Short works

Books : reviews

Charlie Jane Anders.
All the Birds in the Sky.
Titan. 2016

rating : 4 : passes the time
review : 22 August 2021

Patricia is a witch who can communicate with animals. Laurence is a mad scientist and inventor of the two-second time machine. As teenagers they gravitate towards one another, sharing in the horrors of growing up weird, but their lives take different paths…

When they meet again as adults, Laurence is an engineering genius trying to save the world—and live up to his reputation—in near-future San Francisco. Meanwhile, Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the magically gifted, working hard to prove herself to her fellow magicians and secretly repair the earth’s ever growing ailments.

As they attempt to save our future, Laurence and Patricia’s shared past pulls them back together. And though they come from different worlds, when they collide, the witch and the scientist will discover that maybe they understand each other better than anyone.

Patricia discovers she is a witch; Laurence is a tech genius. They both have borderline-abusive families, and are bullied at school. They initially gravitate to each other, but lose touch as Patricia runs away to magic school. They meet again as adults, where Patricia is now a trained magic user with a dark secret, and Laurence is working for a high tech company building a machine to save the world, which is ever more quickly descending into chaos. Working together may be the only way to prevent disaster.

This has a curiously uneven feel: it is unclear how to take the background world. For example, Laurence as a schoolboy makes time machine that can jump two seconds into the future, from instructions found on the web. But this is treated as a tech rite of passage, rather than an indication that the laws of physics are somehow different. The tone starts of a bit like a Young Adult coming-of-age in an incomprehensible world story, but then moves into darker end-of-the-world plot, but still written in the same quirky style. Everything seems incomprehensible, and on the edge between funny and unpleasant. The assassin subplot is just weird, and underused.

I probably should not have read this so soon after the superficially thematically similar, but writing-wise much superior, Middlegame.