Charlie Jane Anders’ award winning novel, All the Birds in the Sky, is set just before and just after our present day, in the midst of a climate collapse heralded by superstorms and earthquakes. It is a prescient title: a 2015 Guardian article reported that one quarter of global bird species have been affected negatively by climate change, significantly changing their migration patterns, and moving into higher altitudes and closer to the poles to seek more hospitable environments. In the novel, technological advances and financial interests have led to slightly different, and more advanced technology than ours: the Uncanny Valley still exists but robots are capable of feeling, and expressing, emotions; sentient, networked AI is possible; wormholes can be opened into space that could transport settlement ships to new galaxies; and alongside a smartphone, most people carry personal “caddies” that facilitate human connection and interaction in a benevolent and non-commercial combo of Facebook’s event function, Google Maps, Foursquare, transportation apps, and dating apps. Workers have dropped down to four-day weeks due to blackouts and instability in the electric system and two factions are fighting over whether to use technology or magic to save the world, although both their ‘nuclear’ options may destroy it. The book asks questions about human intimacy, connection, and care; education and skills development inside and outside of the formal education system; the value of non-human life in an apocalypse scenario, and the potential for technology to save or ruin us.
We caught up with Charlie Jane Anders at Can*Con, where she was the conference’s Author Guest of Honour, to talk about climate change and the need to shift policy attention to long-term challenges and their impacts, the role of science fiction in imagining alternative systems and non-linear futures, and the ways in which our current personal technology creates human connection and interaction through conflict.