Charlie Jane Anders
Review by Kris
Warning: Reviewing This Requires A Few Unavoidable Minor Spoilers. I Have Tried To Keep These To A Minimum But To Be Completely Unspoiled Do Not Read This, The Book Cover Or Any Promotional Materials As They All Have Similar Levels Of Information
If there was an election for Empress of the Geekverse (a post which does not but should exist) I would willingly volunteer in Charlie Jane Anders campaign office. She has proven herself over the years to have a unique understanding of the genre and a marvelous storyteller. For me her gift is in crafting fabulous worlds in order to carefully construct nuanced philosophical messages, yet being able to ground them in characters who can carry us along and never for one moment doubt the secondary reality she weaves around us. In All the Birds in the Sky she absolutely helms all her skills together.
Through both humour and horror, we follow the story of Patricia and Laurence, two outcasts both so different and yet so similar. They are constantly put down by everyone around them yet they have the power to either save or destroy the world, the former through magic, the latter through technology.
What is the solution in the end then? I think there is one very telling passage:
“‘But don’t you get that romance is an essentially bourgeois contrivance? At best, it’s anachronistic. At worst, it’s a distraction for people who aren’t preoccupied with survival. Why would you waste your time helping people find their ‘true love’ instead of doing something worthwhile?’
‘Maybe I’m just doing what I can?”
And this is the heart of story for me. Sometimes big bold ideas to change the world can be important but maybe the best solution is through love and just doing the little you can. Both Patricia and Laurence put the weight of the world on their shoulders in order to save it but maybe if everyone was just a little bit kinder to each other, all these disasters would not take place.
However, their position is understandable as they are shaped by, not quite horrible people, but certainly unpleasant individuals who react poorly in the face of the unfamiliar. Patricia’s family are so goal-oriented she has to do her own personal research projects at school just in order for them to be convinced she is actually studying and lock her in her room if she acts out of the ordinary. Laurence’s family, conversely dislike his intelligence and want him to spend more time socialising and playing outdoors instead. Neither have any real friends until they meet each other and are able to embrace who they are.
Yet when they then meet many years later their lives have diverged to the extent that it is hard to imagine them ever having been friends once. Yet something keeps drawing them together. To the point where you have to hope their shared past can inspire love, not hate. For their situation is mirrored in the world around them. Selfishness and fear have created the disastrous environment in which they inhabit but anger and hate and fear and violence cannot be the solutions. Things need to move in a new direction.
The world they inhabit is like a choice fruit salad of current pop-cultural tastes. There are magic schools and wormholes. Rockets and environmental catastrophes. Talking cats, bullying teenagers and evil teachers. East coast hipsters and ambitious tech billionaires. But, it does not feel like Anders is simply jumping on a band-wagon. Instead she has created a melange of science fiction and fantasy world which by the mix of flavours really captures the moment we are in. But yet it is not one that I feel will age. By setting it in the future of now as a historical scene, it becomes crystallised and can be revisited without losing the magic of the original bite.
I am very much a stylist and many “great novels” I have failed to finish simply due to linguistic choices of the author. This style here is so unusual I might reasonably have assumed would have taken me out of the plot. It is predominantly just people hanging out in everyday situations and talking about how their lives are going. And yet, somehow, it never becomes slow or boring, nor does it feel stagey or like a cheap trick. The story ran along at such a pace I wished I could stop work and sleep to keep going. Even the sex scenes, which I skim read in many books due to the tedium of their narration, were a brilliant reflection of the interrelations of the various characters and demonstrated how the lovehate dynamic was developing without stopping the rhythm of the piece or becoming exploitative.
Not only has this set a dangerously high watermark for the rest of the year’s releases I think will be continued to be read, discussed and enjoyed for years to come. And if Charlie Jane Anders can continues to write other tales as spellbindingly fabulous as this, I may just have to make her an imperial crown.