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