Saturday, May 20, 2017

Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Published: Tor (2016)
Awards Nominated: Hugo and Locus Fantasy Awards
Awards Won: Nebula Award

The Book:

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn't expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one's peers and families.

But now they're both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who's working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world's magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world's ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together -- to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.”

I checked this one out of the library after seeing all the positive buzz online.  Since then, it has garnered several award nominations!  

My Thoughts:

The prose of All The Birds in the Sky is very light, easy to read, and often humorous.  It was easy for me to feel drawn into the story, even when I could only read in short bursts (life is busy).  The plot moved very quickly, and so often it felt like details were glossed over.  The story features Patricia and Laurence as teens and, later, as young adults, but skips over several crucial years of development. We only learn a little about Patricia’s time at Eltisley Maze through flashbacks, and there isn’t much information about Laurence’s growth from genius kid to start-up scientist. I would have liked to see more of this in-between time, even though I admit that the push of the story is more in tying the seeds sown in their childhood to the environmental catastrophe of their adulthood. Even without these years, there was so much going on in both of their lives that it was easy to just let myself get swept along in the current.

While Patricia and Laurence face environmental issues that will be familiar to people today, they clearly live in a more magical version of our world.  Theirs is a world of 2-second time machines, easily-made artificial intelligences, and talking animals.  It was hard to read this as a story about the balance of science and magic, since the science was essentially just another kind of magic.  Instead, it felt to me more like a story about the clash or balance of two different perspectives. Laurence’s science valued humanity and progress over even the continued existence of the Earth.  Patricia’s magic valued non-human life and nature over the continued existence of humanity. Both sides could go to harmful extremes, and it was difficult for those on either side of the line to understand one another.  Laurence and Patricia’s relationship gave them an opportunity to find a balance between the two.

In this way, Laurence and Patricia’s bond becomes a reflection of the larger conflict in their lives.  I enjoyed reading about them, with all their earnestness and flaws.  I appreciated the awkwardness of their early friendship, where shared ostracization pushed them together despite their differences. I liked how their shared history made them more willing than others to bridge the gap between their experiences and beliefs.  The two of them really were the center of the book--there were a number of minor characters that wandered in and out of the story, but few of them were especially memorable.  The final conclusion of the story felt a little anticlimactic, but it also made sense in terms of all that came before.  
My Rating: 4/5  
All the Birds in the Sky is an entertaining story about the clash between science- and nature-focused worldviews in a magical world similar to our own.  It was engaging and easy to read, with a fast-moving plot that always kept my attention.  The story focuses on Laurence, a scientist, and Patricia, a witch.  The two of them meet as teens, and then reunite as adults to cope with a world in environmental decline.  Their developing relationship and understanding of one another may help them preserve the world and the human race.  It was a very fun novel to read, and I am curious to see what Anders will write next!

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