All The Birds in The Sky
Fairytales meet wormholes
released 26 January 432 pages | Paperback/ebook Author Charlie Jane anders Publisher Titan Books
io9 Editor-in-Chief Charlie Jane Anders has been publishing fiction for some years, notably her Hugo Award-winning novelette of clairvoyant romance “Six Months, Three Days”. Both that story and this, Anders’ first genre novel, feature a pair of protagonists who find themselves on opposite sides of a moral and metaphysical debate.
In “Six Months…”, Judy foresees multiple possible futures, and believes that she and her boyfriend retain free will; Doug, however, sees only one outcome of their relationship, and fatalistically embraces every aspect of it. All The Birds In The Sky follows nature-loving witch Patricia and scientist savant Laurence from their shared schooldays as socially-awkward outcasts to adult lives in San Francisco spent trying, in separate and conflicting ways, to save the world.
Patricia and Laurence are the heart of the novel. Their divergent worldviews and aspirations, grounded in their personalities and experiences, set the tone, and despite the chaos around them – super-storms, wars, disappearing bees – their haphazard, organic friendship remains a touchstone. The pair are surrounded by motley crews of scientists and spellcasters, who offer a convincing picture of how groupthink, conviction and desperation can force well-meaning people into extreme positions. This isn’t a novel about science and magic being fundamentally at odds; rather, it is an exploration of the stories we tell ourselves about why we act the way we do, and the limits of individual ability to bring about change.
There is some unevenness: the early stages over-indulge in fairytale logic, giving us parents (and schools) whose hostility is cartoonishly over the top, and some of the narrative transitions are bumpy to the point of being confusing. But this remains a highly absorbing and enjoyable read. Nic Clarke