Sorry Please Thank You, a new collection of stories by How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe author Charles Yu, serves up lonesome tales in both science- and meta-fictional landscapes. Whether taken as projections of where we're headed, reflections on how things are, or simply the settings and structures Yu is most drawn to, the worlds we encounter are far from bright. I don't see these stories as warnings—they're more like compassionate takes on human longing and insecurity, regardless of where they fall on the space-time continuum—but I thought it'd be fun to pick out the suckiest aspects of Yu's alternate realities. Things we just might have to look forward to.
In exchange for feeling the worst kinds of pain, pain that people would rather pay someone else to feel for them, the hero of "Standard Loneliness Package" makes twelve dollars an hour. Twelve dollars an hour! Counting for inflation, by the time technology has figured out how to transfer emotion from one brain to the other, there's just no way twelve dollars an hour would be a liveable wage. But of course the corporation still makes millions. Ouch.
For both the employee of WorldMart and the zombie that waltzes through gussying up for a date in "First Person Shooter," having a little confidence seems to be a big problem. Not the megabox store the size of three city blocks, not that they work the graveyard shift or that they are a zombie (or that there is a zombie), but that they're both terrified of rejection.
Jobs Where You're Basically Signing Up to Die
If twelve dollars an hour to experience other people's anguish wasn't depressing enough, the story "Yoeman" invites us to imagine space jobs wherein promotion leads to inevitable and needless death. As soon as our hero "makes it" enough to take care of his expectant wife and soon-to-be child, he gets to be the one who's killed for no good reason. Or rather, killed because it's nice to have something noteworthy in the Captain's log. We all know how important logs are.
Have you ever wished you could live in a video game? Because it's so straight-forward and has lots of interesting graphics? Think again. In "Hero Absorbs Major Damage," the actual characters of video games question their right to be there and their readiness for the mission. No matter how good Jeff Bridges looks in the original Tron, you're kidding yourself if you think you get to leave your self-doubt in the real world.
Probably the saddest thing is that when we reach the end of the universe, and we've explored it countless times and the excitement has kind of worn off the old "discovery" thrill, there still won't be other people for everyone. Not everyone gets to love. Some people only get some goo they can dry-hump for all eternity, like our poor Captain from "Yoeman." Probably really quality goo though, on the outskirts.
To experience Yu's imaginings in action, check out this samplefrom Lightspeed. It might just make you appreciate the present.