All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

The novel “All the Birds in the Sky” by Charlie Jane Anders was published for the first time in 2016. It won the Nebula Award for Best Novel, the IAFA William L. Crawford Fantasy Award, and the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.

Patricia is still a child when she starts talking to birds but she can’t control her magic skills. Laurence invented advanced equipment since his childhood and in time creates an artificial intelligence. Patricia and Laurence meet for the first time in the junior high school they attend, where they’re considered the two weirdest students.

Patricia and Laurence’s paths get separated, also because of the decisions of their idiotic parents. They meet again years later when she’s become a witch part of a cabal and he’s part of a group of geeks who invent revolutionary devices. Despite their differences, events bring them closer.

Charlie Jane Anders has written mostly short fiction and “All the Birds in the Sky” is her first genre novel after having published a non-genre one in the last decade. This novel is being cataloged as a science-fantasy or speculative fiction because it blends genres and subgenres so it received various labels connected to the fantasy and science fiction genres, even considering cyberpunk. There are catastrophic science fiction as well.

In fact, the author takes advantage of elements of various genres and subgenres that are functional to a story without, however, going in-depth with them. She only provides very general explanations of the rules of magic. She just mentions Linux and Arduino boards in relation to the technological developments without explaining anything about the bases on which artificial intelligence or other futuristic devices are created. In the second part of the novel there’s the prospect of a global environmental collapse but what’s happening in the world is described in a very vague way.

The various elements of the novel are used to build a strongly character-oriented story, with its protagonists Patricia and Laurence in particular at the center. The two of them are like yin and yang: in many ways totally opposed but at the same time closely connected so each separation is only temporary.

The witch and the geek grow in divergent paths that represent fantasy and science fiction, and yet from the beginning they’re both outcast because they don’t conform to the expectations of others, especially those of their idiotic parents, and their lives always end up crossing paths.

If the genres and sub-genres involved didn’t seem enough, “All the Birds in the Sky” begins as a fairy tale, with Patricia in her childhood talking for the first time to birds. The first part of the novel follows the growth of the two protagonists and you can quickly notice that this is an introspective story in which Patricia and Laurence try to understand what they want from life but collide with the lack of understanding by their idiot parents.

The novel is in part a coming-of-age story in which Patricia and Laurence have to decide about their future, even going against their families. Despite these characteristics, the story goes far beyond the young adult subgenre, continuing with the stories of its protagonists as grown-ups, complex and full of profound observations that offer food for thought.

The development of the plot tends to be dramatic however the tones are not always dark but are often eased by bits of humor. Even the jokes transcend genres and subgenres so for example it may happen that Patricia mentions jokingly “Doctor Who” because even witches appreciate the Doctor. 🙂

The plot of “All the Birds in the Sky” proceeds mainly through dialogues and personal reflections, with the consequence that its pace tends to be slow. The development of the characters is mainly about Patricia and Laurence, the others tend to keep in the background and to be described through their interactions with the protagonists. There’s a partial exception in Theodolphus Rose, an assassin who tries to mess with the relationship between the witch and the geek. He’s a weird character whose personal story at least is partially told.

All this makes “All the Birds in the Sky” a novel definitely out of the ordinary, which is good but I understand that the way Charlie Jane Anders developed might not be what someone likes or can go against the expectations due to certain labels. It’s one of the cases where labels are really limiting.

I personally found “All the Birds in the Sky” really fascinating for the type of blend of genres and subgenres and for its contents. If you’re looking for an introspective story with a lot of food for thought, I recommend reading it, slowly and perhaps even rereading it to appreciate its many profound concepts, and don’t mind the labels.

In October 2016 Charlie Jane Anders published the short story “Clover” about Patricia’s cat.

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