Friday, March 11, 2016

Incantation and Invention

Humanity and Nature. Two forces intertwined, and sometimes at odds with each other, ever since humanity began to tell stories. In much the same way as humanity and nature are usually at odds so too are magic and technology. One word belongs to one genre and the other word to a different genre rarely brought together in one story. Which is exactly what Charlie Jane Anders does in her debut novel All the Birds in the Sky. Not only does Anders create a story both grounded in fantasy and science fiction she also ties each side of the magic/technology struggle to the much older struggle of humanity and nature. To the point that the struggle between the two sides overshadows the characters that live out that very struggle.

One is said to be the loneliest number, so to remedy this Charlie Jane Anders gives us two protagonists in her debut novel. Patricia is a witch who discovers her powers by talking to a bird and being led to a tree where the Parliament of Birds resides. Laurence is a computer whiz who discovers a two second time machine schematic on the internet and then makes one. Both kids meet each other early on, going to high school together before departing for college and reuniting years later in a world nearing the brink of ecological and economic downfall. They're shared experience in high school as out casts and yet friends to each other helps to shape the people they eventual become. Patricia a full-fledged witch secretly helping people at night, coordinated with other witch and wizards in the area while working part time by day. Laurence is a part of a think tank of the smartest engineers in the world trying to make a portal device to take a remnant of humanity to another world since this one seems to be dying.

Now if that description along doesn't pique your interest then I'm sure you're a normal human being with different tastes than I. But come on. How could you not be excited about this blend in genres? The fusion of technology and magic and their association with humanity and nature is impressively done and the way these two side of speculative fiction come together in the characters is engaging and interesting. It's just a cool book to enjoy.

sometimes they don't get along

With that being said Anders' novel is not without its faults, at least in my mind. There is a point in the novel about three quarters of the way through that the magical world and the technological one come together in the battle that a majority of the book has been building up to. It feels very much like the climax moment of the book and yet there is still an whole quarter of the novel left and another 'battle between the genres' leading finally to an ending that seemed lackluster in comparison to the rest of the novel. It felt like an ending that left me wanting. A denouement that goes on too long with a abrupt ending that easily wraps up the plot while undercutting the emotional build up for the two characters. Its resolves by fixing all the problems with one small decision, not only for Patricia and Laurence, but also the entire world.

Ending are important to me. The can make or break a book faster than any other part of a story. I have read a few books where it was a slog to get through, though not altogether uninteresting, and yet the ending ties up the whole book, making more of each part, to the point that all the work to get to the end was worth it. The book was worth reading even if almost every part until then suggested otherwise. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury is one example of this kind of story. Anders' novel does the opposite. It is so well done and interesting until you get to the end and it soured the experience for me.

So, my overall score for the novel is that it's a good book. Because my experience with the novel was lessened by the ending I had debated whether to give this novel a score of 'okay' instead of good but I stand by my decision. I would still suggest that each of you read this novel. You may not have the same reservations about the ending as I did. I know that many other reviewers out there did not seem to have a problem with the ending at all.

I hope this review was helpful in your adventure to become or even surpass me as an avid reader. If you have any questions about my scoring method please check this post. Have a lovely Friday.


  1. It seems that many story-writers use this idea of "our dying world" to enrapture people with that possibility of the world ending. We love stories about the future even if its based on an economic myth that humans lack innovation insomuch that our only "resources" are near extinction. It works. Its beginning to bore me just thinking about it, though.
    The characters sound interesting. And the mesh of sci-fi/technology and fantasy/magic is fascinating to think about.
    Moon magic.

  2. It was an interesting read with a lack luster ending so it was fine. For more on what I think about ending check out my recent post on the subject.