And at the last, a war between magic and science that would leave the world in ashes. At the center of all this were a man and a woman, who were still children now.
― Charlie Jane Anders,
“I am unflappable,” Laurence told the bus driver. Who shrugged, as if he’d thought so too, once upon a time, until someone had flapped him.
― Charlie Jane Anders,
You know this story, you’ve heard it before a thousand times. In Charlie Jane Anders’ first novel, All the Birds in the Sky, boy meets girl. Both are outcasts, loners looking for companionship. A connection is formed. But one is a witch, and one is a mad scientist who will someday build a doomsday machine… Wait, what?!?
This is a story you’ve heard before, a thousand times, running headlong into another story you’ve heard before, a thousand times, and devouring it whole. It is coming-of-age, it is falling-into-and-out-of-love, it is science fiction and fantasy and end of the world dystopia. It is all of this smooshed into a delicious sandwich of clever one-liners that never become old, beautifully written moments that dance on that borderline of cheesiness, tropes re-built from the top down. Everything you know about science fiction and fantasy is there, from the very first lines. It is all inside out, it is upside down, and it is endlessly creative.
Patricia Delfine talked to a bird and a tree when she was a small child. Laurence Armstead built a watch allowing him to time travel two seconds into the future. They are both oddities in their school and in the world, one finding solace in nature, and the other with keyboards and screens. They have a brief and fierce adolescent friendship, drawn together by their peculiar talents before they are torn apart by those same gifts.
Fast forward, and Delfine and Armstead run into each other as adults in a near-future San Francisco. The world isn’t a pretty place, and Delfine and Armstead aren’t the prettiest people. He has become a megalomaniac engineer, with millions of dollars behind him, and she has become an aggrandizing witch, using her powers to play with people as she sees fit. Can they come together to save a world that is falling apart?
I can’t speak highly enough of Charlie Jane Anders. If you haven’t read her Hugo-award winning novelette “Six Months, Three Days,” I recommend taking a break from social media to read it. Anders was a co-editor of the science fiction blog i09, and much can be read into All the Birds in the Sky regarding not only society’s struggle between technology and the environment, but also the genre struggle between science fiction and fantasy. It can be a challenge to make a novel this layered and eager also fun and funny to read, but Anders executes this brilliantly. She makes it look easy.
I’ve heard Anders speak on panels twice, and each time she was insightful. I can’t wait to see what she does next.