The Negative Zone #001: Sorry Please Thank You by Charles Yu


Hey there. My name is Andrew. I sell comic books and graphic novels for a living. I also draw and write. The Negative Zone is my new review column for Bull Spec. My friend Carr D’Angelo suggested the title, and I thought it was funny. My qualifications for writing this column are that I read a lot, and I suffer the delusion that everyone is interested in my opinion. It’s nice to meet you! Here’s my first column:

Last year I read and enjoyed Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. It took a while to pull me in, but once it got me, I didn’t stop reading until I finished the book. If you want to be really literal, I guess you could say it’s a book about a time machine repairman, but I’d say it’s a book about all the overwhelming emotions one faces in life. It’s full of some of the most overt and literal metaphors I’ve ever encountered in science fiction, but that’s very purposeful, and well done; it never struck me as either thoughtless or too cute. It’s a lovely and funny book. You should read it.

I just read a new book of Yu’s short stories, Sorry Please Thank You: Stories. The elements present in How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe which worked so well for me are here, too, but I didn’t respond as positively this time around. There is a sameness to the stories which is apparent when you read them all at once. I suspect that if I had read them in bits and pieces, I’d have enjoyed them more.

My favorite story, “Standard Loneliness Package,” involved a worker whose job was to experience other people’s emotions for them, to make it easier for them to cope with tough situations. I enjoyed the basic concept, as well as the interplay between the character’s own emotions and those he felt for others. Plus, it was the first story in the book, so I wasn’t yet burned out on thoughtfully humorous self-aware metatextual-slash-metaphorical science fiction stories about emotion, love, and loss.

All the stories in the book were well written, but a few of them struck me as a little too cute. There’s one which is basically a clever Star Trek deconstruction, and another narrated by a self-aware character in a computer game. They were both well executed, but the concepts overpowered the writing. I think a lot of folks will like them better than I did, though. If you’re the type of person who would consider ordering one of the tons of Star Trek “redshirt” tees floating around out there, you’ll love “Yeomans.”

Yu is a good writer, it just seems like he’s writing the same story over and over again. I recommend the stories in Sorry Please Thank You, but not necessarily as a book. Read a story, then put the book down for a while before you read another one. Make sure to leave a bookmark in there, because the stories are similar enough that when you revisit the book, you might think you’re caught in a time loop. And make sure to leave a bookmark in there, because the stories are similar enough that when you revisit the book, you might think you’re caught in a time loop.

Andrew Neal


Editor’s note: The Negative Zone is set to appear every first and third Friday. Stay tuned for #002 and Andrew’s review of The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi.

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