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Letters from Proxima Thule

Your passions are amazing! Like a whirlwind of razor blades! I feel breathless. I will probably never read this book. It sounds appalling -- and just a teensy bit amusing (well, maybe more than a teensy bit) because... Your critique is like precision bombing! BANG! POP! WHAP! In goes the shrapnel. That little red book is eviscerated... It's glorious! To have such a brain! Were you taught analysis by a particularly savvy teacher, or does it come naturally? (It does not come naturally to me.)

Anyway. Whew.

*wipes sweat*

Else what's a blog for, INDEED!

It kind of comes naturally. I love books, and when they are bad, this monster comes roaring up out of my heart to avenge the world...

Oh, gods.

I'm sorry, it's the title.


I think I just died a little bit. :-P

SERIOUSLY. I can't even type it anymore, it makes me wince every time.

I hadn't heard of the book, but now I will be certain to avoid it. With flamethrowers, if necessary.

As an Army trained, Russian Linguist (lapsed = haven't used the language in over a decade) your review makes me think that this book is the literary equivalent of the deliberate butchering of the language that we used to torture our muchitelnitsa uchitelnitsa with "Ochen karandash". (Very Pencil).

Sad. Very sad. I have often wondered, how does stuff like this even get published?

And praised all over the place.

I can only think that most reviewers know nothing about Russia, so it slides by them.

Yeah, that's a lot of not paying attention, it sounds like. Roberts went with his own ideas and assumptions and put those on the page. He went with his own version of how things work. And of course, he can just say that was intentional, that it was part of the artistry and the point (yay for postmodern irony!). But it sounds like the book is a joke from your description, and that is not a compliment.

What's interesting to me is that this book did not get derided for its inaccuracies in any large sense until now, whereas as soon as Connie Willis' BLACKOUT came out it got slammed for historical inaccuracies (Genreville did a writeup on it). I wonder if this is because of the historical familiarity of readers? I hope to the gods it isn't a gender thing. . . .

I do think that most people would not have noticed any of this because American readers aren't familiar with Russia or Russian history. That's why I had to post this, because I am and it needs to be said.

Phew. I thought you were going to talk about something else with Russians in it you might be reading. ahem.

I'd never do that to you in public, love. But when you publish a book, it's fair game.

I'm sorry that you read this terrible book. But thanks ever so much for a very entertaining review.

cool blog, even cooler article. The language thoigh doesn't match the mechanical flowers around here.pay per head sportsbook

I wish I could read an excerpt, but there are none to be had. Are you sure he didn't just mean it to be an absurd Russian-flavored pastichey kind of thing? I mean, accuracy or consistency is not the chief concern of a lot of writers, myself included. It's more the feel of the thing. If it fails as art, that's one thing -- but if it fails at cultural accuracy when he wasn't even trying for cultural accuracy...what do we call that?

Well, but the feel was wrong. And the facts. I kind of blame the editor who should have caught this stuff.

The thing is, it's a first person, immersive narrative, where almost everyone in the book is Russian. I can't see how it could be on purpose. On purposely wrong. It's not written that way, like we're supposed to be in on the joke. It's written as though all this stuff is right--that SF thing is a major revelation, and he goes out of his way to say it's not SF, it's the Cyrillic letters, and then he writes the cyrillic letters, but it seems never to have occured to him that the Russian for science fiction is not "science fiction."

I think if you're going to be consistently wrong through a whole book, you kind of have to hang a lantern on it, not make your protag a WWII vet deeply enveloped in the culture.

The fact that they only seem to have reversed *one* of the Rs on the cover reminds me more of "Toys R Us" than cyrillic.

Ha! I know, right? It's the w mangling that cracks me up, really, and that they even had to put "a novel" in faux-cyrillic. If one person tries to flip an r in my name for Deathless I will freak out.

Thank you for this!!! I took two years of Russian in college, and the misuse of the alphabet drives me batshit crazy. Way back when the movie "Red Heat" came out, they did the stupid with the cyrillic and I bitched to my friends, "It says 'Ya-ed Nelt! What the hell is Ya-ed Nelt?'" I'm not sure the cover for YBT is even pronounceable.

Anyway, I'd little desire to read the book simply because of the mangling on the cover, but now that I know the title is a really stupid pun on I love you...? Thank you for saving me from this book.

