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.