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All the Birds in the Sky Kindle Edition
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|Length: 317 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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About the Author
- Publication date : January 26, 2016
- File size : 1474 KB
- Print length : 317 pages
- Publisher : Tor Books (January 26, 2016)
- ASIN : B00W190RPG
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Language: : English
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #92,082 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I found the book uneven, and I couldn't figure out of the author intended it as comedy, allegory or drama. If she had stuck with a tone somewhere in the middle, the book would have worked better, but to me, it seems the book seesaws through scenarios intended to be humorous to ones intended to represent current trends in tech to serious and dramatic events. (I mean, how seriously can you take a book that contains the description "suckable-looking nipples" and a character who proclaims, "History is just the flow of time writ large, man"?) Don't get me wrong--I laughed occasionally at the funny stuff and stuck with it to the (ambiguous, sequel-supporting) end, but I never connected with the story and the characters as much as I have other recent books I've enjoyed.
I also felt characters were inconsistent to fit whatever situation they happen to be in. One character is reintroduced as an adult, and he's on the cover of every tech magazine and rappelling out of an airship in an Armani suit to present a giant check to a startup in front of an audience of VCs. Okay, so he's a wealthy, tech superstar--got it. Only after that, we find he's crashing in the in-law apartment in a friend's place. So which is it--famous and wealthy wunderkind or struggling startup drone? The answer to that depends on what the author needs the character to be in one context or another.
It doesn't help that the plot relies on one big McGuffin and a giant Deus ex Machina to advance the plot, plus features a lengthy section of I think unintended dramatic irony . The McGuffin is the reappearance of a character who powerful people assumed they'd killed and promptly do kill him, but not before the incredibly random meeting sets the plot in motion. The unintended dramatic irony is another character who disappears early in the book and then reappears in what I felt was an obvious fashion but the main characters somehow fail to notice it for 150 pages. (When it is finally revealed, the character comments on how he couldn't believe they had not figured it out, and I audibly said "duh.") And the ex Machina moment comes when a powerful character pops up to heal one character and instantaneously stop a tense moment by incapacitating another. (At how many other points would that powerful magic have come in handy? All. Of. Them.)
Lastly, I felt the middle of this story meanders far too long. Not a lot happens in flabby middle section other than some romantic entanglements that ultimately don't add much the plot. Plus, the writer clearly wanted to name-check all the hipster San Francisco spots. Mission, Potrero, Kite Hill, SOMA, Hayes Valley, Pacifica and other places are mentioned for no other reason than to give the novel the techie cred it seeks.
This book has some intriguing premises, but it added up to much less than I expected.
The story is a derivative cross between an ersatz Harry Potter universe and the Nickelodeon Jimmy Newtron cartoons, The characters are annoyingly superficial and capricious. Apart from the antagonists, nearly everyone is described as exceptional or brilliant in one way or another but who in reality are cliche, "basic" (urban dictionary definition) and lacking imagination or substance. A YA novel written for the most part in the voice of a young teen mall enthusiast with small side dishes of Product Placement and oddly placed moments of very soft porn. Very odd book. I really wish I had not let the positive reviews bully me into reading to the end. I had the impression from reviews that the reveal at the end tied everything up nicely but it was decidedly meh. Now I just feel a little embarrassed. Perhaps just not my cup of tea.
So, does Charlie Jane Anders deliver? Yes, yes and no this reviewer thinks. This is not the masterpiece Little, Big where magic is felt rather than shown, but it is not Harry Dresden’s wizardry on steroids either. The two protagonists are likable enough, with a lot of thought from the writer going into their backgrounds and especially their tender years.
The story is also satisfying with no unnecessary fat and proceeds at a decent pace. Actually, it really takes off towards the end, at the point where, usually, most science fiction tales (and their poor readers) fall flat on their faces. So, taking into account this is a debut novel too, yes the writer does deliver.
However, there are some gray areas, most importantly “geolocation”. This reviewer believes that a work of literature and especially a science fiction/fantasy work should somehow levitate far above the ephemeral, the local and the trivial, whereas, several parts of “All the Birds in the Sky” read like a San Francisco blog. Also, the weird Two Second Time Machine in the beginning of the novel could have been edited out, it just feels out of context.
Having said all these, I recommend this novel. A debut to remember.
Top reviews from other countries
When the novel shifts to catch up with the two misfits in later life, Lawrence is part of a secret pool of scientists seeking ways to escape a dying world and Patricia has become a member of a magical order which instead attempts to heal the damage done, or at least alleviate some of its consequences. By this point the science has sharpened up into something which (for the most part) is recognisably from a possible future, and as the story weaves between and blends magic and science all ideas of genre fall away. Patricia and Lawrence – each immersed in their separate ideologies - meet again, clash, fall deeply in love, and accidentally rush the world towards annihilation.
It’s sweet, really.
No, I mean it. For all of the dystopian trappings the book ends up wearing, at its heart is a simple and lasting friendship which might bloom to romance if a few misunderstandings can be wrinkled out. The story is as much about ‘feels’ as ‘stuff’. What prevents it from ever being reductive is that Anders writes this very recognisable dysfunctional/functional relationship to focus not so much on the big things that every book about a relationship concentrates on, but about the idiosyncratic details and oddities which (when you read them) are instantly recognisable, but which rarely form the structure of a narrative in this way. The emotional roadmap is familiar, but the handcrafted detailing is so exquisite, unusual, and funny that it feels brand new. I’ve read reviews comparing Anders to various authors, and her genre fusions invite extensive comparisons depending on what aspects leap to the foreground for you, but for me she feels like a welcome intruder in Neil Gaiman’s natural territory, casting fresh eyes over an already compelling landscape.
