(2012) Charles Yu, Pantheon Books, £15.59 / $16.47, hrdbk, 222pp UK / 241pp US, ISBN 978-0-307-90717-2
The author of How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe, published his third book this October with Random House with his anthology of shorts, Sorry Please Thank You. Yu is known for his science fiction, but critics and reviewers agree that here, he is using the genre as a gateway into a different realm into the human psyche. This science fiction mask not only lets Yu tell clever stories that twist those of the original sci-fi masters, but also give the author free-range to hypothesize on the inward thoughts of him-self and all humans.
Stories like 'First Person Shooter' and 'Yeoman' honor the traditions of SF with spins on the classics. In these, Yu presents a self-conscious zombie woman preparing for a date, and a Star Trek-esque outer-space exploration team with a perverted old captain desperate to retire and live a happy life with his goo-lady lovers. While these stories interpret and examine the human experience in a strictly fictional way, Yu also adds a new technique to the SF genre.
By placing himself in his own stories, much like Vonnegut (with whom he has been compared), Yu explores his own thoughts and dreams. He uses the genre of science fiction as a mask to delve into the human possibilities that we wonder about daily. Stories like 'Standard Loneliness Package' lets readers contemplate the possibilities of paying someone else to feel their pain and grief, and 'Hero Absorbs Major Damage' makes them wonder if videogame characters have hopes and dreams and confusions just like we do.
But Yu re-introduces a technique that uses to make his readers really think about their lives. By leaving certain stories and moments open or un-ended, Yu forces his readers to look at their own un-ended lives. He does this in the more self-reflective stories such as 'Note to Self' and 'Inventory'.
In the story 'Note to Self' Yu explores the elements of a multiverse with a multitude of selves. At first he speaks to one self, and then the pages are flooded with a chat room of comments from a variety of speakers in different fonts. It ends with one calling the meeting to session and asking someone to start, leaving us to wonder what we would talk about if we could communicate with versions of ourselves from another world.
In 'Inventory' Yu speaks as the dream version of himself, "his hypothetical. His guinea pig… The stunt double for his philosophical train tracks." He ponders what it might be like to be the dream double, asking his readers to wonder if their dream doubles have thought and emotions just as we do. In the end he questions whether he is in a love story or not, but doesn’t answer that question. He leaves these stories open ended because that’s how life is – we never know if we are in a romance or a tragedy.
What would we do if there were a device that guaranteed all our wishes? What if you could sell and trade lives, or have someone else feel your grief? Should there be a manual on humanity? In Sorry Please Thank You, Yu forces us to ponder these questions while delighting us with somber and comical stories.
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