Book Review: Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts

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Yellow Blue Tibia stretches from 1946 to the Chernobyl disaster. The novel follows Konstantin Andreiovich Skvorecky, a Soviet science fiction writer, who along with several other writers was tasked by Stalin to create a believable story about an alien invasion that could be used as an external threat to bind the USSR together, after the US was defeated. The project was aborted and the writers went their separate ways. Skvorecky eventually becomes a bitter old man, eking out an existence as a translator, until the story he created starts coming true.

Adam Roberts has created an intriguing set up, in a slightly unusual setting. As one of the characters notes, America might have Area 51, but Russia has its own reports of close encounters. The Soviet Union on the brink of Chernobyl is suitably bleak. The bureaucracy, secrecy, and paranoia all lend the novel a heightened atmosphere. Indeed, Roberts has crafted a tense, well-written novel, with many twists and turns. It begins as an alien invasion thriller set in the Soviet Union, and while that remains technically true, by the end the reader realizes that something stranger and far more interesting is going on. However, as is often the case with historical science fiction or fantasy, there is a danger inherent in ascribing real-world events to supernatural or, in this case, extraterrestrial forces. Roberts just about gets away with it here, and it did not spoil my enjoyment of the novel, but it occasionally approached the border.

Yellow Blue Tibia is filled with good ideas and a number of well-drawn characters. Skvorecky is often amusing, but his irony even in the face of danger has a wonderfully sharp bite. The precise nature of the aliens is intriguing, if deliberately ambiguous, and different from the usual fare. Overall this was a fun read, different and occasionally thought provoking.

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