RogerBW's Blog

All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders 19 April 2016

2016 SF and fantasy. Patricia is a witch who can sometimes talk with animals, and Laurence is a budding mad scientist. Having met and split up during their hellish schooldays, they meet again as the world seems to be winding towards its end.

This is a strange book, and one not easily categorised. It is what magical realism could be if the magical realists had the guts to embrace things outside mundane experience and systematise them a little rather than saying "ooh, weird thing" and stopping there. There are both science-fictional and fantastic elements, as well as a solidly YA story about growing up.

The hellish schooldays, for my taste, take up rather too much of the early part of the book. Yes, they're necessary in order for the reader to understand the protagonists and how they became the people they are a few years later, but there's only so much teenage horribleness and the weird kid getting the blame for things clearly done by other people that I can find interesting.

On the other hand once the scene moves to a San Francisco in the throes of a projected startup culture things get more interesting. One man's lifeboat for humanity is another man's doomsday machine, and the scientists seem to be lining up against the secret wizards, both sides with their own potentially world-destroying weapons.

The writing is relatively plain, with little of the lushness that I've been enjoying in quite a few books recently, in part because Anders never lets a description get in the way of moving ahead with the story (and is sometimes a bit too Internet hipster in style, without much distinction between different characters' narrative voices). But it's highly refreshing to find a story about very serious matters that doesn't feel the need to be wilfully obscurantist (yes, I'm still smarting from The Name of the Rose).

It's not perfect: the ending is rushed, and there's perhaps an excessive emphasis on organically sourced vegan donuts when billions of people are dying in natural disasters. But it's still a jolly good book, and one I'd recommend very highly.

(This work was nominated for the 2017 Hugo Awards.)

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