I recently finished reading the book How to Survive in a Science Fictional Universe. This is an interesting book, both in its unusual style but also in its strange plotting and subject matter. The book is a lot easier to read if you don’t try too hard to understand what is going on and how things work in the world that the author creates.
The book takes place in world which is literally fiction, even from the viewpoint of the characters. Science in this world is based on story-lines and expressed in terms of human emotions. This is interesting but is not deeply important to the story. It would seem to be more a stylistic choice on the part of the author, except for that moment in the story where the protagonist describes how the concept of time travel (which is an integral part of the story,) works in a science fictional universe.
You see, time travel in a science fictional universe is a product of our own minds. We can travel to our pasts and relive them over and over again, or we can travel to one of our many possible futures and see what life could be like for us in the future. Whilst time travel is meant for people to have adventures, it seems that people invariably use it to revisit their worst mistakes, their greatest tragedies and to relive the worst days of their lives. They would like to change these things but that is impossible; time travel doesn’t work that way. They can merely relive these moments painfully again and again, or possibly skip to another universe where they never happened, abandoning everyone and everything they’ve ever known.
If you’re gathering that this book is less an example of speculative fiction and more an metaphorical morality tale, then you’re right, it is. The moral appears to be one about living in the moment and accepting what one cannot change as opposed to dwelling on the past or what might have been. It makes this point repeatedly, sometimes wittily and sometimes heart-wrenchingly, and always poignantly. I’d recommend the book if it weren’t for the fact that I could not follow the logic of the plot or how the time travel machine worked at all. (To be fair, the author had a reason to deviate from the rules time travel usually follows in books which feature it, but it was never clear to me how his rules were supposed to work. I’m not even sure if the book even meant to establish any rules at all, which suited the theme of the book, but made the plot seem totally random.)
This book struck me, because I believe I have a greater problem than most when it comes to living in the moment. The moment is so often is boring or tedious and sometime I feel that my best years are behind me (which is a sad thought seeing how young I am :)) That leads to dwelling, on mistakes and possibilities, but dwelling make it hard to move on. It’s something I realized long ago but find difficult to live: that living and working in the moment allows one to build one’s future. If you spend your time fretting about missed opportunities, you are guaranteed to miss future opportunities as well. Life isn’t over till you’re dead and there is still quite a bit to enjoy yet.
(I think that this is a little different from the actual message of the book, but it’s not the bible, so sue me.)