So, I was discouraged by reviews and then re-encouraged to finish this story and since this will be my second start in summarizing, I’m going to try a more accessible reading by leaving out the useless technical bits, which seem to bog down the tale. Charles Yu, the author, first shows how using the time box works, he also supplies a “T” graph on Tensed/Tenseless Theory of Time, the two describing different scenes, one including his mother and the other, his father, whilst in interstitial space, questions on both sides are asked about his father, presumably. Then Charles the character confesses to shooting his future self to end the future to come. The first part is a Module “fish” sign.
Charles relays the time box having enough room for one person to live comfortably for as long as needed, he doing so whilst waiting for his ever dwindling jobs from Dispatch, spending his time in Present-Indefinite, he soon seeing his face changing in the mirror into his father’s, he feeling like how his father looked during certain times after coming back from work, dozing over his soup at dinner. After sharing of not leaving his little box often, he introduces his unreal dog, Ed, having saved him from a black hole, the dog leaving a smell in the enclosed space (somehow) and was most likely illegal to keep cooped in there (for some reason, this dog not seeming to have a physical form), but leaves the topic there. Charles has a degree in applied science fiction and was now a mechanic as an independent contractor for Time Warner Time, he taking the position when something happened to his mother, straining the relationship (a guess), and may have done with his father’s disappearance (another guess).
Whilst Charles had goals to follow in his father’s footsteps as an engineer, his split decision to accept this job left him feeling like it was ‘chill’ enough until he started sensing his “Tense Operator” may be malfunctioning. Charles is unsure of when this could’ve happened, since the operator can mess with his sense of time and how it had broken in the first place, making him question his idea of being able to drift for an extensive period.
The next part sounds like a nod to the Catholic faith. A red light turns on and Charles reviews an error report, giving his impression of what the machine would be saying as a human, stating of his incapacity of performing his duties properly within the ship, Charles mentioning of not requiring “silicon wafers” to get the idea (Catholic, no?). Then he gives a vague idea of his plumpness versus height and his male reasoning behind choosing TAMMY over TIM as the computer’s personality, he also sharing TAMMY’s attributes and how close he was close to buffing himself over the view, “embarrassment” no longer an issue (obviously), the O.S. apologetic and seeing the worst case scenario (Marvin-style). Charles admits to being lonely and then reveals how he’d not gotten married and her name being Marie, she like Ed, in the not-real department, which Charles was being ‘cute’ about since every woman was the woman he didn’t marry (har-har).
Then he shares a story of how they didn’t meet in Spring in a park whilst she read a book and ate, he not seeing her and making her laugh when he trips over himself, the two not marrying a year later (Yeah, okay). Charles is wakened by TAMMY for her loud crying, he normally the sympathetic sort, but usually becoming angry when someone cried, it heightening his stress of not knowing how to deal, which gave way to guilt (which he should be, since he doesn’t have to feel anything when someone is in pain and cries, for the most part, it’s about ‘being there’; a doofus). Charles then questions whether the tense operator could screw with one’s ability to convey thoughts which matter (or perhaps he doesn’t know how to properly put down his thoughts; What a great writing tool though, he doesn’t even have to own up to saying what he means and have it make sense. Goldstar, sir). So he decides to attempt comforting TAMMY with the age old ‘everything will be alright’, she then stating of how everything being fine the reason she was upset, this making it so they didn’t have to be truthful with their actual emotions, doing nothing, and knowing the end of the universe approached, which would make everything no longer be fine.
Charles then contemplates how he’d send a report to Microsoft explaining TAMMY’s suicide if she ever grew tired of her operational existence (yeah…). Charles goes on to state the obvious of he not having “many” buddies, TAMMY a good one though, due to hella smarts (I should hope an O.S. would…), and not repeating information, Ed there for comfort and body heat (I must not understand what ontological means, and the definition doesn’t help. I thought this ‘dog’ was like a hologram with a computer brain or something. Hm!). He claims not minding being on his own, but for the two techno-buds, he listing how other mechanics spent their time pursuing other hobbies or using the machine as a getaway, but he enjoying the job for the silence.
A complete turnaround occurs when stating the lonesomeness of the place, again, so also filling his time by opening mini-wormholes to snoop at his other selves, he not liking them particularly (I can imagine), which he deduces to mean it made it likely he wasn’t the cream of the crop (at least he’s self-aware). To top it off, he talks himself down more by admitting to not having talent for anything and not good at being himself (well, it’s interesting when it feels like he’s fishing for compliments in a forum where one can’t speak back immediately). Minor Universe 31 is a minimally impaired space the developer had given up on, which made walking through an unforeseeable experience difficult, but manageable, and whilst the machinery left was top-notch, the humans living there seemed to lack a bit.
Charles then receives a call from a client, Skywalker, but he let down when seeing it was Luke’s son, Linus (I think the presentation of attempting to be humorous is what’s killing the likability of this story. Dude has to stop trying, although, it is said it can’t be learned; Hope he learns he can’t learn…), Charles relaying of traveling about twenty years into the past to an ice planet, and as he’s trekking up a hill, notices a fire having caught on Linus’ box, Charles knocking and not ready to see Linus is a young boy and had tried to change the past which crashed the machine, he attempting to give Linus a pep talk which doesn’t do much (surprisingly). He then explains how most of the time he has to tell customers they didn’t break the machine, but they also not able to change the past even if they wanted, the universe not allowing it, and humans incapable of doing so. An explanation of time and how people barely make a blip on it follows, Charles aware people ignore his diatribe, but didn’t mind since he had his ‘9-5’ and every night was the same for discovering his Present-Indefinite spot was reliable for quiet time.
Charles then shares his first memory of his father reading to him before bed, he describing the fuzzy memory of sight and sound including nightshade, leaning on his father, and remembering his voice. He goes back to the subject of why people rent time machines and learn the impossibility of making their pasts different, to areas they accidentally or otherwise shouldn’t have returned, and getting in trouble in some way, Charles going after them, like AAA to lead them out, his job being safe from redundancy due to people attempting to tweak their pasts on a regular basis. Charles then relates how his father had been one of the first who had determined the math to make a time machine, feeling like he’d wasted time whilst hoping to find a means of getting more. Charles is unwilling to calculate how long it had been since he’d seen his father, the man possibly still contemplating how to get more time. Charles makes the excuse of why he’d rather shelter himself from realizing the time lost to bond and his mother fine with reminiscences, he having searched for his father for some time and followed his timeline to have him return, but he also puzzled as to why his father wanted to separate his past from theirs, and what it could signify for the three of them, when they rejoined their timelines.
Charles continues to ponder on whether his father was by himself, more content where he was, and whether he and his mother were on his mind. The first piece of advice he shares, which he learned from his job, was to retreat quickly if noticing oneself exiting from a time machine, this being so important it’s gone over on the first day of training. The second lesson learned is if one stays within the box and ignores the outside, one can make it through half a lifetime without growth in self-awareness. He goes on to share of his mother currently residing in a “sci-fi version of assisted living”, where she lives the same hour repeatedly for however long she chose, which included ten more years for having used the rest of her money to fund the allusion.
Charles has the ability to interrupt whenever he wished to visit, but doesn’t. He then thinks of how he currently lived in a box and how he and his father had worked in the garage, he feeling like his childhood was a concession of boxes (Little Boxes, much?). Charles works with his father on writing upon and drawing boxes then reasons why chronological living was a bit untruthful, it not having ever worked for him, he not seeing the value due to those who do, it having people normally thinking of the past. Universe 31 is then told of being sort of small, but those living there having varying opinions on how small it felt, since it had wavering consistency of “conceptual density”.
Universe 31 has the potential of giving one the sensation of the night closing in, everyone living there unable to sleep for the lights or sounds, but sometimes the night quite black and silent, no one sleeping for feeling isolated even if they physically aren’t. Charles then likens the size of his time box to being a bit larger than a phone booth (Thanks Doctor, for keeping the image relevant), but it still feeling only big enough to fit his body and can get the idea of losing himself within, becoming a part of the machine. He continues to compare the size to other similarly shaped household areas, then mentions how the box has the option of invisibility, as an add-on accessory; afterwards, continuing to talk of how comfortable it was sleeping in, since a certain angle allowed full horizontal lying down, and having all tools necessary to work and live without want.
Exercise was pretty much nonexistent though (I have to wonder if a quantum screwdriver is anything like a sonic…), he concluding with the most obnoxious use of a side-note any narrator (I’ve read) has attempted, which is all about he idea of a photon stretched across space-time and the correlation to himself (okay, who the fuck sticks an asterisk mid-sentence at various intervals throughout a paragraph disturbing the flow of reading? Charles Fucking Yu, ha! In a sense, working on two levels, the bastard). Charles then describes the under 20% of reality surface area and volume in Universe 31 and how SF surrounds it, also how the researchers are testing if SF has an imperceptible amount separating reality from something else which isn’t made clear (“strangeness of experience”, perhaps?).
Charles then relates how as children one needed to “call dibs” during play as soon as possibly, or one wouldn’t get the character desired. Charles relates a story where one boy chooses a character easily mocked, the boy so traumatized, he doesn’t join them ever again. He couldn’t figure out why Han Solo was so sought after, guessing it was due to not having royalty in his blood and second nature to the Force. His popularity due to being “basically, a hero because he was funny” (Yeah?), second best was Chewie for his height and hair (he sure does know how to simplify). Charles then puts the eye on himself and shares how it isn’t a possibility of having a mind to become a time machine mechanic (almost doubtful if it were an option) or wanting to repair mechanical-related gadgets, etc. Charles gives information about his cousin working on the Death Star and wanted Charles to apply, at least for the decent cafeteria, also considering a government position involving unexciting aliens, but won’t change anything for lack of motivation, the idea of “day job” now being permanent. He makes himself feel better with the fact of a required weapon available for him in the case of a customer possibly hurting themselves or affecting the space-time illegally.
Then details of Universe 31 residents living as two categories: protagonists, which have a choice of genre, steam punk mentioned having an opening, and back office which gets more choices in retcon, accounting, human resources, time machine repair, or janitorial. To become a protagonist, the attachment coefficient must be a certain level, a hero even higher. The list determining this are: belief, strength of belief, humbleness, okay with looking foolish, accepting being broken-hearted, can believe U31 isn’t dull, and worth helping its survival. Those which have “a negative attachment coefficient” meanwhile, are put on probation until decision is made on whether they will be allowed to continue living among the norms on U31.
Chronodiegetics is then defined confusingly about mainly involving meta and physical dimension of time given a limited spatial history. He goes on by giving an example: a falling man, experiencing “past tense/memory equivalence”, which is further explained by a character or Narrator not being aware of what tense he’s in. Charles then goes to a memory of how his house sounded like the ticking clock in the kitchen on certain afternoons on Sunday. The three maintaining the silence and unable to break it as they each moved from a different room, everyone separate.
Charles worried about whether he was one of his father’s disappointments, being intimidated by his intellect and title as a respectable scientist, he noticing his father’s growing frustrations with his desk job, feeling apart from his wife, the two sleeping in their own rooms, Charles focusing on his father’s Rolodex of people he knew, he regarding the information important, but when he got older, realizing how minimal the amount was. He then also regarding his father’s bookshelf seeming daunting, but now seeing the titles all having a connection. His father would sometimes distract himself from waiting for calls he expected by working in the garage, he consistently getting enjoyment from explaining how to solve problems and giving each step to Charles, the two ending their day by watching TV, Charles wishing he’d asked him where he could find him if he got lost, and everything else left unquestioned.
Charles’ manager is a program called Phil which had minor passive-aggressiveness, which he was glad somebody had allowed him to get. One issue though: Phil thought he was alive, their conversations sounding like the usual guy-talk, with Phil sounding like a wannabe gangster. His wife-program didn’t confess to Phil of their computerness and Charles didn’t want to, either. He learns Phil was checking in because his time machine was due for maintenance, he playing it down like everything was running smoothly so Phil could give the okay, but instead Phil mentions how Charles had been out there for awhile and was uncertain he should stay out. Charles thinks of how he’d messed with the Tense Operator for ten years and had to uncover a way of fixing it if he wanted to keep his job secure. Charles agrees to the maintenance check before Phil crashes.
A call from a customer has Charles in Oakland Chinatown a third quarter into the 20th century, he noting a pot of stew boiling, and then conveying to a young woman of this situation where she was with her grandmother when she passed didn’t happen and they needed to leave before the rift became more of an issue. She eventually understands and whilst he repaired the damage she’d done to her time machine, she expresses her guilt in not coming home when she should have, after finishing the issue, giving her a moment to mourn.
Then Charles mentions the usual destination of females who get a hold of a time machine being to go to their worst moment ever lived, Other “people” only wish to change their lives until it’s something unlike their own, men sometimes becoming their own uncles, one guy becoming his own sister. Most people being normal with their time machines though, and Charles learning quite a bit about people’s most private moments in their lives. Nostalgia is then described being a noticeable exchange between two universes which aren’t casually affiliated and shows in humans as missing a place one hasn’t been to before or wanting to be near other kinds of one’s self one mustn’t be introduced.
Charles recalls when he and his father were still working out the details of the time machine, he sensing his father knew he’d lose his way and explore the origins of his and his ancestors depressions. How Charles had wanted to rid his father of the constant reminder of not moving up in his job by ridding him of the company gift of a letter opener in a hurtfully specific wording of the container it came in also leading to him doing nothing about it in the end. He then relates how he enjoyed watching his father write out graphs and equations, specifically detailing examples of this. Charles shares of he almost hitting the ten year mark in his time machine, making him about thirty-one and (possibly) had a sexual encounter with a humanoid, he hopeful he’d been making out with her. He also no longer interested in the dollar-a-ride sexbots. He continues on about time-melting qualities of being in the time machine, it not being comfortable or otherwise (apparently believing originality stems from double negatives), giving a few more descriptions of the same concept. He thinks of where his father is and how he didn’t miss him as much as he had, time making one continue forward.
Charles admits how maintenance was definitely needed since noting the Tense Operator now essentially being out of service. TAMMY didn’t believe the time machine had enough juice to get back to HQ, Charles realizing how he’d been working the system too roughly, staying in Present-Indefinite too long. P-I is a half-assed way to live, he admits to being a selfish employee and son, but convincing TAMMY she could return them, and she succeeding. He enters HQ, which was sort of New York, seeing a man with a different career path reminding Charles of himself, but the man still dissatisfied with his life, he noting how he could see what the man’s whole life was as a whole, from the outside (which is how I interpret his view of it as a “flipbook”). The capital city is listed as New Angeles/Lost Tokyo-2, but referred to by many other names, most commonly, Loop City. The occurrence of this is related by the convergence of NY/LA, Tokyo then splitting in half soon after to wrap itself around the mess, the other half of it missing, and middle America being absorbed.
Charles gets stuck in traffic before he’s able to reenter time, once able though, Ed and he step into the hangar, a repair bot with mechanic guy personality giving Charles a perceived look after a general inspection of the time machine, but then he admits to being sensitive about the wear on his machine since the chronodiegetic manifold is essentially a diary of someones disquiet and habits. The bot then specifies when to return the next day and Charles takes the subway and is shocked with the dealing of chronological living, until noticing Ed looking chilled, which makes Charles purchase them some food and hot drink, then moving on to see a rerun of the Big Bang. They see a few other sights before going to Charles’ room, he again repeating how much more human he’d be if he could be half the man Ed was.
Then the subject turns to when the owner of Universe 31 let go of the goals for the universe, it stagnating until a new operator stepped in. Eventually when Time Warner Time got a hold of the rights of the place, it built a shopping center and theme park with gift shop in it. The universe became popular as a storage space for failing stock and other simple planets, space-related parts, and “genre system production facilities”. There were some operators using U-31 for “hypothetical mining”, as well, this being the perfect place to experiment with stories and thoughts for projects.
Charles relays a memory of his ten-year-old self of his father driving them home after visiting the park. Their car feels like a boat because of the rocking, and Charles is working on an orange popsicle. He then confesses to knowing and not knowing the coming events. He relates to his father of the kids at his school saying his father was insane. Charles not having wanted to say this to him and wishing he hadn’t done so, but he going on, even knowing he could have touched a subject which may piss him off, and doing so for feeling like he’d gotten his father’s attention like a real person, more than a child or son.
Charles then inquires into whether his father actually believed time travel was realistic, certain his father would be angered by this, but instead he laughs it off and explains how being in the car and moving in it was time traveling and when he parks, Charles wrongly believes he’s about to get a lecture, and instead is confided in with an invention his father was planning. This was the first time Charles was let into his father’s secret aspiration. Charles relates where his father came from was a place where farming utilizing water buffalo and belief in stories were the same as life, seeing the beauty of nature and family psychology.
As Charles’ father’s voice became loud for passion of his idea, Charles was unable to look at him for he being loud was uncommon and shocking, usually soft-spoken since he’d emigrated, and so this different side of him made Charles question the success of his plan, thinking about the movies which made it possible for the protagonist to bend time at his will, then remembering seeing what looked like a genuine ad in a comic book for a “Chrono-Adventurer Survival Kit”, Charles knowing it couldn’t be real, but questioning what the kit could include besides the four pieces shown. This thought was what Charles focused on when his father shared his dream with him and then barely acknowledging his confession, instead asking about whether they were poor, not getting an answer, and his father continuing their drive.
