Stevie Kincade's Reviews > All the Birds in the Sky

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
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it was amazing
bookshelves: audiobooks, best-of-2016, fantasy, published-2016, reviewed

(Audiobook) Wavering between 4 and 5 stars. Let’s go with 5 because it made a cynical, romance-hating sceptic like me genuinely care about the relationship between our two protagonists. I’ve also come to realise giving half stars on Goodreads is slightly pretentious, since the half stars only exist in my heart (/gives many books half stars ;)).

The book starts with a Dr Doolittle child who can talk to the animals. Once I had swallowed that particular plot point and continued with the story it made it much easier to digest any other fantastical element - like say another child creating a sentient AI in his clothes cupboard.

I didn’t particularly enjoy the start. My main comment from the first 1/4 of the book was that the author seemed terribly impressed with how damn quirky she was being. ALL THAT QUIRK! Capital Z, ZANY sentences galore! At that point I was only really continuing to find out what on Earth in this story had made Brad cry. (Note: Only male reviewers sufficiently comfortable with their masculinity will admit to tearing up in a book. I think I am personally more vulnerable to Peter Kenny doing his “choked up voice” thing because the emotion feels totally genuine and comes straight through my headphones.)

Damnit though if this book didn’t sneak up on me and by the halfway point I was heavily invested, by the 3/4 mark I was all-in. Then everything seemed to be happening too fast and I was like “what is going on don’t Seveneves me Charlie Jane”. Then we got a satisfying (possibly “heart-warming”, if I wasn’t such a jaded crankypants) ending.

There are 3 or 4 loose ends flopping around near the end of the book and while I should have, I never saw the “twist” coming. There was one element of the story that I thought was not paid off as it should have been (view spoiler) especially compared to how every other plot element was carefully planned out and hinted at.

The author practically prostrated herself at the altar of nerd and hipster culture. In 2016 that doesn’t mean dropping a comic book or TV reference, it means pandering to some of the tiniest micro communities on the web, so that when we recognise something we jump out of our seats and say HOLY SH!TBALLS I KNOW THAT THING! I guess I became conscious of it when she dropped an MC Frontalot reference. (Fist bump to any other Nerdcore Hiphop fans out there. Shameless “aggrandizement”: I have collaborated with Kabuto the Python who has collaborated with MC Frontalot so by one degree of separation I am in the book. Someone stop me aggrandizing!) It was actually fairly distracting and made me wonder about the author’s intent and lifestyle and not about the story. I then noticed these appeals to other micro communities in gaming and geek culture that in my view failed to serve the story.

A similar thing was going on with the humour. Jokes were never dropped with a cymbal crash or slide whistle, they were always done in an I’ll just leave this here , take it or leave it fashion. While this helped the author avoid the embarrassment of a failed joke, the sheer volume of these joke-type-objects in orbit of our story became distracting. I did finally laugh out loud at one though, when characters were described as inventing complicated drinking games for Terrance Malik movies . I also enjoyed the chili-induced hallucinations/astral travel events.

So with these flaws, why give it 5 stars? One word – ambition. I have to salute a book that wants to have a serious discussion/duel between magic and science. (Hat tip to Brad again) Now if you are like me you might be thinking “magic and Science? WTF, one is real and tangible and the other is made up bullshit!” Well then let’s call it a discussion between mysticism/spirituality and Science. Good Science should leave the door open for things we can’t explain and for subjective experience. Intelligent spirituality should be based in reality ie on Science not Faith. Any book that can comment on themes this weighty while creating memorable characters and story is to be admired in my book.

The narrator of this audiobook Alyssa Bresnahan was fine. I have basically nothing to say about the performance it never distracted or added anything extra to the book. Unnoticeable is good.

It is a little hard to classify but I would call this a Fantasy and say it was the best Fantasy book I read this year.
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Reading Progress

October 28, 2016 – Shelved
October 28, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
November 27, 2016 – Started Reading
November 29, 2016 – Shelved as: audiobooks
November 29, 2016 – Shelved as: best-of-2016
November 29, 2016 – Shelved as: fantasy
November 29, 2016 – Shelved as: published-2016
November 29, 2016 – Shelved as: reviewed
November 29, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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Philip Don't worry, I've been known to rate using quarter stars (if only in my heart).


Philip Yup, I just checked. I definitely rated this book 4.25 stars. What have I become.


Stevie Kincade lol I saw that. Shoutout to Jason as well for giving it 4.5 right where I would have had it


Stevie Kincade It is interesting reading other people's reviews that a few seemed to love the start then feel the book lost its way. I nearly bailed at the start but thought it picked up more and more momentum as it went on.


Lindsay The start felt very YA to me, and I felt the rest had a different tone completely.


Lata I agree that the tone definitely shifted in the second half. I found the beginning difficult in points, rather than quirky, because of the bullying incidents.
I liked the second half's dialogue, shall we say, between the fantastic and the scientific/technical/realistic.
And the author created one small resolution for one minor character in a short story available on tor.com


Stevie Kincade I had heard it was a bit YA but I never got those vibes. The kids were basically adults in children's bodies.

Thanks for that recommend Lata I will have to check it. TBH one of the reasons I never read this was I had seen praise for it on i09 and elsewhere but it was always with the "Disclosure: CJA writes for this website" which made me think OF COURSE you like your friend's story. I waz wrong tho


Bradley Great review! And I totally agree, it picked up after a slow start. :) But that's just a bunch of preference-stuff standing out here. :) I like adult stuff. :)

Glad you liked! We need serious books like this out there that know the SF and Fantasy fields instead of endlessly regurgitating the same old stuff. :)


Gary My position on YA novels is that they are written with the specific expectations of the YA market in mind. It's niche fiction, for good or for bad. They are usually categorized as YA on the back cover or inside flap, and I always assume that if there is no such designation present, the author and publisher did not wish to be associated with the YA marketing category because they did not believe their novel fit into that niche. There's a big difference in my mind between a "YA Novel" and a novel that tells a story featuring kids and/or teenagers.
I think the most common function of the "YA novel" is that it isolates the "young adult" and the "adult" as separate spheres of influence, usually in conflict. In this way, the first half of All the Birds in the Sky certainly resembles a YA novel (though, to be fair, with some key divergences). The big difference is that this is a YA-style novel that grows up halfway through, and sees its heroes swept up in the same corrupting influences that they despised as children, as opposed to simply lionizing and immortalizing the "YA experience" as books like The Hunger Games and Twilight do.
And Stevie, I just need to say that you are hands down the best conversation starter on my friends list. I love the big comment threads that inevitably attach themselves to your reviews. Kudos, man!


Stevie Kincade Gary wrote: "There's a big difference in my mind between a "YA Novel" and a novel that tells a story featuring kids and/or teenagers.
I think the most common function of the "YA novel" is that it isolates the "young adult" and the "adult" as separate spheres of influence, usually in conflict."
Great point, I'd never thought of it like that. I've just come to associate YA with melodrama and sassy dialogue. I don't remember these being present in the prior generation of YA novels but maybe I was too young and sassy to notice! Cheers man it is always good to discuss books with my intelligent and witty GR friends. My FB friends and RL friends just quietly back away when I get on a roll talking about books haha


Julie Love the first two sentences of your review. That's exactly how I felt as well.


Stevie Kincade Julie wrote: "Love the first two sentences of your review. That's exactly how I felt as well."
Cheers Julie, I try not to be a jaded crankypants but mostly can't help it :}


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