Tom Holt on YBT: ‘this is a book you’ve got to read … you’ll end up wanting to kick a hole in the wall’
By Adam Roberts | January 25, 2009
Categories: Book News
Some reviews are good, some bad, and as a writer you take each kind as they come. But I have to say that Tom Holt's simultaneously good and bad review of Yellow Blue Tibia, in February's SFX, is a pure joy to read. I'd rather get reviews like this than any number of blander 'good, very good's; because, of course, any writer worth her/his salt wants to shake things up, not have readers nodding sagely. Or indeed nodding off. So what does he say?
It is the best of books, it is the worst of books. It is gripping, captivating, astonishing, wonderfully funny, magnificently written, completely different, mess-with-your-head weird. It's also unsatisfying, bewildering and not much constructed as spilled out into a heap, and the ending makes you want to shake the author warmly by the throat until he promises to go back and write it again.
Mostly Holt says very good things: 'this is a book with more layers than a multi-storey car-park, and on one of them its a fantastically evocative account of what life was like in Soviet Russia, packed with telling details that makes it painfully immediate. Roberts's style is beautifully crafted, his dialogue is superb, his characterisation perfect. His use of syntax alone subtly conveys the mindset; after 50 or so pages, you may believe you're starting to think in Russian. The humour, which ranges from dark irony to laugh-out-loud comedy, works so well because it comes straight from character; not just decorative gags, seriously funny.' And there's more:
It's also a crazy sort of anti-thriller -- the hero's a crippled old man, which makes the scenes where he outwits and outfights a series of KGB heavies startling effective; his occasional sidekick is a querulous, middle-aged nuclear physicist with Asperger's synbdrome who's been demoted to driving a taxi; the love interest is a monstrously overweight American scientologist. We'd love to see a blockbuster movie (a version somewhat rewritten version of) this book.
Then there's the but: the novel 'skids a hits a tree' on the science fiction (ironic, 'since to a large extent, insofar as its about anything its about science fiction. And why people see UFOs. And alternate realities.') Holt can't see the 'slender silver thread of logical coherence running through the last 70 pages' (he can't? I thought it was a little over-obvious, myself ...), and he concludes:
Over-amibiton is definitely better than a lack of it, and this is a ferociously ambitious book that makes good on at least two-thirds of its extravagant promises. It's a shame that its high-yield language and blue-chip characterisation are underwitten by a sub-prime plot ... Arguably, boom-and-bust fiction is more annoying than plain consistent mediocrity ... Even so, this is a book you've got to read. It's better to have loved and ended up wanting to kick a hole in the wall than never to have loved at all.
Now that's a review.