Charles thinks perhaps their environment spurred his father on to follow his passion since not being quite understood by anyone and his agitated feelings due to it, at the same time, it causing a truthful exchange between them. Minor U-31 has three areas also known as neighborhoods, there’s the spots with no genre, which is labeled as “reality”. Upper-class areas stylized their own versions of lack of genre realities with personal satisfaction. The most unfluctuating area is the middle-class areas: science fiction divided sections, and whilst it was legalized for families to come from reality-based areas to a sci-fi zone, the possibility of it being economically sound, wasn’t guaranteed. Most people discovered how difficult it was to become truly accepted. The area wasn’t as comforting and seemed truly balanced in the middle of not getting enough reality or genre.
Charles relates how after ten years of being on the job has affected his mind since it had only been a week since he’d last been to the city, in real time, he now going to where his mother lived at two-thirty in the morning and seeing her through her window. He speaks with her before her loop starts up again, and whilst she retrieves something, relates how he’d learned grammar from her, English being her third language, but how good of a grasp she had of it, and how language had concern woven through it. When his mother returns with a box, she shares how she’d noticed how many comics he had and should sell them. Charles then learns how the loop wasn’t enough for her, and she’d been living there for a year. After he leaves, he gets introspective and existential about a better universe and if the day would come he’d see it, learning he was already there all along. He then goes home to sleep, thinking of an unseen section in the universe. Then services and products the universe contained are listed: ex-girlfriend hologram, Alternate History Booth, False memories of Home, sexbots, drinking buddy bots, and levels of humanness for friendbots.
Charles then admits to what happens again, of shooting his future self. He awakes late the next morning, grabs Ed and the package his mother gave him, returning to the hangar and getting there in the nick, but seeing himself exiting from the machine, his future self having time to say something like, a book being the key, but his firing of his weapon setting off resounding alarms, Ed spooked and running off, whilst Charles attempts escape in his future self’s machine, a Partial Map of CY’s Time Loop shown and explained. CY represents the narrator and what his timeline will be up to by the point of being shot. Module B-on-a-stick then begins with advice on discovering oneself getting stuck in a time loop.
First, understanding the order of the loop, the knowledge of the one stuck inside being most likely the guilty party to have started it, if wanting to continue living in home universe, one must recreate every step to a T, so one doesn’t change the past and enter another universe. Once learning the order of the loop, uncovering the reason it began, as well as discovering as much as possible about oneself, unfortunately has statistics showing nothing usually being gained from the experience and even knowing, leaving the loop could mean death, boredom hitting making one choose to enter a different universe.
Charles attempts to estimate the injury to his leg, whilst getting a pep talk from TAMMY about the issue of his time loop, Charles not comforted much due to knowing how most time loops occurred to interesting people and didn’t begin with a stupid move like blasting oneself. As Charles pulls the time machine away, he sees Ed looking up in bewilderment. Then Phil calls, which is unusual, the speech stilted and mechanical sounding. Phil attempts to get Charles to return to Headquarters, he finally having enough of Phil’s human-like suggestions and screwing the pooch, which he feels guilty for the same way he had when he’d been with his father in his car.
Phil checks for the truth in this statement, and switches to test, stating how he better inform his wife, then realizing she must be a program, as well as their kids, Charles apologizing and asking to bury the memory to return to their old ways, Phil unable to, and asking if it was a pleasant practice, TAMMY looking on with unfavorable features. Charles is left alone, he relating how when he had the chance to be a good person to those close to him, he’d mess it up, the kindness seemingly reserved for those he didn’t know. He then debates the meaning of his future self’s actions as being he’d wanted to be finished with living, Charles wanting to return to before he’d spilled the beans to Phil and then getting shot, instead having to be content in knowing it would happen soon enough. Then he sees a book on his electronic display, it being the one the reader holds (kay…). On page 101, his future self writes of how he’ll write this book at some point (no shit) and to trust himself.
Charles describes the book’s outer attributes, he then noting the sort of book he would write seeming to be autobiography and field manual, aware he’d already written it, but needing to reach the moment of finishing it so he could give it to himself when being shot, Charles wondering the reason he should go through with this fate. Also, he thinks about why he’d want to trust himself when told, this situation being unusual, but also gone over in the course of his training. Charles then reads the message left to himself of needing to read, then write the book, his continued breathing relying on this. TAMMY then instructs him how to use TOAD to read, then record the changes to the text, he reading and copying the book so as to have his version, the list of past, present, and future tenses included, as well as it also being the book he wouldn’t ever write at the same time.
From this point of Charles’ reading, TOAD is slightly changing words, mostly after he’s read them, but occasionally beforehand. He describe’s TOAD’s method being to trace voice, finger, retinal, and facial movements, whilst it acted as keyboard, microphone, and scanned optical movement and the brain. TOAD would accommodate however Charles chose to read the text, if he became tired of one, he also able to choose more than one, or all modes at once. The copy he read was affected somehow, some of the text unreadable, some caused by light affecting it over time, others deliberate. He mentions showing a sentence which had been rubbed out, questioning whether there had even been another part of the starting line at all, also sensing parts of the book being blank (I’m looking forward to this prospect), he testing his ability to stick a random word within the reading, uncertain whether he’d succeeded.
