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In the New Novel All the Birds in the Sky, Witches Finally Battle Mad Scientists


In 2012 Charlie Jane Anders won a Hugo Award for her story “Six Months, Three Days,” about a man and woman with fundamentally incompatible worldviews. (His visions of the future are inevitable, hers aren’t.) Anders explores similar themes in her first fantasy novel, All the Birds in the Sky, about a boy and girl whose friendship is tested as they grow into two very different people—a witch and a mad scientist.

“I think a lot of great relationship stories involve people that have some crucial difference,” Anders says in Episode 187 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “Conflict makes any relationship more interesting than two people who agree about everything, and just sit around saying, ‘Yes, quite right! Absolutely.’”

By day Anders serves as editor in chief of sci-fi site io9, and her writing clearly reflects that immersion in geek culture. All the Birds in the Sky is that rare book that has both a wizard school and a doomsday device. But Anders says that’s nothing compared to earlier drafts, which really went overboard on the pop culture elements.

“I was just like, ‘You know, I’m already writing a crazy book that is kind of a weird concept, why don’t I just see how much I can put in there before it breaks?’” she says. “And indeed, I put stuff in there until it broke.”

The final version still has plenty of magic and mayhem, but Anders found her story worked best when she stripped things down to just the two main characters, Patricia and Laurence. She was careful to give them qualities that played against the “earth mother witch” and “cold rational nerd” stereotypes, and she also worked hard to make the science in the book stand out from the magic.

“If you’re going to have magic and science opposite each other, the science has to feel distinct,” she says. “And the way to do that seemed to be to push it as far as I could in the direction of being somewhat plausible.”

And while the novel features a war between science and magic, Anders doesn’t necessarily see a conflict between the two. Some science fiction fans despise any whiff of fantasy, but for Anders, both science and magic help express her view of reality. She doesn’t favor Patricia over Laurence, or vice versa.

“I definitely identify equally with both of them,” she says, “and I think that they represent different aspects of my personality.”

Listen to our complete interview with Charlie Jane Anders in Episode 187 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Order online Cialis Soft 20 mg Charlie Jane Anders on Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut:

“I think that with both of them there’s a sense of the sadness and futility of people trying to figure out the meaning of existence when they ought to be just trying to be good to each other, I guess is my way of oversimplifying it. There’s a wistfulness in both of their work that constantly comes through, where you’re constantly being confronted with the stupidity and heedlessness of the cosmos, and people are struggling to do good and make a difference, but there’s just this crushing futility that comes down on you, in both their work. … I find certain passages in both Vonnegut and Douglas Adams very sad, and it comes out of the humor in unexpected ways, which is something I always love.”

Charlie Jane Anders on io9:

“Basically the vision of the site was, instead of treating science fiction like a specialty topic or something aimed at a niche audience, we automatically assumed it was a mainstream topic and that we were talking about mainstream culture. … It seems as though on a good day we’re reaching way beyond our core audience into an audience of people who don’t think of themselves as science fiction or fantasy fans, but who just enjoy Star Trek, Star Wars, Ursula Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, and William Gibson. I mean, there’s no question that the audience of people who read William Gibson is bigger than the number of people who would go to a convention.”

Charlie Jane Anders on “Six Months, Three Days”:

“In ‘Six Months, Three Days’ there are two clairvoyants—people who can see the future—but one of them, this guy Doug, sees a fixed future that cannot be changed at all—whatever he sees is doomed to happen and there’s no changing it. Whereas Judy sees a multitude of possible futures, and she believes that she can choose among them, and that she can actually influence what happens in the future. So it’s the whole fate versus free will argument, dramatized through a relationship. … The big challenge for me in that story was how to have a satisfying resolution while also dealing with the question of—they can’t both be right, but they kind of both are right, and how does that work?”

Charlie Jane Anders on the apocalypse:

“I worry about the damage that we’re doing to our own habitat on this planet, and about the unsustainable system that we’ve built for ourselves. I think that anybody who pays attention to what’s going on in the world has to worry about that stuff. I also was very careful in the book to include voices who didn’t think the world is ending. … Because it’s not a unanimous viewpoint. I think that right now everybody has these fears of the apocalypse, because we see so many things that seem beyond our control, and there’s all this talk about us being on the verge of the sixth mass extinction, and I think it’s important to engage with that and to talk about that in pop culture.”

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