As far as Soviet-era UFO conspiracy pastiche can be punted with an iron boot, Yellow Blue Tibia has proven refreshing. It’s good to know the USA doesn’t own a monopoly on the probing perspective by curious interstellar visitors, as Englander Adam Roberts skillfully speculates upon the Soviet scenario in which our visitors radiate their presence.
Roberts combines clever science fiction with a well developed sense of Soviet drollery in his story, concentrating upon the events surrounding Konstantin Skvorecky, aging translator and former writer of science fiction. The plot is straight forward enough, whereupon Skvorecky and a cadre of top Soviet sci-fi fictioneers collectively conjure (Communism at work, comrades), at the behest of Stalin himself, a short-lived interstellar invasion only the Soviet aspirational supremacy can envision. The project is mysteriously halted yet decades later, Skvorecky attempts to understand and confront the emerging realization of his shared literary creation.
Roberts goes to great lengths to super soviet-ize his story. The milieu is concentrated all within Skvorecky’s persona, the stereotypically resigned, hyper-intellectual, confined only by the absurd yet ever rigid Party line. Consequently, Skvorecky’s weapon of choice is pure, radiant and sarcastic drollery, directed near mostly everyone, with extended dialectical exchanges in which thoughtful Russians are inherently apt to engage. Encountering clueless KGB, scheming Scientologists, eccentric cabbies who dabble in nuclear physics, or even fellow academics, eager to loudly pronounce that aliens “like to probe the rectum”, I fondly recall Skvorecky’s likely American counterpart Fox Mulder, in his stoic attempts to discover some granular truth in his personal UFO sojourn.
As Skvorecky ambles through the story, Roberts cleverly enmeshes his science fiction with cosmic philosophy. He provides brilliant, resonating soliloquies regarding the nature of radiation as well as finely-tailored usage of the more popular parallel multiverse conjectures making their rounds. The story of Chernobyl is cleverly fictionalized too, and given the current meltdown in Japan, is perhaps not too circumstantial a reminder of the effects of unregulated nuclear reactors.
Not too many drawbacks to the book, with the possible exception that I was left wanting more background from several peripheral characters, most notably the eccentric Saltykov as well as Dora, Lunacharsky and the enshrouded Frenkel. There was considerably more action than I anticipated, but overall, this is a thinking geek’s UFO speculation and should be applauded. So comrade, grab a seat, light some glorious Russian cigarettes and radiate some nostalgic patriotism by reading this fine Soviet sci-fi satire.