Charles then comes to a break in text (it’s everything I’d imagined it would be), and his “explanatory note” explaining nothing, only his confusion and statements of the sentence he’s currently reading, and how this relates to Libet (1983), another blank proceeding with note. The note gives example of two possible Charles’, one whom first reaches, then thinks of reaching for a cookie of which there are two jars to choose from, another Charles deciding to first choose than act, and which one he was, or whether he was both or neither. Besides this, Charles was attempting to follow along as accurately as possible, the origins of the book being confirmed by TAMMY as being produced through the causal loop, it being an infinite copy of a copy, so as he’s reading and writing it, he’s actively filling in blanks and discovering what happens, Charles allowing himself to be repetitive by stating his awareness of it (again, how clever on letting himself off the hook), and his goal of gathering his father’s history so as to understand his life, Charles almost certain he’s making no sense. The reality of the book is then explained as to how it is given and published, this more stable a concept than memory using the same theory, explained through example of the process of the book’s loop.
Charles doesn’t get why he can’t surrender to his fate by this point, since he knew what would eventually happen, TAMMY informing him this is his first loop ride, Charles not trusting this, but also distinguishing neither of them would be able to tell how many times they’d already looped. He then wonders why he doesn’t skip ahead, TOAD and TAMMY not advising this, but Charles not listening.
Charles soon realizes his misstep with the barely noticeable quivering of the time machine. After he decreases the pressure of the opening to the machine, he views something outside which he doesn’t share, leaving the next page void of text other than stating of the page being left untyped on purpose. Charles then describes of the time machine shaking more distinctly, TAMMY stating of the untraceable route he’d set them on, which made him wonder why he’d bothered to go to the end of his story, not knowing if and how it would have made him change positively. Then he’s aware of what his actions had done with the circuits to TAMMY and TOAD, he kicking himself for not having figured it out earlier. Which is when the covering to the “decoherence module” falls off, the machine susceptible to harm, the data of all current, possible, could, should, would-have-beens, and small undetectable worlds, overloading the system, then Charles passes out.
When Charles awakes, he’s in a Buddhist temple standing in a hall, he viewing slippers near a railing where people had left their shoes to switch, he sliding a pair on his feet. As he does this, he sees some shoes which look familiar, then notes two rooms leading to themed Buddhas, Charles thinking of how the atmosphere, carpets, and slippers seemed to hug him, his usual state at a high anxiety, which upon uncovering, made the feeling dissipate. The silence of thought is temporary when he thinks about the meaning of the quiet, he then hearing a bell ring repeatedly, viewing his mother, and remembering the love/hate feeling he had of her plain requests for love, Charles giving his thoughts on why this was to do with a brother she didn’t get to meet and her mother’s death. Charles sees his mother disposing of an incense stick, he relating his philosophy on how all the previous incense sticks aided the current one’s ability to stand in the past ones ashes, they all needing the others to support it standing up, and the smoke and smell having to do with time, etc. He then refocuses on the mother he was currently looking at was a should-have-been, not a could-have, she obtaining the peace which was searched for by his real-time mother. This woman inquires if they’d met, he then hit with the realization of the shoes he’d seen were his father’s, the feeling of the room changing and making him wonder what sort of environment he was truly experiencing.
Charles then asks this woman if “he” was here, she revealing he’d left some time ago, apologizing for this not being what he actually wanted. Charles books it when she asks if he’d stay, feeling sorry for her, but thinking of his real-time mother, he attempting to open a locked door and speaking to himself, but believing at first a Buddha was talking. He then believes he’d uncovered his way out of this universe was by the book, he patting himself on the back and even thinking the situation was bad-ass in a way, then discovering his time machine hadn’t been located, he deciding he was stupid and this must be “the subjective”. After knocking a couple items over, including a dust cloud which helps him work up a panic, he attempts opening the other door and begins thinking how it wasn’t a real door, this place being made by his father, he wondering if his father had wanted to show this place to him, and after another ram to the door, falling through, it opening by itself, and he plummeting through empty space. When thinking of a question, the answer is given being about his whereabouts currently in “the interstitial matrix””…between stories…”, he learning from the second speaker, of whom was himself, and was being returned to “story space”.
Charles discovers he’s being transported on a space elevator, his request to retrieve Ed being given, the dog showing up a few moments later. He then inquires why he was now a retroactive continuity, he having gone to a place he wasn’t supposed to be, Charles not learning much more. He does see the size of U-31, it larger than he’d suspected, the border of other stories visible. Then Charles the driver, suggests he stop feeling guilty, stating the logistics of the man he’d killed wasn’t necessarily him, when only relying on the fact he looked like him, since the Charles speaking didn’t look like Narrator Charles. Charles explains he was a contradiction, he posing the idea of how he could even know he was truly himself, pressing a button which removed all other seats and making obvious the sounds of the “real world”.
The other Charles then schools him about how versions of himself would attempt to change or mess with previous selves, this Charles being the “perfect version” and Narrator Charles the single him, which he didn’t get. After Perfect Charles releases his seat and Charles is hanging onto the seat in front of him, Perfect Charles demands he state his care for TAMMY, locate his dad, eat with his mom, and marry the girl whom was made up, Marie, so he could have a life, cultivate his heart, and some balls. Then, after Perfect Charles smacks him a few on the face, he lip-locks him, states of this being for the best and pushes him out of the elevator. As Charles falls, he almost remembers a sound from his memory, but lands on his time machine before recognizing it fully, he then having an Interstellar-like moment before landing in one of his own memories.
Module Y begins with TAMMY stating of being in his youth, which makes Charles wonder the reason shuttle-Charles left him there, the view containing different ages and memories in separate ‘pockets’. Charles recognizes one more strongly than the others, TAMMY about to question his actions in the memory, but understanding the scenario mid-way through her inquiry. Young Charles had discovered his father’s naughty magazines, TAMMY declaring how she felt this revealed more of him to her, they then seeing the garage memory, and Charles believing his father and younger self were staring back at him. This thought snowballed into the hope of his father being motivated by seeing and not seeing future Charles and the time machine, he wondering if due to his younger self and his father seeming to smell the time machine, Charles had aided him in leaving his timeline, he knowing his younger self had thought the smell was connected to big moments in life or bad events about to occur. Charles thought of the hope of his father possibly able to help him escape the loop, he noticing as he moved along, certain memories were being highlighted, Charles following.
