An Introduction to Charles Yu

Even among my most avid reader friends, mentioning Charles Yu seems to bring a round of “what have you read lately?” to an abrupt halt. I almost always get blank stares back.

Which, really, is his own fault. His entire online platform exists of an Amazon author page (sans headshot) and a Twitter account (bio: freelance protagonist).

Yet this guy was named one of National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 (2007). And he writes some of the most original and hilarious speculative fiction I’ve ever read.

I suppose if we’re being completely honest, it’s possible Yu’s work is not for everyone. I do have a penchant for heavily stylized work, from Quentin Tarantino to Tahereh Mafi, and this is exactly why I love Yu so much. He’s the ultimate emo kid with a very postmodern, break-the-fourth-wall style of writing.

He is, perhaps, a speculative fiction author’s author.

But if you haven’t given him a try yet, I encourage you to do it—he’s guaranteed to stretch your imagination in new directions.

Here’s how to get started.

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How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

In How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, a time machine repairman spends his days literally saving people from themselves as they try to change their pasts. In his spare time, he tries to be a comfort to his mother and searches for his father, who disappeared mysteriously years earlier.

Very strange and sometimes hilarious things happen along the way. Also, occasionally, math, but if I can survive it, so can you.

How to Live Safely is Yu’s only novel. It’s the best introduction to his writing style—it helps to have a single, cohesive plot to cling to when things get weird.

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Sorry Please Thank You

Dare I say it, I loved Sorry Please Thank You, a short story collection, even more than Yu’s novel.

Yu’s protagonists tend to all be about the same basic archetype, which, I get the sense, ties closely to Yu’s personal identity. But the stories themselves are wildly varied and unique, from a  zombie shopping at Target in preparation for a date, to a conversation between the same self in several different alternate universes. Don’t ask, just read it.

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Third-Class Superhero

I haven’t read Third Class Superhero yet, but it promises to follow suit with more of Yu’s highly original imaginings and his trademark eccentricity. This is another short story collection, and the promo blurb promises a hero who must face the darkness in his heart, the author’s struggle to write his mother’s autobiography (you read that right), and a couple who live in a luxury car commercial, and get very angry when their vacation turns into a life insurance pitch.

If this sounds odd but also amusing, Yu’s your guy. Check him out, you won’t regret it.

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