Hugo Nominee Reading: All the Birds in the Sky

For hard-core sci-fi/fantasy nerds out there, you may have heard that the 2017 Hugo nominations are up. I’m making my way through as many standalone novels and series before voting closes on July 15th (two days before my birthday–that should make it easy to remember), and the first book I read to these ends is All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders.

Let me start off by saying that I think Anders’s writing technique is fantastic–there aren’t dull points or confusing sentences or anything gumming up the works. There are also a few scenes which shone as beautiful, amazing moments (my favorite was the scene where Patricia refuses to let Roberta mess with her anymore using spicy food). But as a whole I did not enjoy the experience of reading this book, because there is so very much pain in it.

Let me clarify. Most books have a lot of pain in them. Harry Dresden in the Dresden Files gets the snot beat out of him in every book. In the Song of Ice and Fire books, people are slaughtered en mass, with flayings and hangings and burning up in different types of fire to boot. But in these books, even though there’s pain, there’s also something worth going through it for. Harry Dresden normally needs to save someone. The people of the Song of Ice and Fire books want their king to win, or to liberate slaves or to get to have all the money or sex they want. There’s something worth living for.

But in All the Birds in the Sky, there’s a period where the characters are utterly miserable, in both senses of the word. They are miserable people, with no apparent redeeming qualities, and they are miserable in their lives, with nothing good to look forward to. Reading about two people so wretched hurt, and even when that period is over, the characters don’t get tons more interesting. While they do become better people after the ordeal of middle school, they still don’t seem like full people. I find it easiest to explain this part with Freud’s superego, ego, id idea. Patricia is all ego, while Lawrence is all superego and id. He’s either inventing something crazy or wondering how he can get into someone’s pants, and so I don’t find him engaging or interesting. He fails to provoke my sympathy. I spent the half of the book from his perspective wishing I was reading about Patricia instead.

I will continue reading the standalone nominees in the search of the one which I feels deserves a Hugo, but this book is not the one.


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