I’m continuing to eliminate my review backlog and have some fun by pitting similar books against each other for mortal literary combat. I’ll start by telling you how they’re similar, then give a brief overview of each book, and finally pick a winner.
What the books have in common: Both novels dabble in the absurd. Both are ostensibly written by the narrators. However, the narrators are of the unreliable and possibly deluded variety. They frequently question the veracity of their own accounts. Neither novel is for the reader who requires realism or a straightforward narrative. Both are deserving of more attention than they are receiving here.
First Up: Orion You Came And You Took All My Marbles by Kira Henahan
The narrator may be a secret agent of sorts sent to extract some information from a man who runs an elaborate puppet theater. Her gang of agents hangs out at Tiki Ty’s Tiki Barn, a “bookstore-slash-vintage surfing memorabilia museum” whose proprietor serves shrimp and an excellent dipping sauce. She may be Russian (most don’t think so) and she fancies herself a stage actress. She may also occasionally visit herself in a bed in a mental hospital. Or I could have misread the whole thing. The best (and occasionally annoying) bit of our narrator’s tale is her circular and repetitive way of describing a scene:
I proceeded with a little bit of caution, but caution proved difficult to maintain in the face of such swanky music. My caution was compromised by a snifter of sidestep. My caution collapsed into cocksure caliente. My caution fell at last away into a frenzied frug. The people inside took no notice of my frug’s flawlessness, a flawless frug just par for the course in a joint like this.
The Challenger: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
The narrator of How to Live Safely is a time machine repairman. He comes by this line of work honestly, his helped his father create one of the first time machines in the family garage. He knows quite a bit about time machines and how they work:
The base model TM-31 runs on state-of-the-art chronodiegetical technology: a six-cylinder grammar drive built on a quad-core physics engine, which features an applied temporalinguistics architecture allowing a free form navigation within a rendered environment, such as, for instance, a story space and, in particular, a science fictional universe.
Got all that. After describing various pitfalls and safety issues surrounding time travel, he instinctively commits on the biggest blunders imaginable.
The role of all good science fiction, so I hear, is to reflect our own world back to us. This particular time machine appears to an allegory for longing and regret – and the ability to lose oneself in one’s own story at the expense of the world at large.
Everyone is a time machine…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.
In the end, How to Live Safely seemed less sterile and more about something. One last note from the book on the subject of time:
My father built a time machine and then he spent his whole life trying to figure out how to use it to get more time. He spent all the time he had with us thinking about how he wished he had more time, if he could only have more time.