When last we left our hero, he was handwaving furiously in order to keep from having to 'evaluate' the book that Kim Stanley Robinson, whose books are coincidentally-I'm-sure shelved right next to Adam Roberts's in your local bookstore's SF ghetto, rather noisily said Shoulda Won the Booker the other year. We join our hero in the middle of a new, only tangentially-related waving of hands, though we will unceremoniously pop out of the blogpost-frame at a moment of peak (forgive me) HANS-WAVING...
Let's talk briefly about mystery stories.
At one level Yellow Blue Tibia is a bit of a secret-gov't-shadiness thriller - a conspiracy novel you might say, *nudgenudgewinkwink* - complete with KGB kidnappings, basement interrogations, murder most foul, Scientologists with hidden motives, alt-historical Soviet nogoodniks. It shares a central mystery with other conspiracy tales: Who's really pulling the strings? And for all ARRRRRR's genre-expectation-manipulation shenanigans (it's an action movie starring a geriatric SF writer! it's a love story starring a perfectly spherical lady Scientologist!), he really does answer the central question in the end, after a fact. Admittedly the Big Reveal is offered up almost grudgingly, but it's there in the last chapter: aliens are real, and the SF writers were 'inspired' to craft an 'unbelievable' future history that came kinda 'true': a provisionally fictional reality-attractor. And of course Love, Love, Love has spun things a bit off course, as it will.
As one hopes will happen with one's mystery stories, Yellow Blue Tibia answers its questions fairly and unexpectedly.
The aesthetic success of a mystery, its positive completeness, requires the final discharge of energy whose slow buildup is (arguably, or for some readers; for me at least) the genre's key pleasure. I like a strong answer, but if the question is generative enough - if it ramifies, variegates, fractalizes, or just goes ass-up Raymond Chandler-style - then I'd almost rather not come to the end at all. It almost isn't worth finding out who killed Laura Palmer. You'd rather not know how The Rock ended up in two places at once in the Southland. Tyler Durden's a lot more interesting in tandem with his other half than as abstract villain. It's not important to know the 'truth' about the central event in Jose Chung's From Outer Space! - so long as you want to know and can live into the ambiguity.
The Usual Suspects is perfect-of-its-kind, but when was the last time you rewatched it? Its purpose is to be encountered for the first time only. It's not a world to live in.
For the last 100 pages of Yellow Blue Tibia I found myself hoping that ARRRRRRRRR would find a way to duck his generic responsibility to the suspense tale and keep his comic tale suggestively open-ended (though after Saltykov died I was upset enough to accept the end one way or another - points to ARRRR, damn it). I wanted a version of the 'Jose Chung's' story. After all, the ultimate explanation for the UFO phenomenon is, y'know, 'self-perpetuating myth system' crossed with 'media self-feeding' with a dose of military-industrial paranoia (not for nothing are so many UFO sightings essentially intrusions of the mechanical (imaginary) Other on rural landscapes). No aliens, we all get that, right? So I was hoping that ARRRRR's fiction wouldn't close in on itself, explanation-wise - that what's true in our banal hors-texte, i.e. magical beliefs and miraculous material fact, would hold in the novel's world as well.
But OK: it's a book about a SF writer who crafts a 'realityline' in which aliens are real and (lo; behold) aliens are 'real,' more or less, go SF writers(!); it's like an inversion of Douglas Adams's 'Somebody Else's Problem' field where you start to see the spaceships the minute you realize they're there. Or something. I wanted YBT to make a didactic point about magical thinking and 'bisociation,' and to do so in a Weird way in keeping with the 300 pages of Weirdness preceding, but ARRRRRRR@*%^ was instead building up a sly joke about fiction-making in the wordcraft/worldcraft sense. Formal fictioneering. And so his fiction stuck to the form. There was an Everything is Revealed ending and everything, in which some things were revealed.
I'm the dope for wanting a kaleidoscope instead of YBT's self-referential satire.
It lags a tiny bit in the middle, during the funny but rather prolonged Saltykov bits.
So what are three main male characters' compulsions?
Saltykov, the cabbie, is compulsively literal. He insists on things as they merely are.
Skvorecky, the narrator, is compulsively ironic. He dodges over and over into things which are not - and of course as a writer of science-fictions he makes his living that way too.
Frenkel, the villain, is compulsively synoptic. He can't seem to stop explaining the Big Picture, even if he's always more abstract than he ought to be.
A XOR B - OR some third thing C. Thesis, antithesis, nemesis.
Or else Saltykov is a worldbuilder, Skvorecky a script doctor, Frenkel a goddamn producer.
Hans Vaihinger back in the day was all about a spectrum of fictionality: fiction--hypothesis--dogma. Ideas, said Hans, could slide back and forth in terms of...nah, not truth value, but relative truthiness y'might say. Dogma you refused to not believe. Fictions you knew to be false. Hypotheses had some give to them; they could be held provisionally true. Wolfgang Iser (one of the distant weird cold flickering possibly-chthonian stars in my longago grad school firmament) slapped that Ideational Spectrum into a theory of literary fiction as reader-writer gameplay...
...the point being that you read a novel and 'knew' it wasn't 'true,' but you nonetheless were able to accomplish some impressive stuff imaginatively by granting assertions-in-the-novel provisional truth: fictionality as cognitive scaffolding. Not true nor false but some third thing. There's a reason grad school makes people disgusted with mainstream politics. The grad thing is allllways about 'some third thing,' ideation without representation.
(to be continued)