Skip to main content

'Sorry Please Thank You' skewers sci-fi

By Christian DuChateau, CNN
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Tue July 24, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Charles Yu's "Sorry Please Thank You" collection explores emotion and time travel
  • Yu's style has been compared to Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Roth and Jonathan Lethem
  • Yu is also a lawyer, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and children

(CNN) -- Author Charles Yu hopes you like his new book, but if not, an apology is built right into the title. "Sorry Please Thank You" is his new collection of mind-bending, moving and sometimes melancholy stories arriving in bookstores July 24.

Yu's 2010 novel, "How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe," was named one of the best books of the year by TIME magazine. It dealt with a fictional version of the author, another Charles Yu, a lonely time machine repairman stuck in a time loop. In his new book, Yu returns to skewer more science fiction concepts, including the multiverse, time travel, video games and zombies. While he pokes fun at pop culture, Yu also finds the human moments in what he often portrays as an increasingly isolated and sterile existence.

Yu's quirky mix of science fiction and social commentary has attracted a loyal following among discerning readers and critics. He has been favorably compared to writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Roth and Jonathan Lethem.

When he's not writing, Yu is a lawyer living in Los Angeles with his wife and their two children. CNN recently interviewed Yu by e-mail. The following is an edited transcript.

CNN: Where did the title come from?

Yu: The title comes from the last story in the book. It was originally a piece that I actually wrote onto a cocktail napkin, as part of Esquire's Napkin Fiction Project, and which I expanded for the collection. A lot of the stories in the book are about different universes, some big, some small, some of which already exist today, and some of which are not hard to imagine in the near future. These are artificial environments created or enabled through technology, and I was interested in how people communicate, in these environments, about how people talk to each other, about what limitations there are in language as a medium to express our desires, how technology might remove some of those limitations, but create new ones we've never had before. "Sorry Please Thank You" seemed appropriate as a title, being words for concepts that, if not universal, are found in a great many languages and cultures.

See the story Charles Yu wrote on a cocktail napkin that inspired his latest book

CNN: Was this book any harder or easier to write than your last?

Yu: It was harder. This is my third book, and each one has been harder than the last. I'm not sure I like the way this trend is going. ...

CNN: Where do you find your ideas and inspiration?

Yu: I go looking for them in a bunch of places, and they're never where they are supposed to be. So I take a break, sit down, gaze off into some corner of the room, and there it is: an idea. The problem is, the next time I will start by looking in that same corner, and of course there's nothing there anymore. So I start the process over again.

CNN: Do you think multiple universes exist and are there alternate Charles Yus out there?

Yu: I've been fascinated by the idea of a multiverse ever since I first learned of it, from my alternate self. OK, no, not from my alternate self. From a book by David Deutsch, who I have raved about elsewhere. And now, I'm fascinated to be reading about all of these other speculative hypotheses about different kinds of multiverses. It's a really mind-scrambling idea, the kind of idea that, once it's in your head, it's hard to remember what it was like before you'd ever been exposed to it. I personally hope there are no alternate universes (except in the sense that Deutsch uses the term), though. This one is strange enough, and if it turns out to be the only one, that would make it even more mysterious.

CNN: The future you write about often feels sad and lonely. With that in mind, do you think new technology is making us more isolated?

Yu: With, say, social media, in the short term, I think it's a multiplier and an aggregator and an accelerator. It doesn't change who we are, it just enables us to say things faster, and to more people -- but at some point that quantitative effect shades into a qualitative change in how we relate to each other. And some aspects of social media make us more connected. But other aspects reduce the need, and to some extent, desire, to talk to people face-to-face, and it's easy to understand how those aspects might be making some people feel more lonely than ever. But social media is just one part of technology. There are so many other incredible things being developed now. For instance, I watched that video a few weeks ago, of the woman, a quadriplegic woman, who moved a robotic arm with her mind. So that she could take a sip of her drink. The look on her face as she did it (and the look on the face of the researcher who was with her) -- it was unbelievable and moving and I could not stop watching it, over and over again. Here is a person who is, in some ways, more isolated than anyone -- her desire, her will to move is trapped inside of her unmovable body. And technology and human ingenuity has brought her will back into the world, reconnected her with the objects and people around her.

CNN: You've been described as a science-fiction writer and compared to writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Roth and Jonathan Lethem. What do you think of these labels and comparisons?

Yu: Those are all ludicrous comparisons. And I welcome them wholeheartedly. But seriously, the three writers you just named are on the very top shelf of my personal pantheon, along with a few others. I go back to them over and over again for inspiration and, of course, to steal whatever I can from them. As for the label science-fiction writer -- I'll take it, and wear that label with pride. But there's plenty of room on my shirt for other labels, too.

CNN: What does your family think of your writing?

Yu: They're very supportive. And my daughter, who is 4, is starting to tell people that her dad is a "book writer" which makes me feel the strangest kind of pride, for some reason. I think it's the way she says it -- matter of fact, like, you're dad's a fireman? Oh, that's cool, mine is a book writer.

