Charles Yu, the author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, follows up with an anthology of short stories. The perplexing title, Sorry Please Thank You: Stories (Random House, 2012), provokes the question, “What does that mean?”
The premise of the stories in SPTY: Stories are intriguing. Anthologies are a tricky recipe to get right, and some stories will be better than others. When reading a novel and you get to a part that is dull, you can’t skip ahead a chapter without the risk of missing important plot development. When reading an anthology, if you don’t like one story, just go to the next. No harm and no foul.
Is SPTY: Stories the sort of book you will enjoy? Read the following except from the story, Open, and then decide:
“We need to talk about that,” I said.
“Why? Why do we always have to talk everything to death?”
“The word ‘door’ is floating in the middle of our apartment. You don’t think maybe this is something we need to discuss?”
Does that interchange interest or annoy you? If that annoys you, this book is full of THAT; absolutely brimming with it. Much of the humor is not from what is happening but how it is told.
I enjoyed about half of this book and that part seemed unorthodox, fresh and insightful; character studies that were interesting. The other half got on my nerves, like an intelligent but emotionally stunted ten-year-old always asking, ‘Why?’ for every statement made.
Anyway, here are the stories I enjoyed from SPTY: Stories:
Small spoiler warning – These are brief descriptions of the stories. If you don’t want to read that, jump to the final paragraph.
Standard Loneliness Package – This was the first story in the book and it explores what would happen if it were possible to outsource the unpleasant bits of our lives, such as dealing with the loss of a loved one and specifically, what it would be like to be the hourly worker these bits were outsourced to.
Hero Absorbs Major Damage – Imagine a story told from the character’s side of a MMORPG and you get the premise behind this story. Anyone who has ever been trapped by the allure of EverQuest or WOW will immediately get this concept. The main character, heavy with the burdens of leadership, struggles with his weaknesses, fears, and knowledge that the virtual lives of those in the party rest uncomfortably on his shoulders.
Yeoman – Imagine being the red shirt guy on the landing party on a TV-show like Star Trek, and you aren’t a main character. Your life expectancy is less than commercial break #2. It’s amusing and strange to follow the character that is waiting for his time to be killed by something inexplicable and be fine with it.
Designer Emotion 67 – This is a parody of a big executive as he speaks down to the huddled masses of the company. I didn’t laugh, though I saw the parts that were supposed to be funny. The forced jolliness of it all and the outright lampoon of the pharmaceutical industry were amusing.
Adult Contemporary – Imagine a character in a TV show, suddenly becoming aware that he is merely a character, playing out a predefined role, and he decides to change it? Without a doubt, I thought Adult Contemporary was the best of the lot. It’s brilliant, funny and has an ending I found satisfying.
As for the stories I did not enjoy, there were a few:
First Person Shooter – Perhaps the most conventional story in the book, a zombie wanders the aisles of a late night department store staffed by a couple of clerks. I expected something to happen. It didn’t.
Troubleshooting – Maybe to someone who doesn’t resolve problems of any kind for a living, this might be amusing. I hated it.
Human for Beginners – It tries too hard to be ironic.
Open – This was a character study that just didn’t work for me, though it had some fun concepts.
Note to Self – This was an interesting premise that devolved into an uninspired line of consciousness conversation. It just didn’t work. It read like a writing exercise more than a story.
The Book of Categories – More than once while reading this book, I wondered what Yu’s definition of a story is. This was a list.
Sorry Please Thank You – This was the last story and the repeated word-play from the previous stories had worn me down. It does explain the title, but I didn’t like this one. It’s me, not Yu.
Charles Yu demonstrates a great imagination and style that reminds me of Douglas Adams. Overall, I felt like there was a lot of potential in SPTY: Stories and there is stuff to like here, but when you hit a story that isn’t doing it for you, just flip ahead to the next. If you haven’t read How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, give it try.