Skip to main content

Yellow Blue Tibia (SF) - Adam Roberts *****

After enjoying Jack Glass and being blown away by The Thing Itself, I have been familiarising myself with the back-catalogue of science fiction writer Adam Roberts, and Yellow Blue Tibia is a cracker.

At first sight, the plot starts brilliantly but veers into the farcical. It begins just after the Second World War with Stalin bringing together a group of Russian science fiction writers to create a new menace to unify the people, a fiction that is then rapidly concealed - so far, a wonderful idea. But the menace the writers create seems to start becoming real an increasingly unlikely events. What Roberts manages to do, though, is to weave the same kind of magic as my favourite fantasy author, Gene Wolfe in his real-world set fantasies. When you read a Wolfe book, you know the whole thing may seem absurd, but somehow it will eventually all come together, even if you have to read it several times to real get into the depth of it. Similarly, Roberts manages in the end to tie together the unlikely and absurd threads in a way that makes a sense given some understandings of physics. It's a bit like my maths supervisor at Cambridge used to say: 'No one gets it immediately, but let it wash over you and eventually it all makes sense.' And it's very rewarding when it does.

Having said that, I don't want to give the impression that the book is a hard read. Unlike The Thing Itself, which does take some work, rewarding though it is, Yellow Blue Tibia is an easy read which works as a kind of absurd adventure story most of the time. The protagonist Konstantin Andreiovich Skvorecky is a great creation who would fit easily into a comic novel - of which there are elements here - but there is far more going on too. Even though this is a book dealing with 'radiation aliens' invading the Earth, the only thing I wasn't quite sure about is that much of the action takes place around the time of the Chernobyl accident in 1986 (reactor 4 acts a significant backdrop at one point), by which time Skvorecky, who suffered in the Second World War, then practically destroyed himself with alcohol, is well into his sixties, yet he seems capable of action man activity that can rival Schwarzenegger (though remarkably, even this could be explained by the book's central premise).

This is an excellent introduction to Roberts - or, for that matter, science fiction if you think it's all Star Wars and space battles. As for that title, even this comes with a twist, as it's what a phrase in Russian sounds like to the English ear. Putting the English version into Google Translate and getting it to speak the Russian clearly announces the title of Roberts' book - a trick it's almost impossible to risk showing off to someone. A cracker, indeed.


Paperback:  

Kindle 

Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Superior - Angela Saini *****

It was always going to be difficult to follow Angela Saini's hugely popular Inferior, but with Superior she has pulled it off, not just in the content but by upping the quality of the writing to a whole new level. Where Inferior looked at the misuse of science in supporting sexism (and the existence of sexism in science), Superior examines the way that racism has been given a totally unfounded pseudo-scientific basis in the past - and how, remarkably, despite absolute evidence to the contrary, this still turns up today.

At the heart of the book is the scientific fact that 'race' simply does not exist biologically - it is nothing more than an outdated social label. As Saini points out, there are far larger genetic variations within a so-called race than there are between individuals supposedly of different races. She shows how, pre-genetics, racial prejudice was given a pseudo-scientific veneer by dreaming up fictitious physical differences over and above the tiny distinct…

Artificial Intelligence - Yorick Wilks ****

Artificial intelligence is one of those topics where it's very easy to spin off into speculation, whether it's about machine conciousness or AI taking over the world (and don't get me onto the relatively rare connection to robots - cover designer please note). All the experience of AI to date has been that it has been made feasible far slower than originally predicted, and that it faces dramatic limitations. So, for example, self-driving cars may be okay in limited circumstances, but are nowhere near ready for the commute home. Similarly, despite all the moves forward in AI technology, computers are so-so at recognising objects after learning from thousands of examples - sometimes fooled by apparently trivial surface patterning - where humans can recognise items from a handful of examples.

Even so, we can't deny that AI is having an influence on our lives and Yorick Wilks, emeritus professor of AI at the University of Sheffield, is ideally placed to give us a picture …

Where are the chemistry popular science books?

by Brian Clegg
There has never been more emphasis on the importance of public engagement. We need both to encourage a deeper interest in science and to counter anti-scientific views that seem to go hand-in-hand with some types of politics. Getting the public interested in science both helps recruit new scientists of the future and spreads an understanding of why an area of scientific research deserves funding. Yet it is possible that chemistry lags behind the other sciences in outreach. As a science writer, and editor of this website, I believe that chemistry is under-represented in popular science. I'd like to establish if this is the case, if so why it is happening - and what can be done to change things. 


An easy straw poll is provided by the topic tags on the site. At the time of writing, there are 22 books under 'chemistry' as opposed to 97 maths, 126 biology and 182 physics. The distribution is inevitably influenced by editorial bias - but as the editor, I can confirm …