I finished this book like stepping off a roller coaster, and I’m still dizzy from the ride, and I loved it.
This is what time travel is like when you can actually move back and forth through the life narrative inside your own head,
because your life narrative has combined with others to form a navigable science-fictional universe, also called a story space,
through which you may freely roam in your very own time machine constructed from a, and I quote, “grammar drive built on a quad-core physics engine, which features an applied temporalinguistics architecture allowing for free-form navigation within a rendered environment, such as for instance a story space . . . ”
Or, as Yu’s mom calls the contraption, a box.
And why not? “Why can we see a far away snow-tipped mountain range, or a jet taking off, or the moon or the sun or the stars, and not an event that took place a minute ago, let alone a month ago, a year, thirty years ago?”
Here you can see and re-experience those events, or if you prefer there is an option to coast in the present-indefinite,
which Yu finds tempting: “A self auto-dislocated by at least one-half phase shift from his own subjective present will not, under ordinary conditions, encounter any other version of his self in a controlled story space environment, which is to say, if you hide inside this box and don’t look out the porthole, you can, if that’s what you want, manage to get through middle age without ever learning anything about yourself.”
In stasis or not: “The good news is, you don’t have to worry, you can’t change the past. The bad news is, you don’t have to worry, no matter how hard you try, you can’t change the past.”
So what’s the point? And what happens when narratives collide? In a universe made of them, it’s bound to happen. Even if you never encounter a narrative outside your own, you’re still navigating a personal galaxy spinning with regrets, intentions, choices, etc., so there’s no end of potential snarls and detours on the way to whatever it is you’re looking to find or salvage.
For Yu it’s relationships. His mother is caught in a time loop. His father is lost who knows where along the continuum. The woman he never married and should have met is out there somewhere. Not to mention he’s got other people’s problems to fix because he’s a time machine repairman.
As if that's not conundrum enough, the iterations of a single event (as experienced at different points in time) can become nesting boxes of sorts, through which you might rummage forever in search of a defining moment.
“Look in the box. Inside it, there’s another box. Look in that box and find another one. And then another one, until you get to the last one. The smallest one. Open that box.”
I won’t say whether Yu gets lucky or not, but (like the rest of us) what he’s really hoping to find is hope.