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I have friended you LJ, having seen a link to it. Hope you do not mind. Your reviews and rants are amazing. And the cat :) we have a Maine Coon kitten too.

Never read the book and not going to, most probably :) But, as a native Russian speaker, I should say I quite enjoyed the pun in the title, when I first saw it some time ago. In a reversed sort of way, as in, "Oh, so that's how Russian sounds to English ear, now that's cute and funny - my brain, too, tends to hear Russian words in randomly caught bits of English conversation". And the word order in Russian is notoriously fluid, so I did not get any bad vibes on that account either - I mean, I'd say "Ya tebja ljublju", if the question is "How do you feel about me?", but "Ya ljublju tebja", if asked "Do you love me or That Woman?" or affirming my love in an emotional moment.

Anyway, an amusing title does not a good book make, so...

The thing is, it doesn't sound like that to the English ear. At all. And I know word order is fluid, but it's not an order I'd really heard before, and what gets me is that the vowels are wrong. It just doesn't sound anything like that. I had to think for like five minutes to even get what he was saying when he revealed the pun. Also I hate puns. But to think it was some cool reference to aliens and to have it be a terrible and reeeeally stretching pun? It was the last straw.

There's an anthology published here in Poland, "Kroki w nieznane", that contains both Western and Eastern (Russian and Ukrainian) stories. And you can always tell which one is which, just by the language used and its flow. I grew up reading stories for teenagers about teenagers written in Soviet Union and they were different from my experiences (and I lived in a communist country for the first ten years of my life). I read modern Russian stories and there are still very different from what I experienced after the Wall fell down. So I totally get what you want to say, and I'm so not going to read the book.

I just think when you're not Russian at all and have never lived in a Communist country, you have to be extra careful about authenticity, especially if you're going for "satire."

I have this same exact rant about Finland all the time. I'm not a Finn either, but I'm married to one and have lived here for 9 years and speak the language and such. So I do have a clue, at least.

I get all foamy at the mouth over Finnish culture as well. One example? Someone, back in the day, took a bunch of names out of The Kalevala (Finnish national epic) and created a Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms pantheon with them. A totally made up pantheon, might I add, which has pretty much no relation whatsoever with actual Finnish culture, language, folklore, or native religious beliefs. It just has the "borrowed" names.

Nevertheless, some Neo-Pagan writers have gone on to write entire books about the native Finnish religion based on said Dungeons and Dragons pantheon. Neo-Pagan writers, might I add, who not only don't speak any Finnish, but haven't even visited the country itself. Hell, even BPAL had a scent named after one of these made up Dungeons and Dragons goddesses and claimed it to be named for an actual Finnish goddess.

I know, I know, nobody speaks Finnish outside of Finland, but come the fuck on, people. They might only have 6 million people, but they still don't like it when people take their culture and ignorantly crap all over it!

It makes me seethe.

Your rant made me very very happy.

And the Kalevala *is* available in translation.

Go to his blog. Scroll down to and read his comments on structuralism. He thinks reading a lot of books and thinking about them is "easy". I always thought that reading a lot of books and thinking about them was "research".

Whoa, how bizarre. Do you have a link?

Oh *no*. I took the Russian Revolution for my special subject at university, so I've actually had this on my things-I-want-to-read list for ages on the assumption that if Roberts was going to do this he'd actually have done the research to get it, y'know, *right*.

'his friends call him Konsty. Not, you know, Kostya'...

...and now I have to scoop my jaw up off the floor.

It's just like how in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, not only were the costumes historically inaccurate and the castles non-period, but they were using modern idiom and the French accents were al wrong! Not just for period French, but even modern French!

And let's not even get started on the inaccuracy of the spear points in Ringo Starr's Caveman.

But that was a comedy troupe not intending accuracy. Not a period novel.

(Deleted comment)
That sounds wretched.

As a classicist, I hate that Greek ΛLΡΗΛΒΣΤ shit, so I know exactly what you mean.

When I was a kid in school, my sister and I used to exchange notes auf Deutsch using the Greek letters phonetically where possible. When teachers intercepted them, there generally wasn't much they could do about it.

But yeah, that stuff is annoying. Poor abused lambda and sigma. Poor abused eta, theta, and rho. I feel your pain.

