/ Cory Doctorow / 5 am Tue, Jan 26 2016
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  • Charlie Jane Anders's All the Birds in the Sky: smartass, soulful novel

    Charlie Jane Anders's All the Birds in the Sky: smartass, soulful novel

    All the Birds in the Sky is everything you could ask for in a debut novel -- a fresh look at science fiction's most cherished memes, ruthlessly shredded and lovingly reassembled.

    It's odd to call Charlie Jane Anders, editor of IO9 and celebrated
    short-story writer and editor a "debut novelist," but All
    the Birds in the Sky
    is her first science fiction novel for
    adults, and it embodies all that's best about debut novels -- a
    lifetime's worth of creativity, frustrations and inspirations crammed
    into a single set of covers, bursting with wild promise.

    Patricia is a witch. One day while hiding out in the woods from her
    dysfunctional family -- psychotic sister, dead-eyed overachiever
    parents -- she discovers that she can speak to animals, and finds
    herself in the presence of the Parliament of Birds, who ask her a
    riddle. She blacks out and awakens in her family house and facing

    Laurence is a geek. He has successfully managed many of the serious
    challenges to attaining full geekdom -- building his own GNU/Linux box
    and successfully decoding the notoriously cryptic instructions for
    building a two-second time-machine, you know, one of those watches
    that makes you jump two seconds into the future? He is the goat of his
    school and a perennial disappointment to his violently normal parents.

    Of course they become friends, and enemies. At their awful school,
    both are targeted for vicious bullying, and they try to have each
    other's backs, though they can't, exactly. Especially Laurence, who's
    a bit of a dick. It doesn't help that the school guidance counsellor
    is a psychotic assassin who's had a vision of Patricia and Laurence
    growing up to destroy the human race, and who is doing his best to
    kill them both, though the assassin's guild rules prohibit him
    personally slipping in the knife.

    This sets up a story that's one part Daniel Pinkwater -- alienated
    nerds and po-faced absurdism -- one part Lev Grossman -- alienated
    genius kids interrogating the awfulness of magic -- and one part Dave
    Eggers -- scathing indictments of Silicon Valley triumphalism and
    cyberselfish Randism.

    Anders winds the action up and up and up, never forgetting her first
    duty to produce a story that's a rollicking novel before it's a
    commentary or a critique (though it's both of those, too). Anders's
    years at the helm of the excellent IO9 and her prodigious literary
    experience give her a unique, deep perspective on the field that is
    shot through all her work.

    the Birds in the Sky
    [Charlie Jane Anders/Tor Books]


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