Yellow Blue Tibia is a standalone Novel by Adam Roberts (not to be confused with Robert Adams of Horseclans fame…), playing on Soviet History, UFO and Alien Invasion conspiracies, Scientology, and KGB machinations - riotous fun, in most parts. Here is a book I really didn’t want to end whilst reading it…
Roberts now has 13 novels to his name; just out is The Dragon with the Girl Tattoo (isn’t that just a must-read?), and coming this year is yet another book, titled By Light Alone. He also writes humorous send-ups of other author’s famous books as A.R.R.R. Roberts, has been nominated for the AC Clarke and the Philip K. Dick Awards, and will surely win something soon if the quality of writing in here is anything to go by.
Yellow Blue Tibia (I won’t tell you what the title is supposed to be – it’s a rather terrible, and apparently rather incorrect pun) kicks off when Stalin, just after the end of the Great Patriotic War, and just before Communism inevitable takes over the world, brings together a group of Soviet SF writers to create a believable outside enemy, with a realistic sequence of events indicating a slow invasions by these aliens, to serve as a focal point for the now-united Communist world to face off against instead of drowning in internal conflict.
And so the writers, scared for their lives, set off to create ‘Radiation Aliens’, and describe attacks on Long Island (they got the name of the island Manhattan stands on wrong), on an American rocket ship, and on an installation in the Ukraine, irradiating central Europe. And all of a sudden the whole effort is pulled, and they are told to forget all about it if they value their lives, and to get on with said lives.
And then the story picks up when Konstantin Skvorecky, one of those SF writers and now a washed up alcoholic keeping himself afloat (so to speak) by the odd translation job, learns that his story, successfully forgotten, is now becoming real, and that the KGB (and Scientology…) have a rather major interest in this, and in him.
We were Hierophants of a hidden futurity, the pens that scribbled what they understood not.
The book is written in the first person view of Skvorecky, in the past form, as, purportedly, his memoir to warn us. It starts with a quote from Lenin concerning what encountering extra-terrestrials would mean to us, to our philosophy, our morals and social views. It ends with an excerpt from a (fake) Wikipedia page on Skvorecky, and an Author’s note indicating the known interest of Lenin, Stalin, and Chernenko in the supernatural and specifically UFOs etc.
This is an odd SF book, from the point that it doesn’t play in the future, doesn't really contain Aliens, alien tech or weapons, or anything similar (or does it?). All we really get is some coincidences, KGB machinations and cruelty, and a strange, major, violent conflict, potentially, played out in plain sight and thus ignored.
This isn’t really alternative history, either, I’d rather say it plays on an alternative interpretation of known history, showing the reasons behind of what happened. Great for conspiracy theories, and weird implications of parallel worlds/possibilities/quantum state theories. If you can see the interference patterns then you surely can collapse the waveforms? And by directing what and how you observe, you can affect how they collapse? Is Scientology true? Is it all a KGB plot? Are the KGB Aliens? I won’t tell you more, sorry… get the book and find out!
I found the book, besides, or frequently despite the suppressive environment, KGB violence etc to be very comical, clever, witty, and frequently completely absurd (but apparently Russian humour runs that way - ? Or is this just the author?). Either way, I found the book overall very funny and entertaining, with several laugh-out-loud moments when scenes descent into pure farce at times.
A word of warning – some people with a deeper knowledge of Russian language/culture than mine (vanishing, to be honest) have complained that Roberts' depiction of Russia, its society, and his use/abuse of the language are not exactly, er, exact; so if that’s something that bugs you, and that you would notice then you might not enjoy the book. Me, I’m free from background knowledge in these areas, and liked it very much.
Recommended, with the above caution.
More Adam Roberts
Title: Yellow Blue Tibia
Author: Adam Roberts
Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net
Publisher URL: http://www.orionbooks.co.uk
Publication Date: 2009
Review Date: 110120
Price: UKP 7.99
Topic: Alternative History