Sunday, 22 January 2017

An SF cracker - review

After enjoying Jack Glass and being blown away by The Thing Itself, I have been familiarising myself with the back-catalogue of science fiction writer Adam Roberts, and Yellow Blue Tibia is a cracker.

At first sight, the plot starts brilliantly but veers into the farcical. It begins just after the Second World War with Stalin bringing together a group of Russian science fiction writers to create a new menace to unify the people, a fiction that is then rapidly concealed - so far, a wonderful idea. But the menace the writers create seems to start becoming real an increasingly unlikely events. What Roberts manages to do, though, is to weave the same kind of magic as my favourite fantasy author, Gene Wolfe in his real-world set fantasies. When you read a Wolfe book, you know the whole thing may seem absurd, but somehow it will eventually all come together, even if you have to read it several times to real get into the depth of it. Similarly, Roberts manages in the end to tie together the unlikely and absurd threads in a way that makes a sense given some understandings of physics. It's a bit like my maths supervisor at Cambridge used to say: 'No one gets it immediately, but let it wash over you and eventually it all makes sense.' And it's very rewarding when it does.

Having said that, I don't want to give the impression that the book is a hard read. Unlike The Thing Itself, which does take some work, rewarding though it is, Yellow Blue Tibia is an easy read which works as a kind of absurd adventure story most of the time. The protagonist Konstantin Andreiovich Skvorecky is a great creation who would fit easily into a comic novel - of which there are elements here - but there is far more going on too. Even though this is a book dealing with 'radiation aliens' invading the Earth, the only thing I wasn't quite sure about is that much of the action takes place around the time of the Chernobyl accident in 1986 (reactor 4 acts a significant backdrop at one point), by which time Skvorecky, who suffered in the Second World War, then practically destroyed himself with alcohol, is well into his sixties, yet he seems capable of action man activity that can rival Schwarzenegger (though remarkably, even this could be explained by the book's central premise).

This is an excellent introduction to Roberts - or, for that matter, science fiction if you think it's all Star Wars and space battles. As for that title, even this comes with a twist, as it's what a phrase in Russian sounds like to the English ear. Putting the English version into Google Translate and getting it to speak the Russian clearly announces the title of Roberts' book - a trick it's almost impossible to risk showing off to someone. A cracker, indeed.

Yellow Blue Tibia is available from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com.

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