All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Publisher - Titan
Out Now - £7.99 paperback
Patricia is a witch who can communicate with animals. Laurence is a mad scientist and inventor of the two-second time machine. As teenagers they gravitate towards one another, sharing in the horrors of growing up weird, but their lives take different paths...
When they meet again as adults, Laurence is an engineering genius trying to save the world- and live up to his reputation - in near-future San Francisco. Meanwhile, Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the magically gifted, working hard to prove herself to her fellow magicians and secretly repair the earth's growing ailments.
As they attempt to save our future, Laurence and Patricia's shared past pulls them back together. And althoughthey come from different worlds, when they collide, the witch and the scientist will discover that maybe they understand each other better than anyone.
In the old days dear reader SF and F only ever met in the sign about the bookshelf but increasingly (possibly as shock horror most readers enjoy both) we are seeing books that take a little from both worlds. Adopts River Song pose - and very likely now that this reviewer is feeling better a few more to follow soon!!! Ahem Spoilers *blows kisses* Charlie Jane Anders previously well known for editing the geek website iO9 has shown a love of the two worlds and in this novel there is a bit of a love song to the best bits of geekdom as well as a reminder of it's darker sides.
The first section of the book examines that horror to many geeks- schooldays. Neither Laurence or Patricia fit into their more conventional schools and even scarier their parents have no interest and in some cases outright hostility towards the paths the children are taking. Anders captures that sense of helplessness and not being understood that all teens face. Both Laurence and Patricia find themselves distracted in and perhaps energised by the lure of magic and science and I suspect that's a story many of us may sympathise with. On that alone it would appear a YA tale of finding yourself but Anders moves the tale along to that possibly more awkward phase - what happens after college when you ask those two questions key to any Babylon 5 fan - who are you and what do you want?
Laurence teams up with fellow mad scientists and there is a sense of male geek entitlement. As Laurence was bullied there is a dangerous feeling that now he can have some payback. Happily he steers to the side of the angels (mostly) but it's a reminder that just because you were bullied you are not entitled to pay that pain forward yourself. Patricia in many ways seems massively more comfortable in her own skin after her terms in the magical schools that in no way resembles Hogwarts but at the same time she often appears lonely and trying to keep pace with a similar crowd of cool kids and still working out how she can interact with her more conventional family who still don't understand her. It's perhaps not surprising that Laurence and Patricia find themselves drawn together- each compliments the other. But at the same time their own 'tribe's' view on life would appear to set them on a collision course on an earth where environmental destruction appears ever closer. Anders makes these two stories really intimate and has a very concise but warm writing style that makes little details about personalities come out.
Another plus for me is there is almost a Pratchett like melding of the funny and the sad that I think make some good comments about growing up as a genre fan. The characters can seem caricatures such as a very fair minded AI system; the strange billionaire leading mad scientist and the rather scary yet surprisingly daft assassin who gets embroiled with our leads during their schooldays but there is enough uniqueness to the way they are described that they felt real and solid rather than humorous parody stock characters.
I think the downside of the book may be that it is trying to do everything at once. For me that's a plus I always admire ambition but I could easily see some feel the story is cluttered with a debut author trying everything out. I see it more as a good indicator to what I hope will be a fascinating career but others may feel it's too much for one book.
But for me if you fancy something that can be dark and light but with a twinkle in it's eye then I think you'd be well rewarded with this story and remember why this genre is the best.