All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders 

I finished this book in one big unexpected reading push this morning around 1am. I say unexpected because the first third of the book was a slog and I began wondering if I made the right decision in picking this book up.

All the Birds in the Sky is on a “best books of 2016” and so I thought I’d give it a go, deviate from my typical Pulitzer or Hugo award winning list. I finally came to terms with my finite life and the brutal honesty of never being able to read every and any book, so I really took a chance on this “unvetted” story.

About the time I considered shelving this under the abandoned bookshelf on Goodreads, I read a few book reviews in favor of Anders piece. They talked about how it was weird and intriguing. I clearly hadn’t gotten to that part yet, still slogging through this seemingly incohesive story of two adolescent youth.

Most of the time, I love stories about children, told in the perspective of children. It’s what I love about Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry. It’s what I love about Arudhati Roy’s God of Small Things. But for the first time, I found the story and perspective of these children irritating. Their struggles with being outcasts did not garner my sympathy. In fact, they seemed a little insufferable. 

Anders paints the world they grow up in some sort of pseudo future with rockets and 2second time machines presented as normal. But there are only bits and pieces of the outside world in the childhood narrative and I kept wondering what is the point? Finally, the turning point comes approximately 130 pages in and all I could think about after dinner was to get home to continue reading.

Grown up Patricia and Laurence are much more fascinating. Now I understand that Anders tried to show you the significance of their friendship as kids and how it creates an undying bond between them as adults. While all that is going on, Anders tries to break the sci-fi and fantasy mold by smashing them together and how better to do it than through a love story? I think Patricia and Laurence are to represent two sides of the same coin, despite the (very brief) conflict between the two “factions” of science vs. magic.

I appreciated the setting of San Francisco as I spent a few years living there. She captured the trends very well: organic, farm to table, vegan, hipster coffee joints, high end bakeries — and made fun of them as she should have. It’s in the depiction of the San Francisco world that made me feel she was injecting her beliefs into the book Ayn Rand style. You know, who is John Galt? I also found this Milton character to be a fictional adaptation of our very own Elon Musk. 

In the end, I found this book to be amusing. The blending of the science fiction and fantasy worlds provides balance and doesn’t allow a runaway in any direction. Ironically (or purposely?) that is the whole science vs. magic conflict within the plot as well. It is a very timely book and would be interesting to read later down the road to reminisce on where our culture was heading in 2016.


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