Reading Yellow Blue Tibia

I meant to read one of the other Nebula Award nominees next, but when Yellow Blue Tibia arrived in the mail, it proved too tempting to resist. First of all, the cover is inundated with Soviet iconography. I love Soviet iconography. As this novel extensively attests, the Soviet state was not a good place to live, but man, could they do imagery.

Second, the book is called Yellow Blue Tibia. How can you not be intruiged by that.

I won’t tell you what the title means. At first, I thought it might refer to alien bones or something, but it’s much more awesome than that. At least, if you’re of a certain mindset, like myself. That’s most of you, right?

Yellow Blue Tibia is a joy to read. It takes place, as you might expect, in the Soviet Union, starting just after World War II and running through the mid-80s. The main character, Konstantin Skvorecky, is a jaded, sarcastic old science fiction writer, whose ironic world view creates a perfect balance to the Soviet world around him. Much of the book is absurd, almost abstract, but Skvorecky grounds the entire story, giving the reader someone understandable to focus on.

The writing is brilliant. If you enjoy clever prose, then this entire novel will be for you. The text always flows well, never feeling forced until the end. The wit frequently appears like this:

The phrase Soviet x is the finest in the world had evidently been etched in his brain for, I would hazard, any value of x. Indeed, I daresay he believe that Soviet alphabets contained the finest xs in the world.

The only place Yellow Blue Tibia fails is at the end, and even then, I’m not sure if I can call if a failure. Most of the book, it doesn’t have to be science fiction. Everything that happens could be explained by normal phenomena. It doesn’t even deviate from the normal timeline we all know about. But at the end, things get a little … odd.

I actually liked the science fiction components, but was it completely satisfying? That’s one of the things about science fiction; readers like things wrapped up in tight little bundles. While I’m willing to give a writer tremendous latitude in a conventional scene to have characters do absurd things, that changes once you slap the science fiction label onto it. I wanted a more fleshed out narrative in the last chapter or two.

But Yellow Blue Tibia is a rare book. It defies standard categorization and that’s a wonderful thing. If you’re a hard core science fiction person, you may find this book frustrating. This may also be true if you’re a hard core believer in the supremacy of the Soviet Union. That said, this is another stunning book in what has been an excellent year for fiction.

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