Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Think Galactic- All the Birds in the Sky

For the June meeting of Think Galactic, we discussed All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. The much-lauded novel (it's on a serious awards streak) follows two characters from childhood through early adulthood, as they find themselves on opposite sides of a magic vs. technology war in a very near future.

Brief notes and possible spoilers below:

  • Pre-book discussion somehow involved canned tamales and spaghetti trees.
  • While we all generally quite liked it, we noted a certain messiness or even "draftiness" to it—in the sense that it feels like corners of different drafts with different tones are sticking out in places.
  • We really liked some of the humorous, Douglas Adams-y or Terry Pratchett-y bits, like Theodolpus, and we also generally praised the YA segments over the later parts.
  • One thing we agreed on strongly is that the novel is "studded with little gems of sentences and phrases", of which we had many examples.
  • For some reason we really dig "the trap you can ignore is no trap".
  • We really liked Peregrine! Non-omniscient/omnipotent AI is really refreshing.
  • Also really dug Ernesto and his possible origin story. "Too much life" as a possibly disastrous condition, while also kind of an HIV or other immune-condition -analog, is interesting.
  • There's some general lightness to the overall tone here that doesn't quite gel with some of the heavier parts, especially in the latter half of the novel. We thought the darker aspects of the "youthful" half we integrated better, and we liked the depiction of Patricia & Laurence's families—showing not-great relationships like that.
  • There were a lot of ideas that we were intrigued by that the novel kind of skipped too lightly over—Patricia & Laurence's ethical debate, for instance, or what exactly to make of "Aggrandizement"—is it actually a warning about hubris, is it a cautionary tale about impostor syndrome and institutional gaslighting? There's not quite enough to tell.
  • There's some imbalances in the presentation of the "magic vs. science" opposition: the magic side feels really cool, well-fleshed out, and we particularly appreciated the kind of open-endedness of it (hints of other systems that aren't covered by the wizard school, etc.). The science, however, felt extemely cartoony, thus weirdly less believable than the actual magic.
  • We talked a bit about "catastrophizing" and plot-forcing; most of the main conflicts at the end would have been reduced or eliminated with a "hey, what are y'all doing over there?" instead of jumping right to death-rays and so forth. We also smell something vaguely Buffy/Angelish in the "fateful sex followed immediately by apocalypse".
Worth noting that Buffy is open to both magical & technological
apocalypse-averting strategies.
  • The conflict over "saving humans, or saving the Earth" brought to mind some other works playing with that—Butler's Earthseed, themes in KSR's Aurora, probably others if we put our minds to it—Kube-McDowell's The Quiet Pools jumps to mind now that I think of it.
  • I noted that, while I think we should save the planet (duh), it nonetheless might be a good idea for space agencies to have an "Off This Rock!" division just in case.
  • Some discussion of Luddism, the etymology of "sabotage" (my favorite!), and monkey-wrenching.
  • The kind of genre mixing/blending going on here led us to talk a bit about Kelly Link and others in the vague genre of "slipstream" or whatever one wants to call the more multiple-genre-borrowing speculative fiction...thing. Ray Vukcevich's Meet Me in the Moon Room also mentioned.
  • Link was the sort-of discusion choice for BikeCon, which led to us discussing the bicycle journey to Wiscon as well as Wiscon itself.
  • Was triumphantly pointed out that The Hortlak "is not the first rock-leaving communication we've run into!"—referencing Cherryh's Forty Thousand in Gehenna.
  • Digression digressed, we returned to the question of multiple genres, or more specifically multiple reading strategies—one of the things we like about All The Birds is its mix of tones and approaches, but it also makes it difficult to adjust our reading strategy chapter to chapter—do we read the cartoony robots on the same level of seriousness as the climate disaster? Does the goofy/Pratchett=y order of Nameless Assassins really fit in the same magic universe as the Maze and the Unravelling?
  • We're curious to see if Anders decides to explore/expand more of this world, and if it will be more Chaucer-y or not.
Fun discussion! Think Galactic has also selected our next slate of books. Barring unforeseen availability issues, they are:
  • July: The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
  • August: When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
  • September: Cordelia's Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • October: Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • November: Everfair by Nisi Shawl
  • December: Iraq +100, ed. Hassan Blassim
  • January: The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo
Also, although we didn't schedule it as a "book discussion" we are committed to a Steven Universe viewing party/discussion at some point TBD. Keep up with Think Galactic on their website and Facebook group.

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