Tuesday, January 31, 2017

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (2016)

A book about the end of the world, perhaps not the best book to read at what possibly could be the beginning of the end of the world.  But once I fall into a good book, it's like Alice into the rabbit hole:  I'm stuck and I can't get out until I wake up at the end.  Deliciously and delightfully stuck, I should say, because All the Birds in the Sky was a magical experience.  Anders writes with what I would call a touch of the absurb; strange things happen (expected in a fantasy and science fiction novel) and Anders strings them together in strange and wonderful ways.   Birds and trees may or may not talk (not spoilers here!); science and magic are at odds but don't even know it; love may or may not bloom between a witch and a scientific genius.  Anders writes comically, whimsically, crisply and lobs grenades of great beauty at the reader, like this one:

"There was something both aesthetically pleasing and satisfying about a great piece of engineering.  Shiny and sturdy.  She felt the same affection for this machine that she did for the old manual typewriters they sold in the hipster gallery on Valencia, or for a nice steam engine.  These things were made of hubris, because they always broke down, or worse, broke everything.  But maybe Laurence had been right, and these devices were what made us unique, as humans.  We made machines, the way spiders made silk."

All writing, I think, owes something to someone else; maybe "owes" is too strong a word; but all writers are readers, and shades of other authors who they read haunt their works.  So occasionally, I caught whiffs of Connie Willis, and stronger whiffs of Lewis Carroll - which both made me very, very happy. That may be because Charlie Jane Anders absorbed these two authors; or that may be my own synapses making these connections.  I'm not personally acquainted with Ms. Anders, so who is to say?!

This is what Ready Player One could have been!

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Perhaps reading a book about the end of the world isn't the best to read when the world may be starting to end - but I enjoyed the hell out of this book all the same. When Alice fell down the rabbit hole, she was stuck in Wonderland until she woke up; I felt the same way. Perhaps that's a bad analogy though, because Alice hated Wonderland, and loved the crazy near future Charlie Jane Anders created. There is definitely a touch of surreal here, or perhaps absurd. Anders has terrific comic timing; she is quite witty and crisp, sometimes whimsical. I could also say something witty of my own, such as the book is a cross between the movies Weird Science and The Witches of Eastwick. But I won't because (unlike those fun movies) tucked amid some funny stuff is some beautiful, romantic, moving writing. 

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