By Adam Roberts | November 17, 2008
Categories: Book News
I've just finished going through the proofs of Yellow Blue Tibia, and logged 30-or-so corrections as needful (not too many for a novel of 320 pages). Usually I find doing proofs disagreeable, partly because I'm not especially good at them -- it requires close attention to the text for long stretches of time -- and partly because it means re-reading my novel, and that often results in me wincing at the bits that aren't as good as they could be. But, that said, the experience was really pretty-much OK with YBT. The book does, I'd say, pretty much what I wanted it to do. It evokes a suitably Russian flavour without becoming, I think, too clichéd (one rule I worked with: no character would be given the name 'Vladimir'; there would be no cossack dancing and no scenes in a sauna); it inhabits just enough UFO lore for its purpose without becoming odd or cranky, and spins an (I think) original angle on the whole cultural discourse of UFO; it reflects, as my novels tend to do, upon Science Fiction as a whole--but I hope in original and analytic ways. Above all it is a thriller, and the various thrillerish aspects work just fine, I believe. Naturally I wanted to monkey around with the conventions of thrillerness (I wanted to put the big explosive climax in the middle of the book rather than the end without losing momentum; I wanted my action hero to be very old, exhausted, emphysemic, scorched, cancerous and sarcastic without sacrificing his action hero credentials or becoming the object either of pity or dislike; and I wanted my heroine to be an obese Scientologist without sacrificing her etc etc). But there's no point in doing that if it stops the thriller working qua thriller. And my sense is that YBT works fine qua thriller, although a thriller of a rather unusual and original kind. Qua.
And there have been early reviews, thanks to the bound proofs sent into the System by Gollancz. Thus, Liz at Torque Control:
Yellow Blue Tibia is probably the strangest of the books I read last week, but in a good way. A story of SF writers in the post-war Soviet Union, who wrote a story about aliens which starts to come true, it is narrated by an ironic, alcoholic and elderly Russian writer and reads like one of the more farcical Coen brothers films.... There’s even a strange love story going on, in between the jokes about Scientology and testicles and the SF plot, and it’s refreshingly different from almost anything else I have read this year.
High praise, in my book, that ('different', I mean: too much literature is not different, nowadays, and thrillers are worse offenders than many). And here's Adam Whitehead, at the Wertzone:
Yellow Blue Tibia is certainly a different SF book. It isn't strictly an alternate history, but plays around with its ideas and tropes. It isn't a comedy either, but I guarantee it will make you laugh out loud on at least several occasions. The combination of several farcical scenes with very polite and proper Russian grammar gives rise to some entertaining linguistic combinations even Jack Vance would be proud of, whilst the testicular-obsessed KGB interrogation scene is quite possibly a work of genius.
I love reviewers who can put 'testicles' and 'genius' in the same sentence. But there's more:
As with Swiftly, Roberts' previous novel, the book has a pretty straightforward and accessible opening half followed by the plot moving into an area much more open to interpretation. Yellow Blue Tibia isn't quite as open-ended as Swiftly, but it does demand maximum attention as several scenes of complex and convoluted exposition take place which are both informative and extremely amusing. Even though the reader is pretty much told what exactly is going on, there is the slight feeling of the book ending with the reader being tipped out and left trying to remember exactly what the hell just happened. But in a good way. There's a definite delayed reaction before you go, "Aha, that was clever!" Yellow Blue Tibia (****) ... is a clever, confounding and strikingly amusing book that will make you ponder important burning historical questions.