Friday, February 3, 2017

All the Birds in the Sky

Charlie Jane Anders' All the Birds in the Sky is a lovely novel about two slightly-weird childhood friends whose lives diverge and then coalesce in adulthood. Patricia finds out as a child that she has magical powers --- maybe --- or at least that magic is real, and in a merciful jump-cut, we see her as a child and then emerge from magic school as a fully-trained adult. Lawrence's life follows a scifi, not fantasy, thread, as he assembles a dynamically-learning computer in his closet in childhood. After the jump-cut, we see him as a flashy tech start-up nerd, immersed in a decidedly non-magical world of science and charisma.

Patricia and Lawrence are, by the inevitable laws of narrative necessity, entangled romantically. They are also on two opposing sides of a destroy-the-planet/save-humanity scheme wherein each thinks themself the hero and the other the villain. It's a cute setup and the denouement predictably relies on their interpersonal bond to bring magic and science together to prevent the destruction of the world. This cutesy-ness is counteracted by the fact that both characters are allowed to have real personalities, their relationship has real flaws, and in general almost nothing works out nicely even after the bow is tied around the plot.

The writing strikes a friendly tone, sort of like the kind of observations one might overhear from a late-night philosophy session in college:
You know... no matter what you do, people are going to expect you to be someone you're not. But if you're clever and lucky and work your butt off, then you get to be surrounded by people who expect you to be the person you wish you were. (p. 139)
It's also playful, and the personality shining through is sarcastic. Extra fun for me:
One day the Singularity would elevate humans to cybernetic superbeings, and maybe then people would say what they meant.
Probably not, though. (p.130)
And inevitably, there was that one sentence that sparkled above the rest of the book:
Even as Patricia said it back to him, she felt like her whole history was taking on a whole new focus, the landscape of her past rearranging so that the stuff with Lawrence became major geographical features and some other, lonelier, events shrank proportionately. Historical revisionism was like a sugar rush, flooding her head. (p. 214)
Historical revisionism like a sugar rush? Yes, please, more simile!

This post's theme word is scrutate (tr), "to investigate". Don't scrutate too closely, the bits of magic between the atoms are not invariant under observation!

[Update: this book was nominated for a 2017 Hugo award! Huzzah!]

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