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All The Birds In The Sky > ATBITS: Too self-aware

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message 1: by Alex (last edited Mar 03, 2016 03:51PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alex Rummelhart (mrrummelhart) | 8 comments Similar to Peregrine, and the novel Radiance, this book seems too self-aware. Too much focus on the tropes and themes and not enough on a good progressive narrative. Too much art and not a really good story in my opinion.

I enjoy the writing, laugh at some the jokes, and find many of the ideas interesting... but the story itself seems really to be lacking when I try to go back in my head. It isn't realistic (I know that word shouldn't fit with sci-fi or fantasy); the story jumps around randomly, the characters, especially the parents, don't behave like real people, and the story doesn't fulfill anything.


Julian Arce | 71 comments Hope this doesn't constitute a spoiler

If you think the parents are such a big deal... then I guess you haven't gone too deep into the book. Maybe after some stuff happens it will click for you


Rob Secundus (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments So, it sounds like you're about where I am (just finished part 2), and I'd say a ton of stuff has happened. It's proceeded just like any other book in this genre would-- that is, the genre of the coming of age story. We've seen Patricia and Laurence grow up. We've seen their most important moments, the moments that they will, forever, define themselves, their relationships, and their childhoods by. We've seen (view spoiler)

That a lot of the action concerns what goes on inside the heads of the main characters doesn't mean that there's no action, no story.

W/r/t the characters not behaving like real people, well, this is a self-aware, humorous, cartoonish grotesque. No one in this novel is a person you'd encounter in the real world. But they're pretty explicitly based off of real world types-- you haven't met Laurence's or Patricia's parents, but you've met dozens of parents like one set or the other, just not as grotesquely exaggerated. And they stay true to that type. Charlie Jane Anders is not Dreiser or Henry James. But her characters are true to the grotesesques/types she establishes. (and even setting aside for the moment that the book is intentionally that kind of non-realist grotesque, just looking at it as a wacky genre bildungsroman, it is entirely appropriate for the parents in particular to be so typical-- the narrator rarely leaves the pov of the kids, and that is indeed how angsty kids see their parents, as people they can place into a negative box).

I'm not saying, LIKE THIS BOOK. LIKE IT, DANGIT! My point is just more that you're kind of framing this book as having certain failures, when it seems more like you are coming to it with certain expectations that this genre of book would never fulfill.


Leesa (leesalogic) | 643 comments I can identify with this "self awareness" thing, so I'm not willing to hold this against the book. Growing up, I was excessively self aware (and self critical) and I experienced bullying (not to the extent as in the book or what goes on today thanks to social media shaming) and was made to feel perhaps I shouldn't rock the boat.

I know you are saying that the book is self aware, but the book is from the perspective of two characters (with interludes of one other) who were bullied, had parents that were ridiculous in their own weird rigid parenting styles, teachers/administrators who clearly don't pay attention to the dynamics between kids, only seeing the end results (two kids are fighting? Punish them both), and (view spoiler)--and all these people are crafting the world view of these two kids, who are for widely different reasons quite extraordinary, yet no one wants them to actually be extraordinary.


I see this definitely as a cautionary tale: how best to give talented children crippling doubts, anxiety, feeling even more helpless than they already are by virtue of being children.

Roberta--a clear psychopath, and main instigator in the bullying Patricia faces--even tells Patricia that if she wants to survive, she has to play the game. Nearly the same thing the guidance counselor tells Laurence: keep your head down, just play along. and yet we know (view spoiler).

I'm only just starting the section of "ten years later" when they are in their early 20s.


Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments I got the feeling the author may not have had the smoothest school-age years. She did do a great job of capturing the feel of adolescence though (Everything means the world is ending! Though in this case, it actually is). So, it rang true to me despite that much of it was obviously satirical.


Leesa (leesalogic) | 643 comments I think there's no doubt at all that Anders had a lot of bumps and bruises getting through school-age years.


Geir (makmende) At one point in the book, a character tells some weird story about a restaurant, and then there's this sentence: "Laurence wasn’t sure if she was telling a real story or just taking the piss, or both."