(Recently, I had a friend use Beta in a story title for the letter B, and she got pounced upon by folks who were convinced she was abusing the German esset in the same manner.)

Я "люблю тебя"…потому что я никогда не читал эту книгу.

One character actually refers to the "x"s in the Russian alphabet, in a passage with so many things wrong with it it beggars the mind. (There aren't any. And yes, he meant x as in the English x. Oh, I know it looks like an X. But it goes: "ch" and is not an X, much like our friend я.)

I decided not to read this book after seeing the cover in the store a while back and going on a rant about "fake" Cyrillic for American audiences--how Ч is not "y" and В is "v" not "b" and how Б is "b" but not В, but thank you for sparing me the horrors of the text proper, for I now see there was more of that in it.

"I love you in Russian is ya tebya lyublyu. So, um, I guess if you have THE WORST PRONUNCIATION IN THE ENTIRE WORLD and are an idiot, it kind of almost works."

If you say "Я люблю тебя" then it sounds kinda like "yellow-blue Tibia," but only in the exact same way that Donald Duck kinda sounds like he's speaking English when he talks.

Re: Я "люблю тебя"…потому что я никогда не читал эт

See I think a pun a. should never be a title and b. should not require stretching and a lot of leeway to even work in the first place.

Here via the Whateverette.
I blame Dan Brown, who has convinced the world that if you write an exciting enough plot, you don't need to get a single verifiable fact correct.

I was thinking of Dan Brown as well, but for the language problems. He has a French character use anagrams of English phrases to hide his message. The French character may be able to speak English but it seems unlikely that in his dying moments, he'll be sitting there trying to figure out anagrams in a language secondary to him and the person he is trying to communicate with.

(Or so I was told. I tried to read the first chapter of DaVinci Code and gave up, but other braver folks riffed on the problems.)

This makes me wish you got paid to read and review - I really enjoyed this, makes me feel like I'm not crazy for being so critical of things others seem to love *cough*avatar*cough*

I haven't read much of Adam Roberts' fiction, but I get the impression that he likes to engage in a kind of playful rulebreaking, deliberately doing things that many readers will consider wrong. See his remarks on what constitutes realistic characterization here: http://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/article/characterisation_swiftly/

(I have no idea whether this approach applies to any aspect of Yellow Blue Tibia.)

I just don't think that expands to claiming a language uses letters it doesn't, a syndrome before it was diagnosed, and and utterly failing to make a book feel like it was set in the country it claims to be. Honestly, I blame the editor more, because so much of this is basic fact-checking. If it was on purpose, I'm baffled, since it served no purpose in the novel but to anger me.

Oh my. Oh, my goodness. Two years of Russian way back in high school and I'm cringing here, and then I clicked through to see which Roberts you meant, and it all made much more sense. --The only Adam Roberts book I've ever tried to read myself I ended up throwing across the room several times, most notably when he badly (badly) whiffed Schrodinger's Cat in his introduction.

I've been re-reading this post, the comments, some entries on the author's own blog, and just shaking my head in dismay at the whole thing.

The book I'm currently working on is set in present-day Tokyo, and I can only *hope* I did enough homework to make it seem plausible. I don't expect to get every fracking detail right or include a surfeit of details that I never experienced personally (which is a big part of the reason this will probably be my last foray into such things, at least for now), but I'd like to think I got some basic things right.

More to the point, I'd like to think that if I was called on them, I'd be able to say "Yeah, I fucked that up," and not put myself in a position to make mistakes that gauche next time. I get the impression the author would be very irate if you called them "mistakes"; he'd be more inclined to label them as "aesthetic choices". He's welcome to do that, and we're also welcome to not read his book because of it. Which I think I'll be doing plenty of based on what I saw here.

Your blog is for whatever you want it to be, of course! But this sort of "rant" is one of the reasons I love it so. Because it's not just a rant... it's a review, a head's up to writers, a philosophy of writing, about half a semester's worth of language and culture lessons, and more. So please keep doing it! ^_^

I do believe all of the ideas you've presented in your post. They're very convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are very quick for newbies. May just you please lengthen them a little from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.

You know how sometimes you break a sentence up so that each word gets its own line and a period after, just to show the depth of your boggledness? This is the first time I've wanted to do that with an emoticon.




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I must say that overall I am really impressed with this blog. It is easy to see that you are passionate about your writing.

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