Charles Yu’s short story collection, “Sorry Please Thank You,” newly reissued in paperback, will delight fans of science fiction and metafiction. Funny and inventive, the stories grapple with questions of identity and what it means to experience an authentic life. The gnawing worry that there could be more to his life haunts the protagonist in “Standard Loneliness Package,” probably the most traditional narrative in the collection. A young man working at a call center in India, he downloads pain others don’t wish to experience for a fee. Not surprisingly, you also buy happiness in this world. (“It’s not my life, technically. Not yet. It’s the life I want, the life I’ve been saving for.”) But Yu seems to think that maybe not being fully present in your own life may not be the answer as the narrator learns.
“Note to Self” is one of several stories where existential anxiety gnaws the narrator. He is startled when multiple versions of him start to communicate with him, forcing him to question which iteration is real: “Who am I? I am you. And you are me. Are we the same person?”
Yu brings the fantastical elements down to earth with an ending that anyone forced to attend meetings will relate to. At times, the artifice of the writing gets in the way, as in “Book of Categories,” which seems to endlessly describes the infinite indexing of categories, and loses its impact in the telling of a spectacularly painful loss. Yu’s writing shines when its self-conscious features don’t fight with his preoccupation with love and family. His stories are inventive and laugh-out-loud funny at times. It’s in these stories that readers will find out for themselves why Charles Yu is hailed as a rising talent in science fiction writing.