Yellow Blue Tibia is the first novel by Adam Roberts I’ve read. I chose the novel, in great part, because of Kim Stanley Robinson’s claim, reproduced on the novel’s cover, that it “Should have won the 2009 Booker Prize.” Robinson feels that science fiction novels are marginalized; he may have a point, but to make a claim that a certain novel should win a prize is fatuous: it would have been enough to state that he thinks it should have been considered for a Booker Prize, but to state that it should have won is provocative and no-doubt invites undue criticism.
I began the novel with a certain prejudice because of Robinson’s statement on the cover; at first, I was won-over by Robert’s prose (such an excellent set-up!), but I don’t think it should have been considered for a major literary prize. The main character, Konstantin Andreiovich Skvorecky, is an enjoyable invention; sarcastic, and teeming with wry wit. And the story is quite engaging. But there simply wasn’t enough depth to fully immerse me as a reader, and Roberts has an annoying tendency to overdo things. A few examples of the overdone:
The dialog is purportedly in Russian (it appears in English to the reader), with some English, which is differentiated by [placing it inside square brackets], but Roberts felt the need to remind the reader for far too long that certain words were said in English, or that someone had switched to Russian, far past the point that I understood without being told. I don’t like authors who assume I’m thick; readers should be required to pay attention, and the careful reader should be rewarded, not punished.
There is a comical interrogation in which a tape recorder is used: the interrogator turns the recorder on and off in order to separate the ‘official’ recorded version from the interrogation sections filled with threats. The interrogator becomes muddled and begins to turn the recorder on and off at inappropriate times, recording his threats, and stopping the recording during the ‘official’ sections. Roberts tells the reader for far too long that the switching on and off are recording the incorrect sections; the interrogator’s reactions when he realizes his mistake are also overplayed. I would have appreciated a little subtlety throughout this scene.
An interesting character, Saltykov, has a ‘syndrome,’ which is mentioned ad nauseam.
I enjoyed the novel (and, although you cannot tell a book by its cover, the art is remarkable), but it didn’t strike me as a particularly brilliant work of literature. As I mentioned, Kim Stanley Robinson believes (stated, in an article for the New Scientist) that Yellow Blue Tibia should have won the Booker Prize in 2009 (won by Hilary Mantel, for Wolf Hall). In the article, he maintains that the novels that win tend to be ‘historical’ novels, which “…are not about now in the way science fiction is.” Robinson lists a few other science fiction novels that he believes could have won in previous years; I have only read one of the other books he mentioned (Air, by Geoff Ryman), and it is a novel that I think should have received more attention as a work of literature, but that is only my opinion, and — oddly — I’ve never been asked to participate in a Booker Prize panel.
I’m glad I read Yellow Blue Tibia; for the most part it was well written and I’ll probably try another of the author’s books.