A Song for a New Day
by Sarah Pinsker
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted December 5, 2019
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Sarah Pinsker's debut novel, A Song for a New Day, is an expansion on the theme in her Nebula-winning novelette, "Our Lady of the Open Road." Another short story that features a couple of the minor characters is "A Song Transmuted," which I recently read in the anthology Sunspot Jungle. It's set in the near future after multiple terrorist incidents, and a devastating epidemic, leads to anti-congregation laws; no live venues for music, plays, or sports events, no movie theaters or malls, and schools go virtual. People become insular, keeping to their homes as much as possible, with most jobs performed remotely, most food and other necessities droned in from the nearest SuperWally distribution center. Even in larger cities public transportation, hotels, and apartment buildings have been reconfigured to give individuals private isolation booths so as to avoid coming into too close contact with others. Even elevators have become single-use. The novelette is set at least two decades later, with a few story elements changed, or at least more fully explained in the novel.
UPDATE: Winner of the 2019 Nebula Award for Best Novel.
It's told from the perspective of two different women. Luce Cannon is a musician, relatively successful, with one major hit that keeps paying off in royalties. She and her band are credited with performing the last major concert before the restrictive laws, in fact they went on stage in defiance of the call to cancel the gig. Luce tells her own story in first-person, her chapters alternating with the perspective of Rosemary Laws, which is in third-person, beginning several years later. Thus we get the beginning of the crisis, as well as memories of the Before, and the aftermath. Rosemary lives on an isolated farm with her parents, working out of her bedroom as a customer service representative for SuperWally, taking calls via her internet-connected Hoodie. Her model is a basic one provided by SuperWally. She can't afford a Hoodie which would give her access to StageHolo or StageSports programs, but she lucks into one by impressing one of her clients. SuperWally also handles StageHolo's online ticketing and streaming apps, which have been glitching frequently before live events. Rosemary is able to fix the code causing the problem, and by so doing comes to the attention of StageHolo employment recruiters. Even without being up to date on the latest music, she ends up getting hired as a talent recruiter, which involves traveling to find underground music venues. Thus she comes into contact with Luce.
StageHolo's videos are recorded in isolation booths, multiple members of a band in separate booths, then they're edited together and projected into virtual spaces accessible through connected Hoodies or home consoles. It bypasses what Luce needs most out of her music, interaction with the audience. Using her royalty money to purchase a home in Baltimore, she hosts other musicians in clandestine concerts in her basement. Rosemary gets a tip about those concerts, but she has to overcome her anxiety of crowds to experience it. She makes friends with Luce and a couple of the other musicians, although she doesn't tell them her purpose for seeking them out right away. When she does, a couple of her recommendations are invited to audition for StageHolo, although she alienates Luce and another to whom she felt an attraction. Wanting to make amends but also wanting to keep her job, since discovering new music has been so exhilirating, she hatches a plan that will hopefully please StageHolo and those musicians who want to stay independent (and illegal). Sarah is a musician herself, and that shines through in Luce's descriptions of her performances, as well as in how Rosemary allows music to reshape her life. Little by little she adjusts to being around others, even allowing touch as long as she sees it coming, is prepared for it. I'd welcome a follow up to see how her life changed after realizing "she was a note that hadn't ever known it fit into a chord."
Sarah uses music as a metaphor for life. It's about community and friendships, about independence and overcoming obstacles, about the frequent disappointments of real family, as well as the benefits of found family. Luce beomes a viral sensation again when a video of her defiance is recorded by drones that had been documenting a tour of Elvis Presley's Graceland. She had been struggling to complete a song, a few lyrics of which she had written at the end of the Before times, which comes to fruition in her extemporaneous rant directed at the drones. Will it lead to a reversal of the congregation laws? There is hope, and I chose to believe that does happen, that the novelette is in an alternate reality where Luce is still traveling with her small band in a dilapidated van. But they're still playing "Manifest Independence" whenever and wherever they can find a few people willing to listen.
Sarah Pinsker's Official Website
My review of Sarah's story collection Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea, which includes "Our Lady of the Open Road"
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