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All the Birds in the Sky - Charlie Jane Anders

I wrote this for Goodreads a little while ago, but it stands because... goddamn.


Let's start with: this is the sort of book that breaks your brain a little bit.

Sure, that's hyperbolic. I write that, in part, because this book is so full of awesomeness that I have trouble describing it with my less-awesome skills of articulation. Also, I am crazy envious. Like insane jealousy. Like, were I somehow a sentient book and I were in a relationship with All the Birds in the Sky, only to find that AtBitS was shacking up with another book, I would stab my rival in the spine with a goddamn icepick... OF LITERATURE.

Suffice it to say, I've become a big fan of Charlie Jane Anders overnight.

Why? you ask. Allow me to dispell your ignorance forthwith.

This is witches vs mad scientists.

Even typing that sentence makes me happy on a psuedo-religious level. How long have I waited to put those very letters together into those very words? It's the reader's equivalent of being approached by a man in a fedora who hands you a jet pack and says, "All yours, kid," before lighting a Marlboro and walking straight into the sunset. Okay, maybe not quite that improbably epic, but pretty damn close.

Witches vs mad scientists. With talking animals and global A.I. and superstorms and weaponized gravity and magic schools and amaztastic shit. And yet, rather than being a dripping ball of geek-goop, it remains grounded enough in its protagonists that it doesn't collapse into a singularity of Pynchon-style lunacy. The leads, Patricia (witch-person) and Laurence (science-person) meet, fight, love, and are predicted by their communities to lead the Earth into destruction. Really, I should mention that these two and the supporting characters are the ones who make this book work. They're well-written people, they are amusingly flawed, they are the conduit through which the kick-assitude flows like liquid magma from the veins of methamphetamine-addled elder god.

But I'm not going to tell you about them, because that would ruin the story. Except maybe Theodolphus. I want to be Theodolphus when I grow up, if only for the ice cream.

Does this book have its own flaws? Yeah, sure. The first third takes some patience because we're dealing with the lives of children. Children who might also be the downfall of humanity. Also, parents suck. I say that as a father of two, and when I read the part about the parents of these exceptional kids, I thought, "I'm not that bad... I think." If my kids do, in fact, shatter the planet, this book suggests that's my fault and it's probably right. There is also a huge amount of characters who are identified more by name than by description, which makes their introductions a bit tricky, but that passes soon enough. And yeah, the last 1/6th rushes a bit and there are moments of supreme confusion (at least for me) when it comes to magic schools, but I don't care. At all. Ever.

All of that said, there is the possibility of a sequel here. I hope that never happens. I feel that this story does everything it must, nothing more or less. In fact, like Gregory's We Are All Completely Fine , it is a pretty perfect example of how how great editing and compact storytelling stomps the living shit out of doorstoppers. It does what a book must do, it tells a fine story without excess or author filibusters, and it doesn't leave off at a point where you're absolutely going to shell out the dough for a companion volume simply because marketing gurus are crack dealers.

And it's got witches vs mad scientists.

If that isn't enough for you to open the cover, we can't be friends.