Thanks to the listing feature on Goodreads I was able to find All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders in the list for 2016 Most Anticipated Science Fiction books. The premise of an epic war between science and magic seemed promising, and it did not seem like the type of science fiction that would hurt my head, being the novice with the genre that I am.
The Situation: Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead both attended Canterbury Academy on the east coast, and had naturally assumed they would never see each other again after they had parted ways in more than unusual circumstances. Neither of them were popular, and they both were subjected to a good amount of bullying. Laurence was a science nerd who paid Patricia to help him fool his parents into believing that he actually went outside once in awhile. And Patricia was known as the weird emo girl. Aside from their mutual lack of popularity, both Laurence and Patricia were also blessed with parents that never understood them, and much preferred to either lock them away in a room or send them off to military school than to actually deal with them. Add a psychopathic school counselor who is trying to convince the two to kill each other, and the whole scene makes for a horrific childhood.
The Problem: Patricia and Laurence have run into each other again now that they are no longer children, and instead are adults living their own lives in San Francisco. Patricia is a promising and powerful witch whose main hobby is healing the sick and exacting revenge on murders and rapists. And Laurence has gone on to a career in science that is far more advanced than the two-second time machine he managed to build when he was kid. Their lives would be pretty great if the world was not crumbling around them. With major natural disasters happening all over the planet, mass genocides, and terrible famines, the scientists Laurence works for have come up with a last ditch effort that may save humanity...or tear apart the very earth that is already on its way to destroying itself. Those on the side of magic, which include Patricia, find this unacceptable, even though they have their own plan B. The battle between science and magic has finally come to a head, with nature in the middle as both the prize and the victim.
Genre, Themes, History: This is both a science fiction and a fantasy novel, though I chose the science fiction heading for the purpose of this blog. Laurence represents team science, while Patricia is definitely on the side of magic. Early on in the book, Patricia learns that to be a witch, or at least a good one anyway, Patricia must learn to serve nature as opposed to control it. It would be easy to draw the conclusion that the scientists in Laurence's camp wish to control nature, therefore making them the bad guys, but that would be making things too simple. As the book goes on, it is clear that both sides are guilty of what the witches keep calling Aggrandizement, or basically making it all about yourself, even though they cannot stop lecturing Patricia on the dangers of such a thing. Both sides have a plan for humanity and nature, both equally destructive, but they each believe that their own course of action is the correct one. Of course Laurence and Patricia are each loyal to their chosen camps, but they struggle to also remain loyal to each other.
My Verdict: I wish there were more books that would let me say this: this book is incredibly well-written and put together. The characters are great and three-dimensional and feel real. The plot is incredibly creative and intriguing. And the settings are easily pictured without the author forcing it. Also, the tension is real, not only between the two main characters, but just in the world that Anders created. But then the ending happens, and my world was a little less bright, and a little more deflated. I literally turned the very last page expecting there to be more, just one last chapter, and there was nothing. The fate of the world just got on a massive upswing, with hope in every one's sights, and then the book ends with no clue as to whether or not that hope wins out. Sure, you can make an educated guess, but things could easily go the other way too. Of course, the kicker is, we will never know. But aside from that, the other 312 pages are pure gold.
Favorite Moment: When Patricia manages to escape her awful parents and her evil sister, Roberta.
Favorite Character: Peregrine. He is just a lonely computer looking for love. Makes absolutely no sense but it was still incredibly touching.
Recommended Reading: Parts of this story reminded me of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, particularly Patricia's experiences at the school for witches. Ishiguro's novel is also set in a sort of future dystopia, but the end is not so imminent, and it is science that is saving humanity, with no input from magic.