How's that for self-aware? It's exactly how I feel about this book. Not that the book is terrible or anything, there's just this weird overdone random style that doesn't sit right with me.


Sean | 350 comments I just finished the book, and here's what I'll say about it - much like the narration, the complexity of the narrative develops and changes as the characters age. Here's the best way I can explain it - if the first two parts are Harry Potter, the second two are The Magicians.


Sandra (whatlovelybooks) | 179 comments For some reason it reminded me of "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore", another book that everybody but me seemed to like.


message 10: by Dale (new) - rated it 2 stars

Dale | 7 comments Mr. wrote: "Similar to Peregrine, and the novel Radiance, this book seems too self-aware. Too much focus on the tropes and themes and not enough on a good progressive narrative. Too much art and not a really a good story..."

I agree completely.

Is it me, or it this becoming a common novel style recently? I've been calling it 'plot-light', where the plot is trivial background mostly, and the book's focus is largely character introspection and description. I'd put Night Circus and Annihilation in this category as well. This style can work well with short story format - with a novel, not so much.


Rob Secundus (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments I mean, Ulysses was published in the 1920s. Heck, you can even apply that same description to Henry James. Or maybe even back to Jane Austen. Or further.

I think what's recent is that SFF is just broadening into lots of areas that used to be reserved for non-speculative fiction. But then again you had the New Wave dudes. So maybe the narrow restrictions on SFF were just a brief blip that we took as normal.


message 12: by AndrewP (new) - added it

AndrewP (andrewca) | 2481 comments Dale wrote: "Is it me, or it this becoming a common novel style recently? I've been calling it 'plot-light', where the plot is trivial background mostly, and the book's focus is largely character introspection and description. I'd put Night Circus and Annihilation in this category as well."

Yeah that seems to be a trend and why I am now reading mostly other genres, or hard SF, for entertainment purposes. I don't agree about Night Circus though. I thought that had a pretty good plot and story.


Trike | 8480 comments I have to say, the book is losing stars from me as it goes along. We're down to 2 now, with about 70 pages left.

Part of the problem is the voice and the other part seems to stem from editing issues. There must have been a much longer version of this story that was pared down, but they (CJA and her editor) removed too much.

One thing it's doing REALLY well is underscoring how hard it is to make Science Fiction and Fantasy live together harmoniously in the same story. When you have a magic wand in your toolkit, you don't need the rest of the tools. Problem? Poof! Deus ex machina! Except here it's not used consistently, so the world doesn't follow its own rules.

That's one of the reasons a lot of comedic Fantasy falls flat for me: when they have to decide between story and a joke, authors typically go for the joke. Sacrificing your plot or characters for another gag undermines the story. Making meta-jokes is incredibly difficult to pull off, and almost no one does it well.

I also can't take the story seriously when it wants me to, because magic. Magic is a Get Out Of Jail Free card if specific hard limits aren't placed on it. I'm not invested in the AI that's running the world behind the scenes and I don't care at all about Laurence's wormhole whatsit because the witches will just heal the world. And even if they say they can't, I don't believe them, because every time they've said they can't do something previously, they end being able to do it. Because magic.


Rob Secundus (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments Could talk about specifically where the world doesn't follow its own rules, or where the witches have done something they said they couldn't do? Normally that stuff would bother me quite a lot, here I Just didn't notice it.


Trike | 8480 comments Flying; Aggrandizement is the worst thing ever, except it's not so much; we aren't allowed to travel fast because it breaks some rule, but now we're driving 300 miles an hour; you have to go with me right away or forfeit your future, well okay 24 hours is cool; some little things here and there where I kept going, "Isn't that forbidden? Or at least frowned on?"

I'm kind of over this book.


Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments Counterpoint: fantasy authors should break their own rules more often. Rule-breaking is good, it shakes readers out of complacency and can lead to more creative writing.


message 17: by AndrewP (new) - added it

AndrewP (andrewca) | 2481 comments Brendan wrote: "Counterpoint: fantasy authors should break their own rules more often. Rule-breaking is good, it shakes readers out of complacency and can lead to more creative writing."

It more often makes them look like they have no idea what they are doing. IMHO There's a fine line between creative writing and total crap.


Trike | 8480 comments Brendan wrote: "Counterpoint: fantasy authors should break their own rules more often. Rule-breaking is good, it shakes readers out of complacency and can lead to more creative writing."

That's how you end up with massive plot holes. 60 years later people are still arguing over why Frodo didn't take an eagle to Mordor. Tolkien set up that option then ignored it.

And the fact is that few authors enjoy the popularity of LotR, so you do yourself a disservice by intentionally undercutting your story.


Brendan (mistershine) | 930 comments Yeah, clearly the plot holes in LotR really limited its appeal...


message 20: by Sean (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sean | 350 comments Trike wrote: "That's how you end up with massive plot holes. 60 years later people are still arguing over why Frodo didn't take an eagle to Mordor. Tolkien set up that option then ignored it."

Only people who assume the eagles are just dumb animals that will do whatever they're told. And that Sauron would somehow not notice one or several giant eagles and somehow not respond. It's really not that big a plot hole if you actually stop to think about it.

As for this book, I wasn't bothered by the magic being vague and undefined, but I get why some people might have issues with that. It comes down to Sanderson's First Law - we're used to "hard magic", which has clearly explained rules and limits, but this is "soft magic", which doesn't. A big problem with the latter is that you can easily have characters wave their hands and make everything better, basically making any magical character a walking deus ex machina.

I'm okay with magic in this book being like something out of a fairy tale - it's not something we see that often, and in a way makes it more, for lack of a better term, magical.

And honestly, if you're going to complain about how the magic doesn't make sense, it's only fair to point out how the super science doesn't work, either - how exactly *does* one manage to make a wrist-mounted time machine with a watch and some spare electronic parts?


Trike | 8480 comments Brendan wrote: "Yeah, clearly the plot holes in LotR really limited its appeal..."

That's my point: LotR wasn't hurt by that, but no one else is Tolkien, so why hamstring yourself by opening your work open for criticism? Especially nowadays when any errors can be disseminated worldwide instantly.


message 22: by Rick (last edited Apr 04, 2016 09:25PM) (new) - added it

Rick | 2792 comments The other way to deal with magic aside from tightly defining its parameters is to give it costs. In The Curse of Chalion Bujold tells us that you can cast a death spell... but if it succeeds, it will kill you too. The magic system isn't that tightly defined in the book, but you get the idea that the cost of spells is proportionate to their power so people simply don't toss powerful magic around like it's nothing.

If you avoid both of these constraints it's MUCH harder to create a world where magic users aren't basically gods and in charge of everything.


message 23: by Rob Secundus (last edited Apr 05, 2016 04:43AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rob Secundus (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments Or, similarly, to ensure the reader knows that there *are* limits even if he doesn't know how they work. In this novel, the main character can't fly unlesss the circumstances are right, so she only ends up flying in the huge action scene. It establishes it even more as a Big Deal rather than breaking the rules.

W/r/t fast travel, Trike, I guess Ijust missed the part where they said it wasn't allowed.


message 24: by Aaron (last edited Apr 05, 2016 09:45AM) (new)

Aaron | 264 comments Sean wrote: "It comes down to Sanderson's First Law - we're used to "hard magic", which has clearly explained rules and limits, but this is "soft magic", which doesn't. A big problem with the latter is that you can easily have characters wave their hands and make everything better, basically making any magical character a walking deus ex machina."

Another way to look at it is the rules of magic as defined by the author vs the rules of magic as (mis)understood by the spellcasters, often through many warring styles and factions. Sometimes, there is a higher logic they and/or we are not privy to. Many authors do not give omniscient exposition about the actual magic system, instead leaving it up to the spellcasters to trickle info to the reader as needed. In ATBITS, we mostly get Patricia's understanding of magic and her magic is different from the other magic users.


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