Monday, 5 June 2017

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders is a Hugo Award shortlisted novel that I remember hearing a lot about when it first came out, but which I didn't bother reading at that time because I wasn't entirely sure I'd like it. I am very glad that lots of other people liked it and nominated it for a Hugo, because it means I finally did read it and it was great.

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.

One of the great things about this book is that it is genuinely both science fiction and fantasy. (And not in the space fantasy way that annoys me.) Of the two main characters, one is a witch and one is a mad scientist making crazy gadgets. The story alternates their points of view and tells their story on sweeping scales, starting from their childhoods and running up to their mid-twenties. There are talking birds, time machines, sentient trees, and artificial intelligence. Really, this book has everything, including a writing style that draws you in and keeps you turning pages.

And including compelling characters. Patricia and Laurence start off as social outcasts with crappy parents — actually, Patricia's parents put me in mind of the Dursleys — who end up friends because they don't have anyone else. Various aspects of their painful childhoods are the real low point of the book. Their middle school years take place in roughly our present, I think, and so a ten year jump forward in time places the story in a science fictional near future. With Patricia being a witch and Laurence a mad genius, they are both star-crossed and fated to know each other. And suffering a lot of angst from both possibilities.

All the Birds in the Sky also pits science/technology and magic against each other and does so in a way that, astoundingly, doesn't piss me off. (Because usually when these things come up the message from the author is science/technology = bad, magic/nature = good.) We are shown the flaws and strengths of both and, in the privileged position of the reader, we get to see the way both misunderstand the other. The resolution of the science versus magic conflict is also awesome. For a book that started off quirky and entertaining and mostly almost fun and focussing on the small scale of Patricia and Laurence's friendship and their personal situations, it ends up on a surprisingly epic scale.

I really enjoyed All the Birds in the Sky and I'm really glad the Hugo awards pushed me into reading it. I highly recommend it to all fans of fantasy and science fiction, especially in contemporary or near-future settings. I will certainly be keeping an eye out for Anders's other work. All the Birds in the Sky is a dizzying and awesome story.

5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Tor
Series: No, don't think so
Format read: ePub
Source: from the Hugo packet

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