At the beginning of our joint COVID nightmare, I read a novel that was as oddly prescient. I recommended it to anyone who would listen, but most people’s response was that it was too much for them at that point in time. Now that zoom cocktail parties are becoming just a painful memory, I’m back to recommend it to anyone who will listen.
Sarah Pinsker published a Song for a New Day in 2019. The book is set in the near future, after a series of pandemics and subsequent social violence have made the government forbid public gatherings. Rosemary Laws was raised in this world of fear and doesn’t remember much about the “BEFORE.” She works in customer service from home for minimum wage for a large Target/Amazon like conglomerate. She hopes to be able to upgrade her AI hoodie to enrich her online experience, but otherwise doesn’t have much to look forward to in her predictable life at home with her fearful parents. She hungers for more but is terrified of germs and violence and the wider world.
Rosemary turned back to the main entrance, where an enormous inflated castle dwarfed the vestibule. It looked intact other than two drooping turrets. She had seen these in old movies, in school carnival scenes and birthday parties, but never in person. That was a different kind of childhood, a different kind of growing up, a Before to her After, full of real human bodies navigating the space between each other. One bounce, just to try it, and then she’d run.
Luce Cannon is older than Rosemary. She was a successful musician just taking off when the virus and the terror attacks struck. Now she performs in small, illegal gatherings in a growing fringe movement. When the two women come together, one representing the Before and the other representing the After, they challenge the status quo.
Yes, live songs have teeth, and teeth are messy things, tearing and rending and helping spit ideas into the world. A live song has notes that don’t want to be there, that call attention to themselves in their wrongness. A botched chord, a chorus taken too soon, a forgotten lyric. I love those moments.
When I read a Song for a New Day in March, a lot of what Sarah Pinsker envisioned still seemed highly unlikely. But now restaurants with shower curtains are commonplace, menus are a thing of the past, and the wild sensory experience of concerts seems like a fever dream. As we move into our “AFTER” let’s remember the things we hungered for and appreciate what’s been restored. Novels like a Song for a New Day can help us appreciate what we almost lost forever and make sure we bring back all those joys.
Sarah Pinsker is a highly recognized author. Her short story collection Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea won the Philip K. Dick award. A Song for a New Day won the Nebula Award for Best Novel. She has a new novel coming out this month entitled We are Satellites which has been named one of Buzzfeed Best Science Fiction Books of spring.
She is also a singer/songwriter with three albums on various independent labels (the third with her rock band, the Stalking Horses) and a fourth in the works. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland and can be found online at sarahpinsker.com and twitter.com/sarahpinsker.