There’s been a lot of buzz about the debut novel from Charlie Jane Anders, All The Birds In The Sky. This seems to be largely driven by the author’s status as a recognisable ‘name’ in online pop culture journalism: she is one of the co-founders of io9. The book has been nominated for the 2017 Best Novel award at the Hugos, and won the 2017 Nebula, so I was particularly interested to read it.
This is a charming novel about the relationship between Patricia and Laurence. We first meet them both at school, where they band together as outsiders from the normal school culture. He is a maths and science geek, she is a bookish and rather fey girl with a love of the outdoors who discovers a talent for magic. The casual cruelties of school bullying and the expectations of their parents push Patricia and Laurence together, but their friendship suffers the tensions of a science v magic divide and they go their separate ways. Of course, life throws them into one another’s paths once more as adults, where they find themselves on opposite sides of a debate about how to save the world from a global crisis induced by climate change and scarce resources.
Where this novel is strongest is in the exploration of Patricia and Laurence’s friendship. The shared experience of growing up weird and misunderstood is a tough one. It throws the two together and has lasting effects on their friendships and relationships throughout their lives. To that extent it’s reminiscent of books like Jo Walton’s Among Others. But the novel suffers from a thinly drawn supporting cast, and the doomsday device v magical apocalypse plotline is resolved unsatisfactorily, with a rather predictable ‘you need both’ conclusion.
All The Birds In The Sky is zeitgeisty, but ultimately pretty forgettable.
Goodreads rating: 3*