“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their Inspirations and Influences. In this feature, we invite writers to talk about their new books, older titles, and their writing overall.
One of our most anticipated reads of 2016 is Charlie Jane Anders’ (of Io9 fame) All the Birds in the Sky, a tale of life, love and the apocalypse. We couldn’t be happier to have Charlie Jane here today to talk about the influences behind this story.
The endless quest: All the books that influenced All the Birds in the Sky
All the Birds in the Sky is half science fiction, half fantasy — it’s the story of a mad scientist and a witch, and they each have their own special powers and their own worlds that they belong to. But the books that inspired All the Birds in the Sky were even further afield and harder to pin down in terms of genre.
I’ve always been drawn to stories about dreamers and people who are searching for an idea, or an answer, or something to give their lives meaning. And when I wrote All the Birds in the Sky, I kept thinking about a handful of books about people who still haven’t found what they’re looking for.
In All the Birds in the Sky, Patricia really wants to prove herself as a witch, and Laurence is desperate to become his own person and live up to his potential as a genius inventor. But there are other quests going on in the book, and my characters don’t always know exactly what they’re really searching for.
And one of the books that had a huge impact on me when I was younger was Piers Plowman, the Medieval text that’s commonly believed to have been written by John Langland.
I got obsessed enough with it that I went and read some of the variant texts of it. In Piers Plowman, a man known as Will goes on a search for the nature of goodness and the proper Christian life, and goes through a number of dream worlds while interacting with a ton of allegorical figures. It’s one of the most fascinating examples of a quest that’s purely metaphysical, and it’s actually a super intense read as Will searches desperately for an answer to his questions while his time runs out.
You’ll also notice some Chaucer shout-outs in All the Birds in the Sky. I love his road-tripping story-telling collection Canterbury Tales, but also Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules—the Parliament of Birds, who get a major role in the first chapter of my novel. Chaucer was the original wild satirist and genre-crossing story slut. Originally, All the Birds in the Sky was going to be jam-packed with Chaucer shout-outs, but almost all of them got jettisoned pretty early on.
Speaking of wild genre-crossing writers, I was definitely thinking a lot about Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut while I was writing All the Birds in the Sky. I worshipped Adams when I was a kid (and still do!) and got into Vonnegut when I heard the two of them being compared. In practice, they’re very different writers, but they both have a delightful commitment to absurdism that hints at a deep sympathy for the ultimate emptiness of human existence.
And the final author whose brilliance shaped All the Birds in the Sky — and who totally owns my brain in general — is Doris Lessing. Even comparing myself to Lessing, the Nobel Prize-winning author, is making me break out in hives. But she’s an incredible inspiration, and I’ve learned so much from reading her work. In particular, her five book Martha Quest series is all about a young woman who is searching for where she belongs (the word “Quest” is right there in the name). And much like Piers Plowman‘s searcher, she goes through tons of different ideas about how to live your life and what it means to be a good person, and things get scarily intense — but unlike Piers Plowman, the Martha Quest books go forward into the near future and include an apocalypse, superpowers and tons of other science-fictional weirdness. All of Doris Lessing’s books are like a master-class in how to make complicated, difficult characters intensely compelling — but the Martha Quest novels, especially, are a huge inspiration.
About the book:
Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.
But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s every-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together–to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.
Go HERE to read an excerpt.
All the Birds in the Sky is out on January 26, published by Tor in the US and Titan Books in the UK.
About the author:
CHARLIE JANE ANDERS is the editor-in-chief of io9.com, the extraordinarily popular Gawker Media site devoted to science fiction and fantasy. Her debut novel, the mainstream Choir Boy, won the 2006 Lambda Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Edmund White Award. Her Tor.com story “Six Months, Three Days” won the 2013 Hugo Award and was subsequently picked up for development into a NBC television series. She has also had fiction published by McSweeney’s, Lightspeed, and ZYZZYVA. Her journalism has appeared in Salon, the Wall Street Journal, Mother Jones, and many other outlets.
We have a signed copy of the novel to give away. Use the form below to enter and good luck: