YELLOW BLUE TIBIA by Adam Roberts
“It is a mistake to assume that extraterrestrials must be material. Or immaterial. What if they exist in a dialectical superposition of the two conditions?”
Review by Kirstin Merrihew (FEB 12, 2010)
The main character tells another, “Science fiction is the Olympic Games of the imaginatively fit.” Adam Roberts certainly is in the running for a gold medal with Yellow Blue Tibia. His novel, in the form of a Soviet science fiction writer’s memoir, leads the reader on a perplexing, high-strung, high-concept pursuit. Konstantin Skvorecky (the writer); Stalin; KGB officers; other science fiction writers; an American man and woman representing Scientology; and a phobic, tic-ridden taxi driver all play their parts in this elaborate, ironic, schizophrenic “fantasy.”
In the 1950’s, Skvorecky, as a young man of twenty-eight, is brought, together with a handful of other Soviet science fiction writers, to see the leader before whom they quake, Joseph Stalin. He orders the group to come up with a plotline about invading extraterrestrials which the Communist dictator intends to feed the people when America is defeated and another enemy is needed to keep the USSR striving unitedly against a common (but very uncommon) threat.
The plan is abandoned however, and Skvorecky forgets the whole interlude. He also stops writing science fiction. For many years a heavy drinker, 1986 finds him on the wagon as he supports himself with intermittent translating jobs. One day, he meets Ivan Frenkel again — one of the men with whom he worked on the alien plot. And that’s when the zaniness shifts into high gear. Soon, Skvorecky; the large American woman, Dora Norman, for whom his feelings sweetly, unexpectedly blossom; and the compulsive taxi driver, Saltykov, who demands that no one distract him when he’s at the wheel; all motor to Kiev. More specifically, their destination is the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl where “radiation aliens” allegedly plan a sabotage that could slaughter millions. It seems that the wild storyline the science fiction writers invented decades ago is coming true!
At one point former sci-fi colleague Frenkel upbraids Skvorecky: “Fundamentally, you take nothing seriously. You believe it is all a game. It was the same with your novels; they were never serious….For me, as for Asterinov, literature was a high calling. A serious business. One story, not the ludicrous branchings of possibilities and ironic alternatives.” Frenkel is also speaking to the reader of Adam Roberts’ version of science fiction which seems one sprawling satire. Yellow Blue Tibia often leaves one dizzy as Skvorecky, though not drunk, sometimes feels himself in a dream or in another disorienting state of mind and body. Reality isn’t as solid for him as for most people. At times he is sure something dire has befallen him; once he claims he’s died, only to discover he’s still kicking. He also engages in a series of seemingly nonsensical or downright childish conversations that spin the reader around and around like a helpless top.
However, the silliness, irony, and the possibilities have a formidable science fiction hand behind their madness. Even the curious title will, in due time, get its moment in the sun and be a revelation. Roberts enjoys playing with the normative perception of continuity regarding time and our very existence. He prods us to appreciate both the absurdity of life and to expand our minds about what might be possible. At one point Dora declares that “Communism is science fiction.” And Skvorecky replies, “And vice versa.” The idea is simply that both communism and science fiction were/are dedicated to “the possibility of a better world.” Although communism’s idealism hasn’t been met by its real world application, the imagination of science fiction surely has the advantage of being able to stay ahead of the world’s level of progress. Or not? Has science fiction also been overrun by itself to the detriment of human beings? This is what Roberts toys with.
Love isn’t forgotten either, as Skvorecky finds himself looking beyond Dora’s bulk. “I found an unexpected joy kindling inside me at this smile. I found myself wanting to do something to make the smile re-emerge. For a glittering moment, the veil lifted just enough to give insight past the external epiphenomena of Dora Norman and into her soul.” We humans often prize love as, if not the actual source of all life, then at least as one of its most precious fruits. Yellow Blue Tibia invents its own unique take on how love may order our universe.
Roberts spoofs (sometimes with bombastic, ten-dollar vocabulary) both the concept of science fiction and honors it. He both twists the whole UFO/alien phenomenon and gives it new, sturdier legs as he first presents a deliberately off-beat idea of extraterrestrials (radiation aliens) and then later persuasively re-invents them. He bids the reader to stretch their minds with him as he introduces an innovative theory about what is going on around us. Yellow Blue Tibia may jumble your brain a bit, but don’t let that stop you.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 7 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Gollancz (January 22, 2009)|
|AMAZON PAGE:||Yellow Blue Tibia|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Adam Roberts|
|EXTRAS:||Yellow Blue Tibia is shortlisted for the 2009 British Science Fiction Award|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Another BSFA nomination:
The City and the City by China Mieville
- Salt (2000)
- On (2001)
- Park Polar (2002)
- Stone (2002)
- Jupiter Magnified (2003)
- Polystom (2003)
- The Snow (2004)
- Gradisil (2006)
- Splinter (2007)
- Yellow Blue Tibia (September 2009)
- Swiftly (January 2010)
Land of the Headless (2007)
Written under pseudonym;
- The Soddit (2003)
- The Sellamillion (2004)
- The McAtrix Derided: A Parody … Or Is That Just What They Want You to Think? (2004)
- The Va Dinci Cod (2005)
- Star Warped: Once Upon A Time In A Galaxy Nowhere Near Far Enough Away (2005)
- Doctor Whom: ET Shoots and Leaves (2006)