BSFA Best Novel 2010 Nominee: Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)

Title: Yellow Blue Tibia
Author: Adam Roberts
Pages: 336
Genre: Science Fiction
Standalone/Series: Standalone
Release:  Hardback out now / MMPB out 13 May
Publisher: Gollancz


Russia, 1946, the Nazis recently defeated. Stalin gathers half a dozen of the top Soviet science fiction authors in a dacha in the countryside somewhere. Convinced that the defeat of America is only a few years away, and equally convinced that the Soviet Union needs a massive external threat to hold it together, to give it purpose and direction, he tells the writers: ‘I want you to concoct a story about aliens poised to invade earth … I want it to be massively detailed, and completely believable. If you need props and evidence to back it up, then we can create them. But when America is defeated, your story must be so convincing that the whole population of Soviet Russia believes in it–the population of the whole world!’ The little group of writers gets down to the task and spends months working on it. But then new orders come from Moscow: they are told to drop the project; Stalin has changed his mind; forget everything about it. So they do. They get on with their lives in their various ways; some of them survive the remainder of Stalin’s rule, the changes of the 50s and 60s. And then, in the aftermath of Chernobyl, the survivors gather again, because something strange has started to happen. The story they invented in 1946 is starting to come true …


I had mixed feelings about Adam Roberts again. He’s written one of my favourite books ever, Stone. An amazing narrator. A clever story. Totally brilliant. And then I read Salt and On. I say read. It was more read a few pages and put down never to pick up again. I did read them out of order as Stone is his third novel and the other two are this first and second. So he might have started to find his feet then but it does make you weary not to find an authors other books living up to expectations.

Yellow Blue Tibia is his 10th straight novel (though he has written several parodies) so the question is was Stone a one off or does Yellow Blue Tibia contain an amazing narrator with a clever story and is it totally brilliant?

Yes, yes and yes! It is. And the review would be so much easier if I could stop there but I’d better explain myself.

The first thing to say that even though this is in essence a historical tale with a heavy science fiction edge it is so close to reality that I’m seriously questioning how much of it Roberts actually made up.

He’s written the memoir of Konstantin Skvorecky who, along with four other SF writers were gathered together by Starlin to write the story of an alien invasion. The trouble is that several years later their story seems to be coming true.

Told in the first person what is immediately apparent is the character that Skvorecky has. The dialogue is whitty with jovial banter between a strange and eclectic cast all drawn to Skvorecky who’s wanted as an ‘expert’ in his field, which is UFOs rather than translation skills that make up his day job.

Though his journey and life are anything but normal. The progress of his career as a science fiction writer doesn’t seem to grow as he gets older and Roberts has some poignant comments on the genre and what motivates its writers.

But it’s the drawing in to Skvorecky’s Russia and the strange life he leads that carries you along with the dialogue. The plot, as I said, feels real but only in the context of the narrator himself. It is a fantastical tale as Robert’s twists reality. He brings you  fully into his creation.

I was, am probably still am completely drawn in to the ‘what if?’ elements.That isn’t to say that this is a huge tale. It’s a small personal tale of one man who has the power to save Russia from disaster, but can he save himself?

BSFA Thoughts

The biggest compliment you can pay to a writer is to believe their lies no matter how closely they base them on the truth. You have to be drawn in to the characters they create and the lives they end up leading.

And truth and lies seems to be an emerging theme in this shortlist.

The City and The City has a world where two different cities share the same physical space even if the inhabitants have long learnt to unsee and unheard each other.

Lavinia is a retelling of a series of events form a minor character while still sticking closely to all the facts.

And Ark is the continuation of the flooding of Earth is based on an extreme scientific example. And you’ll see from the review of Flood, the basis of Ark, it is very real. Though I hope that Baxter will keep that strong sense of reality in Ark.


Robert’s has written a believable memoir of a science fiction writer who finds that his joint creation is coming to life several years after he wrote it. His narrator is quirky, challenging and effected by the Great War. Oh and aliens. There are definitely aliens.

And a questioning of reality. But whose reality will you question? The life of Skvorecky or your what you think you know about the Challenger and the Chernobyl disasters?

Roberts has shot right back up my list of must read authors.

Oh and reason the title is what it is an amazing touch.

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