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Discussion questions for How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe:
First off, a definition (from Identities & Issues in Literacture, Sept 1997) of metafiction:
“Metafiction, a work of fiction concerned with the nature of fiction, is a running theme in much postmodern literature. Metafictional literature allows the artist to relinquish control of the narrative to chance configurations. In metafiction, the author grants higher privileges to ontology than to epistemology. The fictional world is constructed in a collaborative effort with the reader. All fictions do this, but in metafiction it is done consciously and with the reader’s full knowledge. As the reader concentrates on the text, the world-making operation of the author is suspended. The author withdraws authority from the collaborative effort, leaving the reader to fill in the blank. A character’s fictional world is constructed only to be deconstructed, dispersed among it various authorial inscriptions and reader inscriptions in the text. By exploring and exposing the postcognitive, ontological aspects of fictional world and character construction, the structure of fictional worlds and characters and their contents, and the problem of the author as part of the text, metafiction can be a kind of metaphysics of identity. . . . Ultimately, characters in metafiction tend to be fragmented or multiple. They are authorial personas, and rarely agents of their own destinies. They are manipulated by plots they perceive as already inscribed. Their worlds resonate with the self-referential tendencies of a world that comes to acculturated subjects already textualized.”
1. The science fiction of the time travel in the novel is a key component for understanding the structure. What do you think about how Yu set up his time travel? The New York Times review called it, “incomplete and not always convincing, is enjoyably batty.” Do you agree?
2. What does the novel have to say about the human sense of self or of time?
3. The New York Times review also said, “We are all versions of our parents, with slightly newer wiring and what we hope are less buggy operating systems. Yu shows us that engineering can also be autobiography.” Thoughts?
4. Did you find the book funny? Why or why not?
5. What do you think are the themes of the book?
6. Is this the first piece of meta fiction you’ve read? If not, what else have you read and what did you think of it?
Other sci-fi/fantasy metafiction
• Beyond Apollo by Brian Malzberg
• Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
• The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad
• What Entropy Means to Me by George Alec Effinger
• The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
• The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany
• Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
• The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
• Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut/Venus on the Half-Shell by Kilgore Trout
• Princess Bride by William Goldman (not sci-fi, but fun)
• Resume with Monsters by William Browning Spencer
• Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
• Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman