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All the Birds in the Sky Hardcover – January 26, 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of February 2016: An alchemical collusion—and sometimes collision—between the forces of magic and science, Anders’ novel swirls together fantasy and sci-fi into an often absurd but never slight modern tale of a witch and a tech genius who grow up together, grow apart, and finally have to save the world. This book throws a lot at the reader: coming-of-age and real adulthood, talking cats and two-minute time machines, assassins and venture capitalists, hilarity and hefty philosophy, technology and Nature. But Anders’ clever writing propels the story through its twists and turns, delivering a mesmerizing, thoughtful, and poignant novel that has “award winner” written all over it. --Adrian Liang
From School Library Journal
Social outcasts Patricia and Laurence have been friends since they were young, when they dodged cafeteria food that was thrown at them. But when Laurence, a supercomputing genius, finds out that Patricia can talk to birds, even he isn't sure if their friendship will last. Fast forward a few years and Laurence is working for a billionaire who wants to create a machine that allows for intergalactic travel to save humans after they have destroyed their own world. Patricia, meanwhile, has honed her magic skills at a witch academy and is now wandering the city healing people when she isn't supposed to. With the help of smart devices, Patricia and Laurence find love, but the looming end of the world tests their relationship. Give to readers who don't mind a bit of quirky romance like Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park mixed in with their fast-paced Daniel H. Wilson-esqe futuristic science fiction. Patricia and Laurence are awkward, lovable, smart, and dorky, and readers will cheer for them to save the world hand in hand. VERDICT Perfect for fans of The Big Bang Theory, this novel has plenty of appeal for readers of fantasy, science fiction, and apocalyptic fiction.—Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL
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Top customer reviews
So, since the book tries to meld fantasy with sci-fi and being a Hugo award finalist I had high hopes of a perfect blend, somewhat along the lines of Shadowrun. Well the fantasy part is all right, but when it comes to the science, I cannot help but feel it is a bit shallow, flimsy and tackled on just because it "must" be there, especially at the beginning of the book (e.g. the two second time machine).
My other gripe is, when the pace lulls then new elements(events and persons) that drive the story forward often just pop into existence like snapping your fingers with very little background the What? Why? When? How? goes mostly unanswered or very briefly(e.g. a possibly extinction level crysis should warrant some detailed explanation )
If you are willing to fill out the gaps with your imagination then the book is quite enjoyable and tells a story without the boring and archetypical "hero vs evil mastermind" setup.
But hey, I still loved the story. It echoed themes from "Romeo and Juliet." Two people from polar worlds brought together by love, tragedy... you get the gist. The contrast of the magic realm and the science world is a very clever tactic. I did feel a little deceived about the time-travel element listed in EVERY description of the book. It's in the book, but there's no real follow through.
Either way, it's still worth the read! I could definitely see this as a film. Check it out.
Since i09 and Writers with Drinks are both crossgenre mashups, it’s not surprising that All the Birds in the Sky follows suit, sitting directly on the line between science fiction and fantasy and refusing to be pushed to either side. The structure of the story weaves the two threads of magic and technology together as well as is probably possible (the plot does have a couple of holes, I’ll get into those later). It’s about a girl named Patricia who’s a witch and a boy named Laurence who is a computer wizard. The story starts with the main characters in middle school, skips a few years, and then picks up their story again when they are young adults living and working in San Francisco.
One of my favorite things about this book is it gets middle school SO right. Well, at least from the perspective of a social outcast, with all the melancholy, isolation, fragile friendships, and social pressure that comes with that… but also the positive side of finding things that you love and learning more about yourself. Patricia can do some real magic and Laurence finds joy in invention, but both are lonely and misunderstood at school. The school-age chapters highlight how girls and boys are bullied differently, with boys often suffering physical abuse at the hands of their classmates and girls being excluded or vilified by their peers (the kids at school think Patricia’s a Satanist).
Their outsider/loner status persists and flavors their adult lives. Patricia is constantly being warned by the other witches to stop taking on too much by herself. She doesn’t socialize with the other witches and thus is considered suspect. Laurence is extremely successful in his work but his dating life suffers from his lingering sense of inferiority. The only person that each main character gets along with is each other (and even that is less than rock-solid). This leads to one of the major problems with the novel – there are a lot of side characters, but only one of them influences the plot and the rest are little more than scenery.
This example is meant to show Laurence being overwhelmed by a succession of party guests, but it is illustrative of the problem:
“A short older lady with wide glasses on a string, and black-and-white hair in an elaborate bun, started telling Laurence about the time her shoe had fallen in love with a sock that was much too big. A tall, handsome Japanese man in a suit, with a neat beard, asked Laurence questions about Milton’s finances, which he found himself answering without thinking. And a young person of indeterminate gender, with short spiky brown hair and gray hoodie, wanted to know who Laurence’s favorite superhero was.”