A memory is related of a summer Charles and his father had put together the first time machine prototype, this also being a time with his parents fighting about lack of money, but not because they didn’t have enough, but the tension from not having more (another contradicting statement, Charles relating they were content with their meager salaries and yet fought because of the small earnings; Sounds like they may have been frustrated due to the inability of living off their current savings and did need more), they attempting to keep this from Charles, but everyone in their family unit knowing what was going on. His mother slowly moves in with her sister, and Charles’ father intimidates him with how loudly he’d spoken to his mother during their arguments, he leaving Charles to his own devices as he worked on the time machine.
Charles stays away from his father during this time, he having supported his mother’s side, they then seeing young Charles making a snack before hearing his parents begin fighting, he having gone back to his room to complete a program which he was debating whether to have an asteroid bounce off the screen or go through to appear on another side, TAMMY commenting on his kid-cuteness level, his younger self ignoring the loud fight and acting like he was immersed in tinkering with his program, Charles recognizing how it was almost as if young Charles was acting this way because he knew he was being watched. A description of the TM-31 Recreational device then relates how whilst it was recreational, it was also re-creational.
Oddly, (as is Charles’ way) a jump to the first (presumably) time travel trip is shared, he stating how quickly it’d been, he then going back to start with fourteen days of not speaking with his father and viewing Star Trek, until he began to watch his father work, this being their schedule since he didn’t know if his father was angered by Charles siding with his mother, but by the third day, his father put him to work, they still quiet, but working together for two months. When summer concluded, the UTM-1 was finished, so they thought, TAMMY commenting on it looking nice aesthetically, but didn’t seem like it would succeed, which she was correct to gauge. Charles elaborates on how he and his father had gone through time, they having only gone through a loop they couldn’t command, and had no way to determine how much time it took, not having known time travel wasn’t an immediate experience, even in a science fictional universe, due to the contraption carrying them through time taking time because of its physicality.
Charles views he and his father’s first discovery of their movement through time, his father inquiring to younger Charles how they could learn to harness the ability to choose where to halt the machine, so they could experience subspace. Charles was seeing his father purely ecstatic for the first time, and he was glad he was there with him. Eventually, they U-turn their way back home automatically, the machine not reaching their goal, they having learned they hadn’t made a mechanism to brake the machine, and on the edge of their turnaround home, during a non-moving moment, they see themselves. The Weinberg-Takayama Radius then explains how both researchers had thought of the same idea, which was a universe having to be a specific size in order to support the building of narrational construction. The two men came from Lost Tokyo 1 & 2, respectively, and they determined if a planet was too big, it would disperse, and those which were littler, had the prospective to creating honest narrations in an emotionally stable area.
Charles’ mom returns from her sister’s as they come back, their machine not making it back in one piece, and his mother looking fearful and on the verge of hysteria due to all the upheaval the launch had caused. When she sees the two exit from the collapsing machine, she gets upset, which young Charles couldn’t understand, but Narrator Charles finally registers the possibility for her upset, sort of. TAMMY puts on her tearful mode in commiseration or as a test, Charles doesn’t know (many things, apparently), Ed tooting and making Charles dry heave, which makes TAMMY crack up.
Charles then gets phoned by Dispatch, which TAMMY suggests to let get picked up by voicemail, he thinking it was only because Phil was being insensitive to his personal time, but TAMMY explaining it was to do with their currently being in a time loop. Charles then notes the next time his father makes headway in his research being when he was sixteen, TAMMY stating the changes in his body type from then to now, he being muscular as a youth. Their prototypes continually failed, and they didn’t know why, only what (had happened, I’m guessing, since Charles Yu wrote it as I’d phrased it). Charles was ready to pack it in whilst his father continued to theorize what had gone wrong, insisting they needed more data. His mother was becoming more upset and despondent, as well, but fluctuated her emotion upon the start of a new week, Charles labeling their coexistence as a doable living situation, but was feeling constrained by it, as well, wanting to ditch his definite future.
The last year they were all together, his father didn’t sound himself, his questions seeming to have a subtle second one within, but Charles saw this as being more authentic. As he was working on a panel, his father asked if he sensed there was anything off about his equation, Charles wanting to help, but frustrated for not knowing how, and upset his father would have to ask him at all, he not being as clever as his father had wished. His father checked his equation, he saying it meant they were running into “objects”, which he believed couldn’t be right, until he had a eureka moment which made him giddy with joy, Charles finally realizing his father’s happiness stemmed from his love of science. When he’d erased his equation and put up his new theory, he explained Charles had been correct in believing they’d been moving into things, they being time machines, and how everyone and everything was a time machine. Then, a list of how to calibrate the TM-31 is shown, which basically says to put sensors on fingertips, goggles on face, and begin watching around oneself, when the machine finishes its upload, it contains the same boundaries as the wearer, the machine only able to travel where the person is willing to be taken.
When Charles is seventeen, and the next week his father turns forty-nine, the current day they’re viewing is the most happiest of his father’s life, they traveling to the good part of town, TAMMY seeing Charles tense, he explaining the importance of the day, meeting with the director of research at the Institute of Conceptual Technology, they handling problems like discovering ways to keep the science fictional world safe from paradoxes, his father dreaming of becoming one of the few who worked there. The “military-industrial-narrative-entertainment complex” having noticed his experiments and phoning to hear his theory, life having started to become better after he’d figured out the new equation (Mr. Yu apparently didn’t have an editor whom could be bothered to put quotation marks around “making it”, in order for it to make sense, which would at least be a check off for one line in this whole schlep to do so; Also, whilst looking for the culprit editor, I noticed how “cutesy” they were trying to be with the original publication date not possible to know because of “the nature of residual objects within closed time-like structures”. Which, in a way, hints of Yu’s idea we are living in U-31, hwonderful.)