Read an excerpt from "Sorry Please Thank You"

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Catching up with authors
updated 11:29 AM EST, Fri February 8, 2013
Author Tim Federle has just wrapped a long day at the Atlanta Junior Theater festival, working with several thousand boys and girls who dream of stardom on the Broadway stage. Count these kids as lucky; they've found the perfect mentor.
updated 9:33 AM EST, Mon January 21, 2013
There's good and bad news regarding Robert Crais' new novel, "Suspect." First, the bad: There's no sign of uber-popular, crime-fighting duo, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Now the good: There is a dog.
updated 12:05 PM EST, Mon November 5, 2012
In "The Hot Country," U.S. troops invade a foreign country where oil interests are at stake, a rising foreign power is looking to derail U.S. forces using cloak and dagger tactics, and there's a gunfight in the desert against insurgent enemies.
updated 11:51 AM EST, Fri January 11, 2013
This week super fans from around the world are gathering in New York to celebrate the 159th birthday of the legendary consulting detective Sherlock Holmes.
updated 9:26 AM EDT, Mon October 15, 2012
In "The Twelve" it's the end of the world as we know it and while no one feels fine, millions love reading about it.
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Sat September 8, 2012
Fans of crime fiction know the names Connelly and Koryta well. Two Mikes. Two generations. Two masters of their craft.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Tue July 24, 2012
"Sorry Please Thank You" is his new collection of mind-bending, moving and sometimes melancholy stories.
updated 11:31 AM EDT, Tue July 17, 2012
Crime fiction fans know the name Parker, a single-named anti-hero of the 1960s. As a character, he's a career criminal, hired gun and professional thief, a pulp-fiction prince of America's seedy underworld.
updated 11:02 AM EDT, Fri June 29, 2012
Werewolves are usually the stuff of B-movies and bad novels, but last year British author Glen Duncan did the unthinkable in literary circles, crafting a howling good tale out of the weary werewolf myth.
updated 10:12 AM EDT, Tue June 19, 2012
Best-selling author Alan Furst has made a career of capturing the classic cloak-and-dagger days leading up to World War II, bringing the era to life like a literary version of "Casablanca."
updated 12:22 PM EDT, Fri June 8, 2012
The night before he turned 40, Rich Roll had what he calls a "moment of clarity." Overweight and out of shape, Roll had to stop to catch his breath while walking up the stairs of his Southern California home. Roll, now a father of four, feared he was close to a heart attack.
updated 1:14 PM EDT, Fri June 1, 2012
Craig Johnson looks like he could have stepped out of the pages of one of his own best-selling Western novels. With the late-day sun behind him, he could even pass for his fictional hero, Sheriff Walt Longmire.
updated 7:48 AM EDT, Fri May 11, 2012
jfap
It's one of our simplest yet most enduring inventions. While the games have evolved, the ball in all its various forms continues to play a key role in different cultures around the world.
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Fri May 4, 2012
mcac
Former O.J. Simpson trial prosecturo Marcia Clark became a household name as the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Clark is still mining her past, only now as a successful crime novelist.
updated 8:02 AM EDT, Fri April 27, 2012
wbc
"Waiting for Sunrise," the new novel from acclaimed British author William Boyd, is an evocative mix of sex, spies and psychoanalysis.
updated 7:34 AM EDT, Fri April 13, 2012
stc
Bookshelves are bursting with a bevy of great new titles this spring but we wanted to highlight a trio of new thrillers that truly bring history to life.
updated 7:31 AM EDT, Tue April 3, 2012
ecbc
Shin Dong-hyuk is the only known person born in a North Korean prison camp that escaped and survived to tell the tale.
updated 7:47 AM EDT, Fri March 23, 2012
jpc
James Patterson may be the top-selling writer in the world; he might very well be the busiest, too. Patterson has three books near the top of the bestseller lists right now.
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Fri March 16, 2012
sc
Muffled gun shots and squealing tires. A secret midnight meeting in a dark alley. Everyone recognizes the classic elements of a good cloak and dagger story.
updated 7:32 AM EST, Fri March 9, 2012
mbc
History, from ancient Greece to hopscotching across time, plays a prominent role in March's best books.
updated 7:39 AM EST, Tue March 6, 2012
ebc
Imagine a smoke-filled jazz club, dark and crowded. The sounds of a trumpet solo echo on stage, while a piano, bass and drums pound out a finger-snapping groove.
updated 3:50 PM EST, Fri February 10, 2012
sbc
P.G. Sturges, son of famous director Preston Sturges, writes classic noir novels, like "The Shortcut Man."
updated 2:55 PM EST, Fri January 27, 2012
rcci
We should all be so lucky to have friends like Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Private detectives in modern-day Los Angeles, they're the stars of best-selling author Robert Crais' award-winning series of crime novels.
updated 3:02 PM EST, Fri January 20, 2012
elac
Elmore Leonard is something of a living legend among lovers of crime fiction. A favorite of millions of readers, a hero to scores of writers, he's been called "America's greatest crime writer."
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT