& Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Tor Books January 2016

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Tor Books January 2016

The Book Itself: I really like this cover. The crazy bird pattern, made to look like its an overwhelming flock, the bold font for the title. YES.

My Review: Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during middle 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. 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 every-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.

On the surface, the description of this book matches quite well that genre title “Science Fiction/Fantasy.” One of our main characters is a man of science, and the other is a girl gifted with a little bit of magic. They meet as children and come back together as adults with disastrous consequences. It is an awesome concept: one person steeped in logic, in the mechanics of how things work and the logistics of everything going wrong in the world. The other is focused on the metaphysical, the almost spiritual components of the world – the unexplainable.

It’s just that the execution comes off a little fuzzy and rather clumsily.

First: their childhood. Patricia has a magical encounter with a tree in the forest and many talking birds. Her parents are inexplicably abusive: she acts out at school and they immediately jump to locking her in her room and periodically feeding her under the door – what? Perhaps if they were fleshed out more as characters, I would buy their awfulness. I would at least be able to hate them accurately. But as it stands, I don’t understand them just being terrible, one-dimensional people. Patricia meets Laurence. Patricia freaks Laurence out and then thinks she is, in turn, a freak. Ahh, youth angst.

Laurence is a smartypants, creating a two-second time machine from bits and pieces he finds online. He becomes obsessed with witnessing a rocket launch and sneaks away from house and school to do so, only to meet kindred spirits who may or may not have their own two second time machines. He sees Patricia do magic and his poor little logic brain can’t take it.

Also at some point they help create an Artificial Intelligence together. Because that always works out well.

Now: their adulthood. Patricia has attended a magical school with two brands of magic: healers and tricksters. Annnnd that’s about all we get. The magic school sounded really incredible: an avenue ripe for storytelling. The book could have been all about Patricia Goes to School and that would have been a good story (but perhaps Anders didn’t want to write another magic story about a magic school). She also has a group of magical friends who are also inexplicably horrible to her. She reaches out to those in need around her, righting small wrongs like a modern day superhero (as cliché as that sounds, I liked this bit – I think it also could have been expanded on and explored more). Every time she does this, her fellow magic-doers call her selfish and egotistical. They tear her down and in general are terrible. It makes me not like the magic people.

Laurence is a rich bigwig because of his science know-how. He has a girlfriend whom he doesn’t particularly seem to enjoy, nor does she seem to enjoy him. She is also a flat character to me, delivering rote lines and in general making me say over and over again “wait, why are you here?”

Really, I think, the plot and secondary characters bothered me most. There is too much not explored, not fleshed out here. At one point a serial killer is after the two of them as children. And towards the end, the message feels like an environmental, only-magic-can-save-us-now effort that is still very confusing. Our supporting cast: Patricia’s parents, Patricia’s friends (poor Patricia, jeez…), Laurence’s girlfriend, and basically every authority figure is just kind of…awful. They don’t have redeeming qualities, and I don’t feel sympathy for them or what happens to them, or any good moment they have with our main characters.

I liked scenes in this book. Where Laurence meets other two-second-time-machiners. Where Patricia helps out the less fortunate in her neighborhood. Even the banter Patricia and Laurence develop as adults. But everything hanging around the two of them, and acting on them, wasn’t clear enough for me, or convincing enough for me to love it.

My Grade: C-

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