Archive for March 18th, 2010

March 18, 2010

Yellow Blue Tibia Bullets Doux

Everything I thought about Yellow Blue Tibia was jumbled up in my head so I made bullet points. And then it was still chaotic. So I made a stupid pun for a title (much as Roberts seems to have done!) and here is what I think. I think.

  • Long before I read the book I’d been told that it involved Stalin collecting a group of science fiction writers and ordering them to create fictional aliens that he could unite the Soviet Union against (I don’t think this is a spoiler, every review has mentioned this). A few people were a bit dismissive of Stalin as Adrian Veidt, but I thought it’d be rather awesome. As it happened, that section of the book was a relatively small part of the actual plot. Still really good though.
  • I suspect a good chunk of this plot was in there for how cool it would be. I have no complaints with this as a method of writing.
  • I particularly love the writing in the earlier sections of the book – it’s so fantastically overblown. There is, for example, this wonderful moment where the writers are seriously discussing the politics of these hypothetical aliens – according to the party line, only communists could be efficient enough to invent interplanetary travel. And do they really want to fight communists?
  • I spent a lot of time trying to decide whether I wanted to think of this as history or alt-history and still haven’t come to any conclusions.
  • The book feels translated (I am not in a position to comment on whether it feels like it’s translated from Russian, but it certainly has the feel of some translations from various Indian languages that I’ve read). It’s quite an achievement, and really impressed me.
  • How much fun did Roberts have writing this book? I’ve read a few negative reviews of Yellow Blue Tibia, and I acknowledge the rightness of much of what they said, but the sheer joy in this book was infectious as far as I was concerned, and it made most criticisms I had seem insignificant.
  • But if he’d written this book about my country and used, say, the Bhopal Gas tragedy, I don’t know if this whole being swept away by joy could have worked so well.
  • … I don’t think he would have written this about India. Russia* and Britain have a very different sort of historical relationship than India and Britain – whether that should put India off limits in certain ways (and equally, whether it shouldn’t do the same with Russia are bigger questions that I’m honestly not sure what I think about.
  • Catherynne Valente’s post about this book makes most of the criticisms I could not avoid (and there are some that I did not see, but I defer to her superior knowledge of Russian culture). I think a couple of things she says might be mitigated by the fact that this book has been written as if it were a translation: like the “x”s in the Russian alphabet thing, which I read as using “x” not as a letter, but in its capacity within English as an unknown quantity. I can readily imagine a translator substituting the symbol that performed a similar function. “Konsty”, though? Seriously?
  • The fatphobia thing. It seemed very clear to me when I read it. It’s clear from Roberts’ comments on Valente’s post that he wasn’t going for that at all and is thinking seriously about the charge. I do think that when writing in a style as frequently OTT as this one, that letting in things like fatphobia may be even easier than usual unless you’re actively on guard.
  • On the whole: I loved it, I dogeared it, I called people up so I could quote from it, I’m glad it exists.

*I should add that a significant part of the action actually takes place in Ukraine.