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Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts
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's review
May 17, 2010

it was amazing
Read in May, 2010

Yellow Blue Tibia, subtitled Konstantin Skvorecky’s memoir of the alien invasion of 1986, is Adam Roberts’ 10th novel, it was shortlisted for the BSFA Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best novel.

It’s 1946, Nazi Germany has just been defeated and Stalin believes that victory over America is just a few years away. He perceives that the U.S.S.R. needs an external threat to give it unity and purpose. He therefore assembles in a dacha in the Russian countryside a group of Soviet science fiction authors, including Konstantin Skvorecky and Ivan Frenkel, and orders them to concoct an alien invasion scenario so convincing that the whole world would believe it, an external threat against which the U.S.S.R. can unite. The group of authors come up with a story involving invisible radiation aliens, the destruction of an American rocket and the catastrophic destruction of a power plant in Ukraine. They are then ordered to forget about what they have done and never speak about it to anyone.

Jump forward to 1986, Konstantin Skvorecky is now a translator on a job for a Russian ministry and two American scientologists when he is approached by Ivan Frenkel who he has not seen since their work for Stalin in the dacha. Ivan tries to tell him that the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster of January 1986 was no accident, the alien invasion story they concocted for Stalin so many years ago is now coming true. Despite his efforts to stay out of the whole thing, Konstantin Skvorecky get embarked upon an adventure to uncover the truth.

As the subtitle (Konstantin Skvorecky’s memoir of the alien invasion of 1986) implies, the book is written as if Konstantin Skvorecky himself were the author, even going so far as to having him mention the chapter number at one point. This is great for two reasons: a) his dry acerbic wit and sense of humour dripping with cynical irony make him a hilarious narrator, b) as the reader you feel your are being told a secret history that no one else knows about.

Yellow Blue Tibia is a hilarious and delightful novel, I spent most of my time reading either with huge grin or actually laughing out loud. Indeed humour permeates all aspects of the book: the quirky characters such as Saltykov the nuclear physicist/taxi driver with Asperger’s syndrome, the increasingly surreal and bizarre situations Skvorecky finds himself in like for instance the group of UFO enthusiasts who mistake his denial of the existence of UFOs for an exercise in dialectical thinking, the mundane arguments that evolve into debates on existential philosophy… The prose itself is top-notch and filled with numerous puns including multi-lingual puns such as the name of the book itself. You can tell that Adam Roberts had a lot of fun writing this book!

The novel is, as Adam Roberts explains, an attempt to explain how the UFO phenomenon can be so ubiquitous in our culture, affecting so many, and yet be widely dismissed as being make-believe. However that’s not all, it’s also a witty commentary on the fall of the U.S.S.R.

Yellow Blue Tibia was a breath of fresh air for me, a welcome change from the usual SF tropes. It’s a very fun intellectual read that doesn’t take itself too seriously but manages to tackle some important themes in a new way: the sociological and psychological aspects of UFOs, truth, belief, reality. The book and its themes remind me a lot of Philip K. Dick and Kurt Vonnegut, and yet it’s also very different in tone and treatment.

This was the first book I read by Adam Roberts, I enjoyed it so much that I have since bought his latest book New Model Army as well as a couple of his previous novels. If the quality remains on par, I will have to add him to my favourite authors :)
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