce la fantascienza e le sue divinità sa che è un’invocazione appropriata alla grande musa]

[…] Grand Unified Theory of Chronodiegetic Forces—a governing law that would serve as a common root for the disparate forces that operate in the axes of past, alternate present, and future, or more formally, the matrix operators of regret, counterfactual, and anxiety. [2611]