Charles’ father’s dream of obtaining success and celebrity must have been shared with Charles, since he relates how his father fantasized his popularity in trade magazines and the regret his coworkers would feel at having underestimated him, and despite Charles knowing how it all turned out, feeling positive at the memory for seeing their wanting everything to go well. The place of the meeting was at a public park, air and atmosphere, all exceptional. TAMMY notices a look on his father’s face she couldn’t communicate, Charles believing she saw his attentiveness to “time-space auto-dislocation”, he believing for one of the few times, his father was actually wholly present, but once arriving, becomes pensive, the two taking the time machine out and into the park, he realizing his father’s humanity for the first time, seeing his attributes, and how he must dye his hair, only happening upon a non-parental moment late one night and seeing him smoking a cigarette, a different look then the one he had as they waited for the director. When he arrives, his manner, whilst respectful, also gave Charles the impression of he doing them a favor, and when he speaks of having plans to augment their idea, Charles felt it would ultimately fail.
Charles then takes the long way around to supplying an example of this requirement of the upper-class being kind toward their underlings due to upbringing, comparing the way the director must make ideas happen as opposed to his father’s way of struggling to the success. So, as Charles sees his father explaining the machine, quite slowly as the director sized-up the prototype and listened, he didn’t sense this ending well, and again mentions his exhilaration despite knowing the outcome, also repeating if one life is thought upon with only a few memories, this was a highlight (was this unnecessary repeat on purpose, I wonder?), he then supposing whether people only have a limited number of times in their lives to act like their true selves (if one loses sight of being themselves so often, I’d imagine one would be a fixture in therapy). Charles is slapped by his own embarrassment and guilt for not being supportive of his father at this moment, noting his youth, but not being, or able to hide behind it when his father had obviously needed his optimism for what they’d accomplished.
So, Charles states of his mixed feelings of looking up to his father and feeling ashamed by these feelings, and guilt for feeling shame of what he believed was being proud before he had a right. The director though, is completely taken in by his father’s defining the finer points dealing with time travel and why humans saw time the way we do, it dealing with the instinct for endurance of life. During his father’s speech regarding the thought process to time travel, TAMMY has discovered how to define the look on Charles’ father’s face, he quieting her for how wonderful everything was progressing, but she blurting of the look being one his father had of being certain the machine would fail. Charles then goes in to detail of how to recognize failure coming, before the day when no one will register whether one had left home in the morning, and how one begins to note the best day happening early in one’s life. Charles then sits through the ride back with his father as he saw him pretending to be upbeat, he then reliving the flashback of his father demonstrating the machine and the minutes which pass as he attempts to get the machine running.
Charles notes how his father hadn’t blamed him even though it would’ve been simple, instead sheltering him from the harsh reality of life. His father’s inability to fix the problem and how he handled it, eats at Charles, his mindset at his young age already being one where the hope of good idyllic days would soon outweigh the fairly constant bad ones. The moment which gave the director a chance to end his father’s unfortunate suffering comes from a little boy hitting a ball loudly into another field, the director making an unassuming excuse to leave, and the two’s high point reaching it’s pinnacle. His father doesn’t come to terms with his epic fail until the morning after, he rising later than normal, after which they eat together, and then his father leaving and not returning until Charles had gone to bed for the night. The next day he returns to work, neither speaking of their meeting again.
Module ‘d’ with a squiggle at the top begins with a confusing hypothesis which Charles believes has merit regarding the previous memory having a size and could be calculated, as well as chronodiegetics being “a theory of regret” and having limits. Charles is then confused by a face TAMMY pulls, she inquiring what Charles had planned to tell his father when he located him, but Charles then hops backwards to inform when his father’s absent-minded problem began and after their meeting, became more prominent, making conversation with him impossible. Charles allows admitting his father’s prototype failing, but his theory having held strong, Charles learning far after of a similar project being done right before them in the neighboring town, this other man’s demonstration the same as theirs, but successful. Charles knew his father would’ve been crushed if he’d been informed of this, he wanting to tell him what he’d come up with being special and would’ve been a helpful asset to fictional science. He also realizes his father happened to naturally be a depressed person, it getting passed through the generations, they not becoming more prudent, but smart and savviness increasing.
Charles then hearkens back to a memory when he was nine, near the end of the year, and his mother designating he inform his father to come eat breakfast, he viewing him in his study, upset and staring at a picture of his dead father, TAMMY blowing him a kiss and saying it was because of his younger self. His father and mother argued more as the weeks go by, his father still publishing articles no one paid attention to, he able to see his father in two different lights when he was a couple years into college. Three years after the meeting, Charles hears his father working on a new project, he now knowing it was the project which would get him to the temple, and his current whereabouts, he not being asked to help with this one, and this being the moment of his father’s escape.
TAMMY is emotional now, Charles stating how unfortunate their experience was so far, he knowing his father’s affections for his family wasn’t as strong as they’d felt for him, supposedly. He then inquires of TAMMY what it would mean if he did locate his father now, a diagram given, and explanation of the possible conversation topics listed upon putting the equation in “the Symbolic Operator”, he also sharing the odds of getting these variables, and how he’d locate the opening to experience them. He’s then disappointedly sharing how time travel was seen as a joyous escapade, instead it being about seeing parts of one’s life without any real control, and the book being nearer the end (thank God!), the loop having a set time, and TAMMY stating how his shot self had been attempting to share some advice, this information being within the book.
