The winner of the 2017 Nebula Award, American author Charlie Jane Anders’s science fiction novel, All the Birds in the Sky
(2016), tells the story of a "techno-geek" and a witch who work together to save the world.
In the near future, Patricia is a witch who is friends with a so-called "techno-geek" named Laurence. They met as children, both outcasts because of their interests. Patricia, for example, discovers she has magical powers at an early age but cannot control them, causing them to manifest unrestrained. Laurence, meanwhile, creates inventions—small stuff, at first, like a two-second time machine. They continue as friends through junior high but are separated the day Patricia is accused of witchcraft. Fearful of the consequences and without meaning to, she transforms into a bird and flies away.
While flying, she is discovered by a magician who invites her to a school where she can learn to hone and control her powers. Meanwhile, Laurence's rebellious behavior leads his parents to send him to military reform school. When the two reconnect ten years later as adults, Patricia is part of a witch's cabal that regularly practices spells. Laurence is part of a think tank filled with like-minded inventors and techno-geeks. They are trying to build a wormhole generator.
The world, meanwhile, is a total mess. Superstorms, earthquakes, and wars plague the globe. These apocalyptic events are collectively known as "The Unraveling." This also creates a massive conflict between the purveyors of science and practitioners of witchcraft, which, initially, creates a major rift in Patricia and Laurence's friendship. The conflict between science and magic is exacerbated by a mysterious man, Theodolphus Rose, who once posed as a guidance counselor at Patricia and Laurence's old school. The friends also have very different attitudes on humanity and civilization. Laurence believes in the exceptionalism of humans, arguing that human civilization must protect itself at all costs because, while there is other complex life out there in the universe, theirs is the only one that has become technologically advanced.
However, Patricia argues that humanity is just one aspect of a vibrant cornucopia of life across the universe. She tells Laurence, "This isn’t just our story. As someone who’s spoken to lots of other kinds of creatures, I kinda think they might want a vote.”
The mixture of their two philosophies is best represented by an entity called Peregrine, a piece of Artificial Intelligence that the two create. As the world grows closer to global calamity, due in large part to complications involving climate change, both Patricia and Laurence’s philosophies prove to be integral to "saving the world," as it were. The wormhole generator built by Laurence and his friends, for example, threatens to disintegrate the world. However, Patricia uses magical interference to stop this from happening. On the other end of the spectrum, Patricia's magic threatens to kill off the entire human population. It is only when Peregrine, their creation and a true mixture of science and magic, steps in that this magical apocalypse is averted.All the Birds in the Sky
is a rousing story that breathes new life into both science fiction as well as magical-themed literature.