A Song For A New Day by Sarah Pinsker
Paperback, 372 pages
Published September 10th 2019 by Berkley Books
The world has changed quite a bit since this novel was released and sadly for us, Sarah Pinsker looks like a prophet a year after her debut novel. I am sure she is already getting more than enough jokes about how she needs to write her next book about unicorns and rainbows for everyone. As she is the winner of the PKD award for her short story collection, I was excited to dive into this novel. Also as a writer who has written about touring musicians myself, I am always interested in stories on the subject.
ASND is a powerful debut set in a dystopian future where the world is divided into the before and after, large public gatherings like sports and music are banned. A deadly virus is on the rampage...Yes, this book was released in 2019 which means it was probably first written well before that. The world of this novel is not exactly like ours the inciting incident is a series of a terrorist attack that made much of the public afraid of public gatherings.
ASND is very much about how the internet is changing music, I wish I had read this in our Before Times but I can't help have my view of the book colored by my experience reading it. Like many during the pandemic, I am watching lots of live videos of bands I like. As a person of limited funds in the last few years, I did the math and decided I personally get more out of spending my money on books and film so I was already limiting the concerts and shows I was going to.
In a world where posting your video or pics from a concert is more important than the actual experience, I related to much of this novel. Very wisely Pinsker split the narrative between Luce Cannon the touring indie rocker and Rosemary a fresh new fan who becomes a influencer in the corporate music world. The later works for Stage-holo a company making VR live performances, a soul-sucking experience that is a sci-fi stand in for major labels and stages with 10 feet of barricades.
With subtly executed world-building Pinsker writes about a new future where life is lived almost entirely online. Drone delivery and any community is mostly done in 'Hoodspace' a VR accessed by hoodies, the next interface. In one sense this novel is a coming of age story as Rosemary goes to her first concert early in the novel. Music becomes her life as she eventually lands a job recruiting bands for the corporate Stage halo.
The band and musician she grows to most want to sign is Luce Cannon, whose favorite underground illegal venue is shut down when Rosemary accidentally exposes them. With her favorite venue shut down, Luce has to hit the road and figure how to tour the dystopia.
As I was reading I thought about Great White the has-been rock band recently having a concert in South Dakota. This concert was a big middle finger to science and taking the Covid-19 seriously. Is Luce Cannon different? In hindsight, Pinsker might write this novel differently today but the virus and illness is a little glossed over, although I know it is a little less deadly.
The novel is a great love letter to live music, and how powerful it can be. It is impossible for anyone reading this book months into the coronavirus to not wonder about Luce's insistence on playing live and wondering if it was not irresponsible? Hindsight is 20/20, I get it but if there is one weakness of this book it is how the book glosses over the reasons the laws have banned concerts a bit. As if the man just wanted to just ruin the fun. I had a friend who quit a popular pop-punk band after years of touring who once told me he quit because "it was easy to forget the world outside of the band existed." So it is with good reason that Luce would be myopically focused on chasing that feeling. I am sure that is an experience many musicians are feeling today.
Does that sound like I am nitpicking? Sorry, that is not my intention. It is not fair in some senses to hold up the actual future as a mirror to this novel. It's predictive powers both giveth and takes away from it. Over all though Pinsker deserves the awards and appreciation. ASND is a powerful well-written work of science fiction well deserving of the Nebula award it won. There is a strong argument against my minor complaints, that less is more. I think had I read this last year I would not have even noticed. The novel is a wonderful example of strange found families and connections that happen only in subcultures. The connective tissue that the shared experience of music provides is hard to explain so any time a novel does that it is exciting.
A Song For A New Day is very cool, and a breath fresh air in the speculative arena. I think this is a must-read for any musician missing the pull of the stage and live music. I think it is a must read for Science Fiction readers looking for a new fresh take on the future.