Yellow Blue Tibia

Adam Roberts, Yellow Blue Tibia: Konstantin Skvorecky's memoir of the alien invasion of 1986. London: Gollancz, 2009. 326 pgs.

Adam Roberts writes strange and interesting books. I have read his work before, and enjoyed it. So, when I saw this on the shelf in the public library, I picked it up. And I am very glad I did. This book joins a very elite club, becoming the 3rd book that has ever made me laugh out loud while reading it. The first was the Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's Guide series. The second was Stephen Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series. This is the third.

Normally, when I am reading, all of my emotional reactions stay pretty contained. After all, reading is largely an exercise in imagination, and so the process is almost wholly internal to begin with. Negatively, only one book has ever shocked me enough to extract a gasp (Iain M. Banks! so good...). Otherwise, the 'best' negative result that usually comes about is that I put the book down and never read it again. Positively, I may grin, or pause for thought. Laughing is rare.

So, on to the book. As I said, Roberts pens unique and engaging tales, and this book is no different. We begin with a group of Russian science fiction writers who are tasked by Stalin to create a plausible, and fake-able, alien threat which Stalin will be able to use, once he has defeated the Americans, to unite the Russian people (and maybe the people of the whole world!). The project is quickly shut down, and all involved are told to forget everything. Not, however, before they come up with a narrative involving radiation aliens (no visibility necessary) who can possess people (easy to have actors do the job) and who begin their invasion with two key events: the destruction of an American space shuttle on takeoff, and a nuclear attack on the Ukraine.... Sound familiar? Do the words "Challenger" and "Chernobyl" ring any bells?

Fast forward to the 80's, and the story that these men wrote for Stalin 30 years before seems to be coming true. But there is only one man of that writing crew left, and no one else should know about it... Thus begins a tale rife with unexpected twists, irony and sarcasm, and weird (but good) science-fictiony type stuff.

I enjoyed this book immensely. One thing that Roberts was able to do which impressed me greatly was to write a convincingly brain damaged main character. To take a well established character and, through the narrative, alter his personality by brain damage, and then write the new character in such a way that the sudden change, as well as the main continuity, in his person are both convincing, subtle, and thorough is, to me, incredibly impressive.

Unfortunately, one other character also suffers brain damage and undergoes personality shifts. However, he loses some of his control and ends up with the equivalent of coprolalia. This is unfortunate because I do not particular enjoy reading that many swears... it detracts from my ability to experience the narrative. I find excessive swearing jarring, pointless, and in bad taste. What made it worse and better at the same time was that this occurred very near the end of the book. Had it been near the beginning, there is a good chance I would have stopped reading and never finished the book (ever try reading Richard Morgan? Well, don't; at least, not if this kind of thing bothers you). As it was, my desire to find out the end of the story pushed me through.

Overall, amazing book. If you read it, be prepared for a rough ending, not just in terms of the sudden swearing, but also in terms of the ending itself. I'll just say that things get... complicated. I guess aliens tend to do that though :)

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