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All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane…

All the Birds in the Sky (edition 2016)

by Charlie Jane Anders (Author)

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Title:All the Birds in the Sky
Authors:Charlie Jane Anders (Author)
Info:Tor Books (2016), 320 pages

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All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

  1. 00
    A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins (wandering_star)
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    Postsingular by Rudy Rucker (hairball)
    hairball: All the Birds in the Sky made me think about Postsingular and Hylozoic for some reason--maybe it's the Bay Area thing, but it's also something about the attitude.

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Anders' fantasy investigates the possibility of a war between science and magic, and finds that the question is not simple. What science, what magic?

As a young child, Patricia goes into the woods and learns she can speak and understand the language of birds. She is led to a great, magical tree where the Parliament of Birds meets, and given an important riddle. Laurence has parallel adventures in science; he invents a time machine that can jump him two seconds into the future, builds an AI in his bedroom closet, and runs off to meet some rocket scientists.

These two become friends later, in middle school, supporting one another against those cruel and uncomprehending toward difference: Bullies, impossible parents, secret assassins. Each eventually goes off to a secondary school suitable for their talent. As young adults they meet again. But can their relationship survive the conflict between magic and science over what to do about climatic and ecological crisis?

Laurence and his fellow scientists are building a wormhole generator that will allow some Earthlings to escape to a new planet - leaving most of us behind. Complete destruction of Earth may turn out to be the actual result. Patricia and her comrade magicians detest this plan, but their own solution promises to be even more terrible and inhuman. Like many a contemporary book, All the Birds in the Sky takes Earth's climate crisis as given, a background that informs everything, and Patricia and Laurence cannot escape it any more than we readers can. For sure, actual science can offer many more responses than Anders' science-fictional one; I don't know about magic.

As I write, this novel is on the 2017 Hugo Awards shortlist. While it's an engaging tale, I'm not sure I understand the level of enthusiasm readers have for it. Patricia and Laurence are characterized no better than most SFF book characters, and need to be better drawn to embody the conflict between their chosen affinities. Anders does do a good job of bringing moral complexity to the conflict between science and magic. There are lots of interesting koans/quips: "You know...no matter what you do, people are going to expect you to be someone you're not. But if you're clever and lucky and work your butt off, then you get to be surrounded by people who expect you to be the person you wish you were." Or: "We need people to have more empathy. The reason the Uncanny Valley exists is because humans created it to put other people into. It's how we justify killing each other." These go toward making the book and its characters comfortable to be with.

The novel has an open ending; maybe the story is finished, and maybe not. ( )
  dukedom_enough | May 13, 2017 |
I've started this review and deleted it several times, and now I'm really behind with reviews, so it's time just to write something about the book and move on. On paper (no pun intended), this should have been a book I liked - well, I bought it last year, so I must have thought I would like it. It is both fantasy and science fiction, both genres I like, and it is quirky, and I really like quirky. I guess now I know it depends on the type of quirky.

The book follows the lives of Patricia and Laurence, not Larry, as they grow up. We first meet Patricia when she is six-years-old trying to save a wounded bird from her sister and the neighboring cat. She discovers that she can talk to the bird and also to the Parliamentary Tree, who proclaims that she is a witch. To save herself and the bird, she must answer the Endless Question, she asks for more time...and is found and carried back home by her father. Her mother and father punish her by locking her in her room and slipping meals under her door. We meet Laurence in elementary school. He is a nerdy genius who suffers the same stereotypical fate as other nerds by being picked on and ostracized by his classmates. Patricia and Laurence are in the same class at school and both being thought weird by their classmates, they become friends. Just before Patricia runs away to a witches school, she saves Laurence from military school, so that he can attend a computer school. The two lose touch until they have both graduated from college and have careers. The world is in environmental disarray. Patricia is working with the witches to try to save Earth, while Laurence is working with the scientists to find a way to save the human race by getting them off world to another planet. The scientists and the witches collide, and to some extent, Patricia and Laurence are caught in the middle.

You may be asking - what happened to the Endless Question? Did Patricia ever answer? Well, I won't answer that, and you may be disappointed by my non-answer. I know I was disappointed by the resolution of the Endless Question. It seemed a cop out, IMO.

I can't say that I really liked the book, but I guess I didn't hate it. My initial rating was 3.5, and the more I think about it, the more I wonder if I wasn't too generous. I guess I'll give it the benefit of the doubt since it was nominated for both a Hugo and a Nebula, but honestly, I think that was a mistake. I don't feel that this book is fit to be compared to books like Dune or Ringworld or The Left Hand of Darkness or Ender's Game or Blackout/All Clear or The Forever War or...well, you get the point.

