Thursday, March 15, 2012

REVIEW: Yellow Blue Tibia, by Adam Roberts

Yellow Blue Tibia, by Adam Roberts. Published 2010 by Gollancz.  Literary Fiction. Science Fiction.

If you don't speak Russian you should start by knowing that "yellow blue tibia" is a verbal pun for Я мебя люблю (ya tebya loobloo) or "I love you". Yellow Blue Tibia, Adam Roberts' fun, fascinating and engaging novel is a love story of some sweetness as well as a science fiction romp through the waning days of the Soviet Union.

It takes a while to get around to the love story, nested inside the memoir of one Konstantin Andreiovich Skvorecky, an elderly, washed-up translator and erstwhile science fiction writer. In the 1930s, Skvorecky was part of a group of science fiction writers recruited by Joseph Stalin in an effort to create an alien threat around which he could mobilize the Soviet people. World War 2 was over, Germany was defeated and Stalin (at least the Stalin of this book) believed that U.S. was on the verge of collapse. He therefore feels that the Soviet people needed a new enemy, something to galvanize and unite them. He bring the writers together in a dacha and where they make up a story about aliens made of radiation. Suddenly, mercurially, the story is buried and the writers dispersed. Fast forward to the 1980s and Skvorecky is a lonely old man waking from a slumber of many years only to find that the fiction he helped create may be reality after all.

Yellow Blue Tibia has been compared to the science fiction of Margaret Atwood but a think a more just comparison would be to that Russian satirist Vladimir Voinovich, whose novel Moscow 2042 this one resembles, at least in tone. It's a fun book and very well-crafted but it kind of dragged for me around the middle third, as Skvorecky is bounced around from KGB officers to jail to hospitals to Chernobyl and back again, the unwitting victim of failed assassination attempt after failed assassination attempt until he finally learns the truth behind the people manipulating him as well as the truth about his companions on his crazy journey, American Scientologists James Coyne and Dora Norman. The Americans are recruited for a mysterious, latter-day role in the same project that we learn Skvorecky has been a part of for years. I admit I found the whole thing kind of murky.

I may not have been the right reader exactly for this book but I enjoyed it enough to recommend it to literary fiction readers looking for something definitely off-beat and a little crazy. I can think of a couple of friends in particular I think would like this, people who like their science fiction with a good dose of humor and satire and readers interested in fiction about the Soviet Union and its collapse. And Voinovich fans, please buy this book.  If you fit into any of those categories, go ahead and seek out this unusual and challenging novel, and I wish you luck.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


Anonymous said...

I'm hoping that I'm the right sort of reader for this book - I mean, I love lit fic that is a bit off-kilter, so there's a good chance I will - but I have to admit that I want to read it mostly for the cover. Such a cool play with the Cyrillic and the early sci-fi look!

bermudaonion said...

I'm not sure this one's for me, but it sounds right up my sister's alley.

Kathleen said...

This book sound wacky but in a good way!

ImageNations said...

I don't think I got this one. But I intend to jump into science fiction soon.

limeduck said...

This is definitely next after Death and the Penguin! Small typo in your Russian punnery, "I love you" should be "я тебя люблю" (тебя not меб, the cursive T looks like an M sometimes)