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All The Birds In The Sky
by Charlie Jane Anders
Tor, $25.99, 313 pp
Published: January 2016

This is one of those stories inevitably described as “lyrical” or “poetic.” For me, that means a disjointed story but I’ve never learned to appreciate poetry.  I like my prose to be straightforward.  That said, I still enjoyed this story.

It begins with two ‘outsider’ kids suffering through  the usual torment of middle-schoolers for those they don’t understand.  Laurence is a genius who manages to be the youngest person to build his own two-second time machine.  He also builds a supercomputer in his bedroom closet.  The only time he found people who understood him was when he ran away from home to watch a spaceship launch.

Patricia discovers that birds talk to her and she actually meets what seems to be a planetary intelligence who tells her she’s a witch but she gets cast out of that company when she fails to answer a riddle.  She then spends much of her time trying to find a bird to talk to her again and figure out what being a witch really means.  Laurence and Patricia find common ground in the birth of the supercomputer; Laurence built it but Patricia gives it content and purpose.

The two children are mysteriously targeted by an assassin who discovers he can’t actually assassinate them; so, as the trusted school counselor, he deliberately sabotages their growing friendship. Ten years pass and the two encounter each other again at a party.  Neither has forgotten that the other was the one who helped and supported them during those hard years.  Patricia has a deep-seated guilt over not assassinating Laurence as the school counselor advised and wondering if she did a good thing or a bad thing.  Laurence, while missing Patricia, never felt that the two of them were compatible as their talents were diametrically opposed.

But the two of them are halves of a whole and both of them are needed to save the world; they just have to trust each other.  He never tells her of the scientists’ plan to save humanity from itself and she doesn’t tell him of the witches’ plan to take humanity back to zero.  The two groups end up violently opposing each other with no real understanding of what the other group is trying to accomplish.  If only Laurence and Patricia could find true understanding; maybe the world can be saved.

The story felt like a rocking boat; sometimes lulling and other times unsettling.  But I thought the plot ultimately held together and I mostly liked the end.  I felt frustrated by the characters as they stumbled against each other and then pulled away again; if only they could see the big picture… ~~ Catherine Book

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