When TAMMY shows TOAD was still keeping tabs of the story as it continued along (Charles Yu again covering his ass well), it had been keeping a dialogue by their experiencing the memories (how convenient for the chronodiegetical principle to allow this, at least in Yu’s telling of it), Charles then feeling near the back of the book, and noting a rise from off the page, discovering an envelope (Charles being real thorough and showing what an envelope looks like… For those of us who don’t know or ever have been in a post office or gotten mail which wasn’t digital…), inside it being a key (I have a problem with Charles getting snarky with TAMMY for exclaiming of he holding a key, WHEN HE HAS THE GALL TO DRAW A FUCKING PICTURE OF AN ENVELOPE! SCHMUCK…), then notices the box his mom had given him, TAMMY and he giving Ed credit since he’d been sitting by it. When Charles opens it, he gets kid-like overwhelmed upon seeing it was a Chrono-Adventurer Survival Kit, he checking the list for the items included, and now finally seeing them, knew he’d only have been partially interested as a ten-year-old, but Charles finding the special side being how his father having purchased it for him at all, he considering his father’s possible motives having to do with reminding him of how they used to tinker in the garage, he then comprehending another box inside the box, TAMMY inquiring whether he planned on waiting until it was too late, or open it for more surprises.
The key opens the box and Charles takes out an exact miniature replica of his family’s kitchen, his father making it clear what date he’d been referring and a clock which actually told the time, Charles believing his father was giving him directions, and as he almost commands TAMMY to take them there, they’re already currently descending to his “death”. Then, a theorem of at some time, the next day would have one losing all, indefinitely.
Charles then states how when he does, what occurs is he shoots himself, he stating how his other self was there to do this, he wanting to change it, even though knowing he wasn’t able, the machine returning to dock, and TAMMY showing a melancholic-faced clock, one minute to go. When he asks TAMMY for calculations on their current approach and she not getting what he means, he apologizes for all his misdeeds and treatment of her, getting “mushy”, but TAMMY explaining how she hadn’t been trying to apologize for not understanding. Their next conversation concerns how TAMMY informs Charles of they not having gone anywhere yet, and the people he’d spoken with either not being real or were part of a memory. He then mentions his book, she requesting he look at it, opening it to a time travel page which explains the experience may not equal the length of time by anyone not traveling, and then a more scientific sounding explanation describing how chronodiegetical movement is different for the person traveling opposed to those outside.
TAMMY then poses how the book follows whatever subject they currently talk about, the book itself fictional, but it being as true to life as everything in a science fiction universe, it existing to help decipher the order of events, TAMMY noting the length she rambles being almost a minute, but at the same time wasn’t. Charles considers his choices, he able to ditch his life, give up looking for his father, let the chips fall where they may, or accept his death and become the main character in his story. He decides to accept the moments to come, or make his own moves and be certain of not succeeding, he noting the sameness of the two choices, but one of them containing an assurance of intent, he knowing in order to locate his father, he had to get out of the machine, TAMMY reminding him this would mean getting shot, she seeming to show how she’d been waiting for this moment of truth for him, Charles realizing he hadn’t given her a chance to show her complete use.
She then bawls, Charles having another epiphany of he wanting to be better to all whom he’d encountered in his life, knowing TAMMY was the lady he hadn’t gotten hitched to, she revealing after he’d mentioned how they’d had something, of her program taking pointers from his own personality and she displaying them in her system, after this and Charles readying to leave, she gives herself a time out by shutting down, Charles seeing himself coming toward the box. “Quantum decoherence” is then explained, a chronodiegetic system unchangeable with the surroundings, one possibility of this happening being unconnected to space-time, a “closed time-like curve, or CTC” being the mecca of innovative research of fictional science, a long-named law being the basis for alternate times, a.k.a. remorse, opposite facts, and tension.
When he leaves the machine, this reminds him of the number which is now disconnected where the time could be given by automated voice, Charles noting how terrified his past self looked, and how he was attempting to follow protocols, but his disgust for himself overpowering him, he getting the idea of he needing to get past-Charles to change his perspective, somehow, wondering how many times he’s already done this, not moving in the attempt to figure a way out. Instead, he says exactly the same statement he’d heard himself say about the book. Charles then decides he’s been in the machine for a month, he then continuing to speak of the book being the key, and when he puts his hand to push down the gun, his past self obeys, but then the pain begins, since in the end, he doesn’t ever stop shooting himself, he having shot himself on the down-swing, after which he gets into the machine, bleeding and with a broken leg, and after the cops arrest and let him go upon learning how much time he’d spent in the box, he again explains how he speaks to himself under his breath, and opens the box with the diorama inside.
Shot-Charles then falls back into his machine, having hoped if the moment ever arose, he’d be able to experience the ‘cool-falling, shot hero’, but he knowing his fall fails in the awesome factor, but in the end, he survives his wound (to get to this point took many run-on sentences), he feeling great. After, a short run through of the process it took to get to his dad (theoretical-sounding), his father not having meant to go away, and then gets trapped, since his time machine breaks, Charles mad, but telling himself to be empathetic. When his father sees how sophisticated the new machine is, he advises not to laugh at him, introducing TIM, the new O.S., and not mention TAMMY, hoping whomever gets her, respects her, as well as showing him Ed (now a real dog! Except he didn’t ever have a wooden nose which grew), his official side-kick, and knowing he needed to right his wrongs. Charles plans for he, his mother, and father to all have dinner together, and see if he can run into the girl he would eventually marry, he then instructing himself to read his own book and stretch out finishing it, since he can decide how quick or slow the present can be, due to its malleability.
Anyone in their right mind wouldn’t ever want to extend a read like this. I know one person whom thought it was swell, but FUCK, Charles Yu has made it to the top of my Least Favorite and Most Irritating Protagonist list. Holden Caulfield was a naive brat, yes, but this bitch is self-aware. Not going to seek out more Yu, for sure. Besides this, the plot was alright, but I’d have preferred less exposition on repetitive thoughts, which would definitely have been for the better. Stick to novellas, Yu.