All The Birds in the Sky
By: Charlie Jane Anders
I strongly suspected I would like “All the Birds in the Sky” by io9 editor Charlie Jane Anders. When I put out an open call through my FaceBook for science fiction / fantasy books I immediately checked it out the description on Amazon when someone suggested I check it out.
The story centers on Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead. Patricia discovers she has a strong connection to nature with her ability to talk to animals. Laurence is a tech nerd who a future genius in the making.
…they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them…
I literally laughed out loud when I saw this in the Amazon description.
In theory, I should love this book. Science fiction with superpowers? I am all over that.
But I had a lot of issues. Mainly, I got frustrated early on in reading the novel. And that isn’t saying I hated it. I didn’t. My problems with this book are with the specific choices the author made over the course of the novel.
The first couple chapters involve getting to know the two protagonists. And then, we get introduced to the supposed “antagonist” at least that’s how the author sets it up.
Theodolphus Rose, a member of the Nameless Order of Assassins, has been tasked with the mission of killing Laurence and Patricia because he believes them to be the reason of a horrific disaster in the future.
But as the story continues Rose vanishes from the book altogether, only to pop up again a few times in the second half of the book.
There is an obvious reason for this, but my issue is that the author sets up the antagonist then throws that scenario out altogether and creates a whole new one more than half way through the book. Why spend so much time creating this character only to dismiss him so quickly? It wasn’t a bad choice but would have required a better approach to make it more believable.
My other issue with this book is that the two protagonists are meant to be two people with a shared experience of getting picked on and unappreciated in their youth. They become “friends” purely for political reasons of public school but there still some sense of something deeper.
The task of a writer is to show not tell. This is an obvious rule. But Anders creates the set-up of a budding relationship but also includes so much “space” I literally almost stopped reading because I was so frustrated with how far apart these characters felt to me in the beginning. There is no chemistry between the two characters. They say things that make you think they sort of care about each other, but it feels very surface. Hence, space. Where I kept expecting some kind of deeper connection to form but only more distance appeared.
When we jump in time the two are now in San Francisco. The writing greatly improves in my opinion. Whether that is intentional to illustrate the growth of the characters I’m not sure but it makes the first half feel like a different book.
In the second half, the chemistry between the characters improves. The “awkwardness” of their youth helps to create for depth. Anders experience as a writer at io9 comes across with the constant tech references (i.e. jailbreak, IOS). For me, it all seemed too on the nose and could have done without them. There were also A LOT of science fiction references. I don’t mind the occasional reference but it seemed like the Anders relied too much on the references to things like Avatar, the Matrix and Dr. Who to highlight certain moments. It was really distracting and pulled me away from the story, which should have been able to stand on its own.
I really liked the idea of what this book was trying to do. I thought Laurence’s awkwardness and need to find somewhere to belong was done great in the narration. And Patricia’s growth to a strong, powerful woman was well executed. But in all honesty, it felt like a polished draft of a book that no one gave honest feedback on. I loved the characters Patricia and Laurence, but ultimately the unevenness of the plot structure failed to elevate them to where they deserved to be.