The side characters are quirky and I guess memorable, but the way they’re described as a collection of quirks doesn’t give you any sense of their personality. One thing I’m not fond of in Anders’s style is the tendency to describe action or dialogue in summary. It gives me the feeling that full immersion is too taxing on the attention for both the writer and the reader, so it’s being skipped over to get to the ending faster. It feels as though someone is telling me the story instead of letting me watch the story unfold. I read this a couple of months ago and forgot a lot of it so I decided to reread it and write down all the events to try and hammer down the plot before writing a review, and I found that once I distilled the plot down to one page, the only side characters whose actions pertain to the main story are Theodolphus Rose, Carmen, and Isobel (and Carmen and Isobel only at one moment).
Roberta is a pretty strong character, but aside from being the catalyst for Patricia discovering her powers, she’s not really relevant to the events of the second half because she’s so far away. Theodolphus Rose is also only relevant to the first half, although he makes appearances in the second. He doesn’t even come close to accomplishing his objective, and the way he goes about carrying out his mission in the first half doesn’t make a lot of sense (spoiler: he’s an assassin trying to kill Patricia and Laurence, but his Order won’t let him so he tries to convince them to kill each other, instead of doing something sensible like getting Patricia to give up magic or Laurence to stop inventing. In the end, he is probably the cause of the disaster he dreaded. If he hadn’t pitted Laurence and Patricia against each other, they wouldn’t have been separated, and the magical realm and the Ten Percent Project would have had better communication and maybe worked together instead of trying to destroy each other).
Carmen and Isobel are Patricia and Laurence’s mentors, respectively, but Carmen only comes in when (spoiler: she shows Patricia the Unraveling) and Isobel’s actions are only important when she (spoiler: holds the gun to Patricia’s head). We never see Carmen or Isobel doing any mentoring. Isobel scolds Laurence and Carmen tells Patricia to hush up. Other than that, they don’t really interact with their pupils. I had a clear visual image of most of the characters, since their appearance was well-described, but I feel like I didn’t get to know them because I didn’t see them really do anything indicative of character. This is most obvious in the case of Taylor, whose main character trait is that she or he is of indeterminate gender. Taylor appears in a couple scenes, and says something that scares Patricia once, but until the end they’re just kind of there. It’s kind of annoying to me because a character who is physically well-described but doesn’t do anything or have enough lines of dialogue to give me a sense of what kind of a person they really are is a bit like hearing a joke without a punchline. Pretty much all of the side characters (Ernesto, Diantha, Kevin, Serafina, etc) annoy me for this reason.
*** NOTE: Skip this part if you don’t want the ending spoiled ***
There is a riddle at the center of the book which leaves the reader hanging. The riddle is, “Is a tree red?” It comes up a couple of times in the book. The first time is when the birds ask it to Patricia and she says she needs more time. The second time Laurence asks it to her. Then Patricia asks it to Peregrine, and it shocks Peregrine into consciousness. Then Patricia forgets about the riddle until the very end of the book, when the Parliament of Birds asks if she’s come up with an answer. She goes through a couple of situations in her mind in which a tree might be red, but decides she can’t answer the question for a tree in general and simply says, “I don’t know.” The birds accept this, but to the reader it feels like a cop-out. I see that’s good to have an open mind and not profess to know things you don’t know, but to have the central question in the book be something so random and meaningless… is something only Charlie Jane Anders could pull off! Haha. And I guess the point is to flout the reader’s expectations for closure, but this is a little extreme and feels a bit off-the-cuff and lazy.
In addition, the whole ending scene feels anticlimactic. The day isn’t saved by anything Laurence or Patricia do, but by Peregrine. When Laurence puts Peregrine into the magic tree, Peregrine just magically makes the Unraveling go away. What’s worse is that making the Unraveling go away doesn’t solve the problem, since the world is in the middle of ecological collapse and the witches destroyed humanity’s only escape plan. Actually, everybody’s doomed at the end because the witches destroyed the thing that could have helped humanity survive, and Peregrine destroyed the thing that could have helped everything else survive. So everyone’s going to die. THE END.
The birds were right – it was actually too late! Well, hopefully now magicians and scientists will have better cooperation since Laurence and Patricia are back together for good. It would be really interesting to see a sequel to this with Laurence and Patricia figuring out how to rebalance the biosphere.
*** You can start reading here again ***
I know I just sounded really negative on that last page, but the cleverness, humor, and insight on the individual lines make up for a lot of the plot problems so I ended up rating it a 4/5. I’d like to close with my favorite quote from the book:
"He was Laurence of Ellenburg, and he was unflappable. Laurence had just figured out that “unflappable” did not have anything to do with whether people could mess up your clothing, and now he used that word as much as he could.
“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."
Despite a few little flaws, this is nearly a five star read. If you don't mind a faux-indie romcom interrupting your apocalyptic science-fantasy, this might be great for you.