Book Review: Yellow Blue Tibia – Adam Roberts (Gollancz -2009)

My introduction to Adam Roberts came through reading his superb novel, Jack Glass. Since then I’ve started to follow him on Twitter where he reigns as the Pun-finder General. Those with a masochistic tendency may be impressed by his tweets, which I would liken to your Dad reading you Christmas cracker jokes whilst stamping on your face …. forever.

Yellow Blue Tibia apparently sounds like ‘I love you’ in Russian- I had to Google it, the Russian is pronounced like Ya lyublyu tyebya, doesn’t really sound like yellow but who cares.

The story centres on science fiction writer turned lowly interpreter Konstantin Skvorecky, who was one of a group of SF writers brought together after the war by Stalin to create an alien threat that would unite the Soviet people. This immediately made me think of the alien threat in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. However, the threat in Yellow Tibia Blue is more complicated than it at first appears.

Forty years on, Skvorecky finds himself caught up in a plot to blow-up the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl. The story he helped to create at the orders of Stalin appears to be coming true.

Adam Roberts writing is very inventive and I found myself being surprised by novel descriptions and turns of phrase. I have never heard of light being described as sarcastic before, but it was exactly the right word in the circumstances. Elsewhere, a person’s face is described as looking like something drawn in felt-tip pen upon an elbow. It’s funny and you can picture it straight away. Another line I liked was when Skvorecky comments that “The only true ground for amazement is rarity”.

Adam Roberts drops in other cultural references and is self-referential in parts. At one juncture, a character in the book refers to an earlier page. Like the obedient reader that I am, I checked the page in question and it made sense. A suitcase full of explosives is thrown into a cooling pool at Chernobyl to which a KGB agent responds with the old Goon Show line ‘It’s fallen in the water’.

Much of the book is farcical but in a deadpan and droll manner, befitting a book based in the USSR. It is funny but sometimes it did make me think of old 1970’s and 1980’s TV farces (think Terry and June – or maybe Juneski). The character Saltykov, a nuclear engineer/taxi driver with many irritating ‘syndromes’ is a stand out character. He’s funny and excruciatingly annoying in equal measures,

A couple of American Scientologists feature in the book. The obese Dora Norman seems to have no real role to play, apart from the belated love interest, but there are hints that she is key to proceedings. Dora is central to an exchange that I thought was the funniest in the book. Skvorecky is translating Ms Norman’s speech into Russian at the Office of Liaison and Overseas Exchange.

Skvorecky -“She says she’s the world’s biggest fool”.
Polanski – “She’s certainly got the world’s biggest arse. How do these Americans get so fat?”
Skvorecky – “It certainly contrasts severely with the universal slimness of our Russian women.

Straight out of the ’70s, but it made me chuckle for which I feel I should apologise.

The end of the book was a bit flat, there was no big twist or reveal and I felt that a more satisfactory resolution was needed. However, the journey to the end was funny and enjoyable. If you like some humour in your SF, you will like this book. IMG_1677.JPG