All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

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Title: All the Birds in the Sky
Author:
 Charlie Jane Anders
Publisher:
 Tor Books
Publication Date: 2016
Genre: 
science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, apocalypse fiction, bildungsroman

The Premise

From the fine folks at Goodreads:

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.

A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse.

Pro

  • Fantasy! Science Fiction! Near-future apocalypse novel! Millennial coming-of-age story! This book is all the things! Anders draws from all of these different genres to create a book that feels fresh, exciting, and very contemporary. We need to create a name for whatever genre this is so that I can read all the books in it.
  • Artificial Intelligence! I don’t want to go into details because it could be spoiler-y, but there is an AI character introduced early in the book, and I was pleasantly surprised by what becomes of it.
  • Science v. Nature v. Man. The book’s epigraph from George Dyson’s Darwin among the Machines: “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 the machines.” Again, can’t go too much for fear or running into spoilers, but Anders does some thought-provoking things with this theme.
  • The end is nigh! Anders’ vision of the apocalypse feels like the logical conclusion of current environmental, political, and technological trends. It is 100% believable which makes it a billion times scarier than much of the other apocalypse fiction I’ve read. I considered putting this point in the con section because it made me so anxious about the world falling apart that I wanted to stop reading more than once, but my anxiety problems are no reason to penalize the book!
  • A believable near future. I have a thing for visions of the future that don’t feel too foreign. There’s a reason Her is one of my favorite recent science fiction movies, and it has a whole lot the vision of a future that looks mostly like our present but just a little bit off (that, and the high-waisted pants). The San Francisco of this book feels a lot like the San Francisco I know, just a little off.

Con

  • This might be reader error, but the systems of magic and science all sounded a little bit like gobbledygook. I didn’t mind because that’s not what I was hear for. But that could be an annoyance for some readers.
  • This didn’t bother me much because I was so into everything else, but Patricia and Laurence felt a little thin, character-wise, and their relationship could’ve used a little more show than tell.

The Verdict

4/5 stars. I enjoyed this book a lot and would whole-heartedly recommend it to people interested in non-traditional fantasy or sci-fi.

I read this book to satisfy the “Read a book by or about a person who identifies as transgender” task of the Read Harder Challenge.

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