Ever since I read Charlie Jane Anders’s short story “Six Months, Three Days,” I’ve been looking forward to her novel, All the Birds in the Sky. I have been a fan of her work on io9 for ages, but that was the first time I had read her fiction, and it only made me want to read more. Having now read her novel, I’m already champing at the bit for her next work to come out. All the Birds in the Sky is a wonderful book. I really can’t recommend it enough. It’s charming and funny and sad and full of magic and wonder.
The novel begins with its two protagonists, Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead, getting their first glimpses of their future, but just a glimpse. Patricia discovers she will be a witch, and she speaks with a Parliament of Birds in a magical tree before her parents snatch her back and ground her, costing her her magical powers. After building a time machine that jumps two seconds into the future, Laurence sneaks out and attempts to attend an experimental rocket launch, only to miss it and get taken back home after getting to know a crew of rocket scientists who all wear the same time machine.
The first part of the book details the budding witch and mad scientist as the two misfits endure the tortures of school. The confide in each other, build a safe space in the bubble that surrounds them, and they endure the slings and arrows of cliques, bullies, and a mysterious guidance counselor. And then they are driven apart. The book picks up when they are both adults: Laurence having joined an elite team of scientists and Patricia having attended a magical college where she learned to be a witch. But in the meantime, the world has suffered a number of serious disasters, and both sides–science and magic–are looking for the solution. Each solution comes at a terrible price. Will one side beat the other, or will Patricia and Laurence’s rekindled relationship come up with a third option?
What starts off as a sort of YA story becomes an adult, pre-apocalyptic story. Similarly, Anders blends science fiction and fantasy in her protagonists. There are a lot of plates spinning here, but Anders pulls it off. How? By creating two fantastic protagonists. Patricia and Laurence are fully realized characters each pursuing their goals. In fact, there really isn’t an antagonist, per se, just a conflict in the ways Laurence and Patricia view the world. And on top of that, Anders also creates a cast of secondary characters that includes an Elon Musk billionaire scientist and a magician locked away, lest he go Swamp Thing on the world.
And watching that conflict develop as the characters grow is the true treasure of this book. Anders writes with wit, humor, and honesty. It’s a recipe for a read that will have you smiling ear to ear and frowning when your heart hurts. It’s just a beautiful story that left me feeling so touched. I can’t remember the last time I read a novel like this. I immediately went online and started raving about it. There’s a magic to this story. Like the best of Neil Gaiman or the way I still feel about watching The Princess Bride. Go out right now and buy two copies. Read one, and give the second to a friend.