While Adam Roberts was kind of an ass regarding last year’s Hugo ballot, the summary of his latest, Yellow Blue Tibia, sounded pretty entertaining to me, and it was on the Locus Recommended Reading list, so I got it out of the library.

The book is presented as the memoir of Konstantin Skvorecky, a Soviet science fiction author who, along with several of his colleagues, was brought in by Stalin in the late 1940′s to concoct a story of an alien invasion that could be used to provide a new enemy for the Soviet Union to rally together against. They concoct a story about aliens of pure radiation, who launch their attack on Earth by first blowing up an American space launch, then using radiation to destroy a large chunk of the Ukraine. After a while, Stalin pulls the plug on the project, and the authors are dispersed with orders to never discuss the project again.

Almost forty hard years later, Skvorecky, now eking out a living as a translator in Moscow, encounters one of his former writer colleagues, who tells him that it’s all true. The aliens exist, and the invasion is beginning, just as they wrote it all those years ago.

I frequently enjoy this sort of metafictional game (see, for example, the works of the good John Barnes), so this sounded pretty good to me. And while the whole Soviet era setting seems like a somewhat odd choice (though maybe not for Gollancz), I figured it was worth a shot.

For most of the book, it’s very good. The maybe-or-maybe-not invasion starts to unfold in a well-done way. There’s a surprising amount of slapstick comedy, involving a cab driver with a very particular syndrome, a hulking and dim KGB man, and an enormously fat American. Coincidentally, I watched Miller’s Crossing last night with a bunch of students, and there’s a certain Coen Brothers quality to Skvorecky’s confrontations with KGB assassins, which is right up my alley.

And then the book just sort of… stops. Just when things seem to be coming together, there’s an abrupt halt, followed by a “Coda,” which says a bunch of dumb things about quantum physics. Bleagh.

I don’t know what the deal is with this sort of non-ending among the literati, but it gets really old. In SF, Michael Swanwick keeps doing this sort of thing, as well, to the point where I’m considering putting him in the Mike Resnick category of “I’m not reading your Hugo-nominated story because it will just annoy me.”

This was a good read up to the point where Roberts apparently hit the word count specified in his contract, and just cut things off. I wasn’t going to nominate it for the Hugo or anything, but I was enjoying it. Between the abrupt ending and the dopey “quantum” stuff at the end, though, I can’t even recommend reading it.

Comments

  1. #1 Jesse
    February 18, 2010

    I’ve not read much of Swanwick’s recent work — I remember Vaccum Flowers and The Iron Dragon’s Daughter and the stories in The Dog Said Bow-wow. So not to be stupid, but what non-ending syndrome are you talking about?

    Same for Resnick — I have read his short work and Kirinyaga. Was there another novel in which he does this sort of thing?

    I am not trying to be all, “I think you are stupid,” I really am asking as my sample size for both writers may be too small and I was surprised by reading that opinion of their work, is all. And it makes me feel like I missed something obvious maybe?

  2. #2 Chad Orzel
    February 18, 2010

    My gripe with Resnick is different than my gripe with Swanwick. Resnick writes godawful hackneyed sentimental tripe that inexplicably gets nominated for awards.

    Swanwick writes richly detailed, carefully imagined stories that just sort of… stop. Last year’s Hugo-nominated story, for example, was a great SF story about a human and alien traveling across an alien landscape, whose ending was “then I got picked up by my spaceship and I have no idea what happened to him after that.” Prior to that, he had a Hugo-nominated story that had a literal “and then he woke up and it was all a dream” ending.

  3. #3 Jesse
    February 18, 2010

    Hm. Must disagree a tad about Resnick, as one of his recent collections I read — Ivory — was actually quite good, but I don’t know. Maybe he’s a better short story guy. Kirinyaga was certainly an interesting meditation on what it means to have a utopia — or not.

    Swanwick’s stuff, I haven’t seen the phenomenon you describe, but again, maybe I haven’t read enough of his books to hit it yet. Which were the stories you were referring to? I’d like to take a look.