“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.”
All the Birds in the Sky is a quirky, urban fantasy that reminded me at times of some of Terry Pratchett’s work–though not as entirely successful.
Patricia Delphine and Laurence Armstead are outcasts–in their families and in school. And they both have special abilities. She has the magical ability to talk to birds and to fly (on occasion). He is a computer and engineering genius who is trying to create a sentient system in his bedroom closet. The two meet as children and form what seems to be an unbreakable bond when they are separated in middle school. Patricia and Laurence grow up and live their own lives only to reunite in San Francisco as the world begins falling apart and to find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. She on the side of magic and nature. He on the side of science and technology. The two must navigate their own belief systems and set aside preconceived notions if they are to save humanity and this little “rock” we call Earth.
It feels lazy to say that this is a difficult book to review, so I won’t say it. Instead, I will do my best to explain my reactions to the book. I believe that there are books for everyone, and this was book was for me (kind of).
I love urban fantasies and science fiction, and the author does a great job of exploring the relationships between technology and nature. This part of the story felt especially timely as we become more technologically reliant and simultaneously concerned with the fate of our natural world. The novel explores these paradoxical ideas in clever ways by self-consciously recognizing the absurdity of it all. In fact, one of the strengths of the novel is its ability to make a reader laugh out loud and then think, “that’s messed up.”
“One day the Singularity would elevate humans to cybernetic superbeings, and maybe then people would say what they meant. Probably not though.”
This is not a plot-driven novel, though there are certainly action-packed and suspenseful moments. Rather, I enjoyed its philosophical dialogue that tackles everything from magic and nature,ethics, to communication, to our dependence on technology for building relationships and living our lives, and to definitions of freedom.
“Society is the choice between freedom on someone else’s terms and slavery on yours.”
Ultimately, though, the strongest and important messages in the book are about humanity. What humanity is. Why it’s important. Why we need one another. And why we should always resist “Aggrandizement.”
“We don’t need better emotional communication from machines. We need people to have more empathy. The reason the Uncanny Valley exists is because humans created it to put other people into. It’s how we justify killing each other.”
There are a lot of reasons to love this novel, but I also had a few problems with it. Mostly, I enjoyed the oddball Pratchett-like scenarios and self-conscious cleverness, but some of the details and situations were just too far-fetched. And some of the connections were too loose. I usually have no problems suspending disbelief and allowing an author to take me where they will, but I struggled through parts of the book. The first half and last half of the novel felt too disconnected, and at times, the story becomes bogged down and is much too slow. While the author connects many details in the end, some are just dropped. In fact, some of the quirky and funny details (like the emotional robots) were unnecessary to the story. There were enough other scenarios that were just as funny that these unnecessary details felt like the author was trying too hard.
For example, Patricia’s sister and parents are crazy. Like certifiably crazy in ways that don’t entirely make sense. The parents lock Patricia in her room and slide food under the door. And the novel doesn’t exactly portray the scene as abusive. Patricia’s sister tortures animals (and Patricia). I don’t want to spoil anything, so all I will say is that these familial relationships didn’t work for me and the sympathy the reader should have for Patricia later in the novel didn’t pan out. They felt forced and even a little unnecessary.
These weaknesses were not enough to ruin the novel for me or to make me consider bailing. However, I will say that this novel isn’t for everyone. If you can get past some of these issues, the overall examination of humanity is worthwhile. I guess, in many ways, the novel is absolutely like people. Full of flaws and quirks, star-crossed love, failed relationships and unintentional mishaps, but in the end, it’s also kind of beautiful.
“When the world turns chaotic, we must be the better part of chaos.”