I wasn't able to identify with either character - I came close to identifying with Laurence, but he made some really stupid choices in the book that really made me just want to shake him. I guess I mainly felt sorry for him. Patricia, well, I had a difficult time liking her, especially as the book went on. I can't say that I actively disliked her, because well that would give the impression that the book actually made me care, and it really didn't. I thought the plot, what there was of it, was very thin. The whole witchcraft versus science thing could have been intriguing, but really focused more on saving Earth versus saving the human race. While it wasn't contemplated in the book, it seems to me that getting humans off the Earth would actually accomplish both goals of saving Earth and the human race. The book sort of ended with a whimper. All in all, I was disappointed. I guess I should probably email the author as she suggests so that she can come to my house and act it out with origami finger puppets. That might be more interesting.

An interesting aside, I have noticed that most books on Amazon, if they are even mediocre, rate at least 4.0 stars. All the Birds in the Sky has a 3.9 rating on Amazon - 'Nuf said. ( )
  rretzler | Apr 29, 2017 |
I was oddly drawn into this book. I couldn't put it down for the life of me. The blend of fantasy and sci fi actually worked and the end wasn't as expected. ( )
  capiam1234 | Apr 27, 2017 |
In the "Acknowledgments" at the end of this fantasy book, the author writes:

“I really hope you guys enjoyed this book. If you didn’t, or if there was stuff that didn’t make sense to you or seemed too random, just e-mail me and I’ll come to your house and act the whole thing out for you. Maybe with origami finger puppets.”

I am one of those who would need her to visit with her puppets. Much of the book didn’t make sense to me. The parts that did, I didn’t like so much. Bullying and the abuse of kids is not one of my favorite subjects. The author portrayed these not so much as tragic but almost flippantly.

The story begins when the two main characters are in middle school. Patricia is a witch, and Laurence is an engineering genius. Both of them are treated as outsiders and hounded mercilessly, by their families as well as by their schoolmates. They remain somewhat oblivious to their ill treatment, however, except by withdrawing further into their odd niches. When they meet each other, they sense they can serve as allies to one another, although Laurence is a little freaked out by Patricia’s powers.

Laurence leaves for science school and Patricia for witch school; eventually they meet up again ten years later in San Francisco. Although they were supposed to be enemies - "science versus magic" - they ended up feeling bound together instead. But the apocalypse arrives, started in part by increasing environmental disasters, and it threatens not only their relationship, but the survival of the entire Earth (somehow equated in level of tragedy in this book).

Discussion: In some ways this book reminded me of The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins, in terms of being creatively different, but also with very appalling imagery. It also had a similar mix of fantasy, horror, science fiction, alternate history, and social satire, with some romance thrown into the mix. But the writing in this book often seemed sophomoric or juvenile. A variety of plot threads are abandoned mid-stream. And none of the characters were developed with enough dimension to let the reader (or this reader) feel close enough to care. As for the ending, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Evaluation: I’ve seen a lot of praise for this book, and the blurb by Michael Chabon was astoundingly complementary. (In truth, however, it sounded to me like he was describing one of his own books rather than this one.) The author explored some interesting ideas, but I had to push myself to get through the book. ( )
  nbmars | Apr 24, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charlie Jane Andersprimary authorall editionscalculated
Staehle, WillCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In the game of life and evolution there are three players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side of machines. -George Dyson, Darwin Among the Machines
To Annalee
First words
When Patricia was six years old, she found a wounded bird.
"You never learned the secret,” said Roberta. “How to be a crazy motherfucker and get away with it. Everybody else does it. What, you didn’t think they were all sane, did you? Not a one of them. They’re all crazier than you and me put together. They just know how to fake it. You could too, but you’ve chosen to torture all of us instead. That’s the definition of evil right there: not faking it like everybody else. Because all of us crazy fuckers can’t stand it when someone else lets their crazy show. It’s like bugs under the skin. We have to destroy you. It’s nothing personal."
You know … no matter what you do, people are going to expect you to be someone you’re not. But if you’re clever and lucky and work your butt off, then you get to be surrounded by people who expect you to be the person you wish you were.
nature doesn’t ‘find ways’ to do anything. Nature has no opinion, no agenda. Nature provides a playing field, a not particularly level one, on which we compete with all creatures great and small. It’s more that nature’s playing field is full of traps.
Boredom is the mind’s scar tissue.
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Patricia's a witch,
Laurence is a scientist.
The world is ending.

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