Review Blog

Sep 07 2010

Yellow blue tibia by Adam Roberts

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Gollancz, 2009. ISBN 9780575083585.
Recommended reading age 16 plus. Yellow blue tibia is a science fiction story with historical, slap-stick comedic and deeply philosophical elements. Early in the story Konstantin Sverecky, a science fiction author of medium notoriety finds himself cloistered in a dacha with a group of fellow writers. The Second World War is recently over and the authors' task is to manufacture a tale of alien invasion with which Stalin intends to motivate the Soviet people against a common enemy. The attitude and experience of the authors, most of whom are war veterans themselves, reflects that of the war-weary and traumatised surviving Russian populace which suffered unimaginable starvation and barbarism under Stalin in the 1930s prior to enduring further horrors from the German invasion.
Stalin personally briefs the authors and explains that in his view, Soviet people are unstoppable when being attacked and because he believes the United States will soon fail, a new enemy must be created, which (being extra-terrestrial), the whole world might focus upon. It is plain to those involved that to disappoint Stalin is to invite an immediate grisly end and they set to, creating a fantastic tale of 'Radiation Aliens' which significantly will strike the Ukraine. Before completion however, the project is shut down, the authors sworn to secrecy and sent home. The reader appreciates that fear of retribution makes this plausible and accepts that Sverecky's life continues in a different direction, working as a translator, becoming a widower following a disastrous marriage and being sent to a Gulag for no specific reason beyond being 'suspicious'. Upon his release, another failed marriage sees him becoming a broken-down, dedicated alcoholic leading a miserable life. It is years later when translating for Coyne, an American Scientologist interested in UFOs that Sverecky becomes once again embroiled in the alien conspiracy as a result of the American's mysterious death. A series of thrilling and often absurd adventures unfold, involving an outrageous taxi driver with Asperger's syndrome who used to be a nuclear physicist, one of the writers from Stalin's secret group who is now a senior KGB officer and the monstrously fat Dora Norman who was previously a companion of the deceased Coyne. The plot is complex and involves intense philosophical analysis of the UFO phenomenon and the Chernobyl disaster. Roberts portrays the ridiculous Russian bureaucracy and miserable existence of ordinary people during the pre-Perestroika period in a way reminiscent of Martin Cruz-Smith. The plot is often confusing, which has the effect of conveying the bewilderment of the central character but luckily some incredibly funny scenes carry the reader through. This is a worthwhile read but the author's rushed attempt to reconcile reality with imaginative theory in the final chapter is unconvincing and unsatisfying.
Rob Welsh

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