Funny, compelling, deeply engaging – I’ll be surprised if, come the end of the year, I don’t look back at this as one of my favourite books.
Wow, that sounded so promising - this book was going to deal with the issue of humans, nature and machines! Perhaps some theories and philosophies about science and technology, the post-anthropocene and environmentalism were going to be addressed! Alas, how quickly those (perhaps unfair) hopes were dashed.
The first section reads like YA fiction, and Anders does put an interesting spin on the coming-of-age theme with a budding witch Patricia and a science nerd Laurence becoming friends by their default outcaste status in the big bad microcosm of the American middle school system. Throw in a magic tree with some talking birds and a watch that is able to cast the wearer 2 seconds into the future with the press of a button and you could tell that a combination of magic and fantasy with sf was taking root. It kept me interested to see how Anders was going to make this blend of genres work. There was also a good measure of comedy, but mostly of the sitcom variety, with inept parents, evil siblings and school bullies delivering their choice lines and making the lives of our two heroes a daily misery. In the midst of Patricia’s and Laurence’s mutual commiserations, an assassin literally walks into their lives, even as they jokingly speculate on the identity of “a man in black slippers and worn gray socks” on the mall escalators.
The following contrived description seems to have sprung right out of a Nickelodeon TV special:
“His name was Theodolphus Rose, and he was a member of the Nameless Order of Assassins. He had learned 873 ways to murder someone without leaving even a whisper of evidence, and he had to kill 419 people to reach the number nine spot in the NOA hierarchy. He would have been very annoyed to learn that his shoes had given him away because he prided himself on blending with his surroundings.” Theodolphus also likes ice cream and disguises himself as the school counsellor because for some unfathomable (perhaps I missed it in the midst of cringing) reason, his next targets are Patricia and Laurence, and by his influence he manages to wreak more havoc into their lives.
Then there was a quantum leap into the second section where the two characters have become adults and virtual strangers, each living in their separate worlds. The witch Patricia, had been spirited away to a sadistic version of Rowlings’ Hogwarts, and after graduating, goes into the business of protecting nature through witchcraft and magic. Her mentors are shapeshifters and the like, and her missions include “taking out” the rich and corrupt (for a noble cause of course), though Patricia also impressively uses her powers to soothe and heal, like when a party falls apart with bad music and food poisoned guests. Laurence the former science geek has become a sought-after corporate scientist in the midst of building a wormhole generator to send humans off this increasingly uninhabitable Earth.
These two central characters reunite but clash in terms of philosophy and worldview, as well as their seemingly irreconcilable use of science and magic. This is interesting, except that the writing never quite elevates itself beyond the level of a YA novel. Instead there are some frankly awkward and embarrassing sex scenes and a dose of violent gore to signal that this is a proper adult novel, that also happens to deal with serious issues like the anthropogenic destruction of the planet.
It is clear Anders is an ambitious novelist and she has many interesting genre-bending ideas which are not easy to execute and assemble cohesively onto the page. However, it tried too hard to be too many things at the same time, and coupled with the flat characterisation and stilted (some may see it as quirky) dialogue, the novel just did not quite hold well together.
It centres on two characters whose lives cross at various points - Patricia, a witch, and Laurence, a scientist. The book opens with two wonderful chapters on their childhood experiences as unhappy outcasts and the awakening of their respective abilities, both of which come to be massively important (for the fate of the world no less) as the story unfolds. These two central characters are believable and sympathetic, and I ended up becoming very fond of both of them, warts and all. The supporting cast of characters is perhaps not as skilfully drawn (a few of them blurred into one for me), but what Charlie Jane Anders does create is a believable world where witchcraft and futuristic science co-exist. The world is familiar in many ways (some of the early chapters hardly read like speculative fiction at all), but with wrinkles of magic and gadgetry that somehow just work without ever seeming out of place. Anders gives us a reality where characters can fly and talk to animals and where geeks build wrist mounted time machines, but also where parents often do the wrong things despite good intentions, kids get picked on at school and love is confusing and elusive.
Narratively the book isn’t perfect, there’s a somewhat weird sub-plot that runs throughout involving an assassin which I would happily have seen edited out and other things feel like they are missing, with a somewhat jarring leap from the main characters’ adolescence to adulthood that I felt might have worked better if there had been an intervening chapter on those few missing years. Part of me wants to say that Anders’ talent as a storyteller doesn’t quite manage to keep pace with her wonderful imagination, but in all honesty what problems there are with the book are quickly forgotten in the rush of brilliant ideas and the gripping race to save the planet. For good measure, she throws in some lovely, and convincing, romantic elements; as well as insightful observations on the awkward process of becoming an adult.
“I am unflappable,” Laurence told the bus driver. Who shrugged, as if he’d thought so too, once upon a time, until someone had flapped him.
So whilst ‘All the Birds in the Sky’ is not without its faults, it’s impossible not to recommend it. If you’re a dreamer, whether those dreams are of spells or spaceships, you’ll find something to delight you here.