Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts is about Konstantin Andreiovich Skvorecky, a Russian SF writer who is called by Stalin to be part of a group who are to create a new threat for Communism to unite against, after the end of World War II. Soon after coming up with the concept of radiation aliens, and writing about their destruction of the Ukraine, the SF writers are disbanded and told, on pain of death, to forget everything that they have done. 40 years later the story picks up and follows Skvorecky as a number of strange occurrences cause him to believe that the alien invasion is actually coming true as it was written so many years ago.
Just writing that synopsis makes me marvel at the imagination required to arrive at a plot which is, at once, breathtaking in its scope and farcical in its telling. Adam Roberts has written a novel which makes you laugh in delighted shock on a number of occasions, but, above all, makes you wonder.
The writing is well-crafted at an extremely high intellectual level - I say this with a certain amount of pride, but it is a rare book these days that has me reaching for the dictionary to find out the meaning behind a word I have never encountered before, and Yellow Blue Tibia did this on a couple of occasions. The philosophical musings, the authentic settings that brought to life Communist Russia, the rampant humour - all of these factors made me delight in reading the book.
However, the humour is probably the one element of the book that had me scratching my head. I adored the cynical irony, the slapstick chases, the quirky characters - but it meant that the novel was more of a comedy and therefore the impact of some of the high concept sci-fi components was lost.
I also didn't manage to connect with the characters on any level at all - I laughed at their antics, but I ended up caring very little as to the resolution of their story. This particular quote, I believe, sums up the novel perfectly:
" '...One thing I hate in this world and you are fucking it. You are an ironist.'
'Fundamentally, you take nothing seriously. You believe it is all a game. It was the same in your novels; they were never serious. They had no heart...' "
Having said that, the love story at the heart of Yellow Blue Tibia - and the reason for the title - were sweetly unexpected. I liked Dora, especially the fact that Skvorecky saw beyond her physical appearance to realise the beauty in her soul.
I liked Yellow Blue Tibia well enough, but felt it was not the unbelievable novel it had the potential to be, because the humour confused the issues being presented. I have not read any other Adam Roberts novels, and so I am left wondering whether every novel he has written has the same ironic bent (which, actually, sounds very like the author's rather snarky blog as well!) What, I guess, is promising is the fact that I would like to seek out other novels by Adam Roberts! Yellow Blue Tibia is a highly imaginative novel with a lot of soul but little heart - humorous but a little shallow.
Arthur Clarke thoughts: There is no doubt that Yellow Blue Tibia deserves its place on the short list - it is, again, a very different type of science fiction novel. I think what I have truly admired so far about the Arthur Clarke reads is that they are so very different, but united in some fantastic writing and stunning science fiction concepts. I certainly don't envy the judges, having now read five of the six! In my opinion, Yellow Blue Tibia is a very strong novel, but I think it is possibly too light-hearted for the award - especially when considering the impact of novels such as The City & The City and Far North.