The good news is that Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (one of my favorite meta-sci-fi novels of the past few years), has a new book of short stories. The bad news is that you have to wait until July to read it. And then some more good news: if you pre-order it now, it will arrive on your doorstep in a few months after you’ve had time to forget that you’ve read this review of it and the particulars about the stories. It’ll be this pleasant surprise, like a friend who stops by unexpectedly with a bunch of mind-bending tales to share. But unlike the drop-in guest you won’t have to make dinner plans or do extra laundry afterward.
The book is called Sorry Please Thank You, and it has 13 short stories. Some of them have appeared elsewhere before: for example, “First Person Shooter” was one that Yu wrote for GeekDad’s Zombie Week in 2010. “Standard Loneliness Package” first appeared on the Lightspeed Magazine site, and “The Book of Categories” was also included in the anthology Thackeray T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities.
I was a little disappointed that a story that he wrote for a Powell’s Books Blog, “Some Notes From a Freelance Protagonist,” was not included in the collection, but I guess I can always go back online and read it there. (Note: I just did. It’s great, but I guess maybe it’s a little short. It is, however, a great introduction to the sort of stories that Yu can tell, so go read that and then you can decide if you’d like Sorry Please Thank You.)
A little bit more about a few of the stories:
“Hero Absorbs Major Damage” is told from the point of view of the hero in a PC role-playing game, something World of Warcraft–ish. Although he’s the hero, he feels he’s kind of in that position by default, and isn’t really sure that he’s the best guy to be leading this group into their final battle. It’s an entertaining look at what it might be like to be a character inside a videogame who doesn’t really know he’s in a videogame.
“Human for Beginners” goes back into the realm of meta-fiction. The narrator of the story knows he is a character in a story written by Charles Yu. He’s trying to figure out, from the bits and pieces of the life that he gets to live, the various drafts of the story he experiences each time he wakes up, what the real Charles Yu is like. And that is a fascinating question, particularly for readers who come to feel that they really know a person based on their writing — if that writing is fiction, how much of the author’s reality can be gleaned from it?
One of the stories that had me laughing the most was “Yeoman,” told from the point of view of a redshirt. While “Star Trek” is never mentioned, it’ll be pretty clear to any geek where the inspiration comes from. It’s a daily journal from a guy who just got named yeoman for the away team, and he was excited about the promotion and the chance to get off the space ship with the bridge officers — until he realized that the yeoman always dies. So then he spends his week doing research about past missions and yeomen, and wondering if there is any way to avoid this seemingly inevitable fate.
As with all short story collections, some are better than others and it can be a little uneven in spots. Several of the stories in the book are moody and a bit depressing, actually, but it’s a type of story that Yu does quite well. Overall, I liked enough of the thirteen to recommend the book as a whole, though what I really want is another novel. Until then, I’ve got Sorry Please Thank You.
Heard enough? Now go order a copy, and then forget you read this, and at the end of July you’ll get a lovely surprise.
Wired: Great short stories that blur the line between genres; Star Trek fans will love “Yeoman.”
Tired: A few stories don’t quite do it for me; can be a bit of a downer.
Disclosure: GeekDad received an advance uncorrected proof for review.