I haven’t been on a blog tour in so long, and I’m really happy to have jumped back in to celebrate the paperback release of this fantastic, thought-provoking book – if you like your dystopia near-future and frighteningly realistic, this is a must-read.
Book: A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker
Read before: No
Paperback release date: 4th March 2021
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Head of Zeus. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: global pandemic and aftermath; on-page depiction of panic attacks and anxiety and a character working through crowd phobia by exposure to it; homophobia from family (in past, only quickly mentioned); mugging; police raids.
Luce Cannon is on the road. Success is finally within her grasp: her songs are getting airtime; the venues she’s playing are getting larger. But mass shootings, bombings and now a strange contagion are closing America down around her.
The gig Luce plays tonight will turn out to be the last ever rock show as the world’s stadiums, arenas and concert halls go dark for good.
Rosemary is too young to remember the Before. She grew up, went to school and works in the virtual world of Hoodspace. Only a few weeks ago she was a customer service rep for Superwally, the corporate monolith of automated warehouses and drone deliveries that services almost every consumer need, but now she’s about to do something she’s never done before… she’s going to take to the road, in the real world.
Working for StageHoloLive, which controls what is left of the music industry, her job is to find new talent, search out the illegal backroom jams and bring musicians into the Hoodspace holographic limelight they deserve.
But when Rosemary sees how the world could actually be, that won’t be enough.
Wow, where to begin? This book blew me away. I actually joined the blog tour because my mum raves about Sarah Pinsker’s writing, but I was really apprehensive to actually read A Song for a New Day, given the subject matter echoing our current situation so closely. However, while some of the world-building is unsettlingly realistic, there’s a thread of hopefulness that keeps it from being too bleak or heavy – and my mum was totally right about the quality of Pinsker’s work. The story is so compelling and the characters so human that whenever I picked it up to just read a chapter or two, I found myself engrossed and unable to put the book down. It would be easy to boil this book down into simple points – big corporations are killing real life; creativity is what makes us human; people need communities to feel alive; tech is no replacement for actual connections – but that would be to do the story an injustice. This should be heavy-handed and preachy, but it genuinely isn’t. Yes, it’s the kind of dystopia that wants you to look at how you live now, but more than that, it’s a story full of heart, about two women doing the best they can to find happiness not only for themselves, but for society.
The sci-fi aspects here are insidious – this feels like our world, but with such minor changes you can easily see how our world could slide into this one almost unknowingly. Drones deliver whatever you want within hours; people can spend their whole lives in one house, connecting with others only via Hoodie, a kind of VR system that fulfills every function of your laptop or phone, but completely portable. There are quick, unelaborated-on references to the legal ratios of people to space in buildings, and to the protocols necessary for hotels to function, and it all creates this sense of a world creepily close to ours, but that never quite lost its fear of infection. People’s isolation clearly contributed to a massive – and in some ways wonderful! – tech boom, with endless possibilities for bringing things to you without you having to leave your safe space, but it’s clear that the benefits have to be weighed against the losses.
I worry a lot about how today’s kids are going to be impacted by the global shutdown we’re living in, and so I found Rosemary’s perspective utterly compelling and more than a little frightening. She was 12 when the world broke, and is 24 now, and she’s so adrift from everyone else, it’s terrifying. Once she gets out into the real world, she’s constantly battling anxiety over germs and crowds, and it felt very realistic that someone who had grown up in isolation would have these challenges – I was rooting for her to gain confidence in moving through the world even as I worried that she was right to be cautious. It’s amazing how much her perspective told me not only about the world of the book, but also about our own lockdown. There’s much that could be said about her relationship to the giant conglomerate of Superwally, with its perfectly-adapted fingers in every pie, but I think the Amazon comparison is clear, and I’ll be surprised if this book doesn’t make you want to rebel against that kind of slick false-faced consumerism just a little bit.
Rosemary was far and away my favourite character here, for the reasons mentioned above and generally for her naive but determined personality. I didn’t think I was going to connect to Luce at first, as she takes more of a narrator role until the second act, explaining the backstory behind the ‘last night’, but I found myself won over by her passionate, readable voice. She’s jaded, but buried somewhere within her is a seed of hope and anger that makes her fascinating. That being said, there’s so much humanity in every character, even bit-players – Rosemary’s parents in particular stood out to me as believable, flawed people doing what they thought was best. While there’s larger stakes at work in the background, what I loved about this book is how much it’s centred on personal journeys for each and every character: Rosemary making her way into the world and finding it broken; Luce remembering how it was before and adapting; both of them working to brighten what they can. It’s hard not to feel uplifted by them. I also really appreciated how much casual queerness there is in the cast (in fact I’m not sure there’s a single straight character among the main players) and I loved that it was just one of many facets of each of them. Though there is one character whose family couldn’t accept their queerness, the story doesn’t dwell on it for long – it’s clearly painful, but not voyeuristic. It’s very rare that I’ve seen a book that balances darkness and optimism so well, which for me is the best kind of dystopia. Even surrounded by the cold hard faces of mega-corporations and the sterility of medical necessity, people will still find warmth where they can.
There was only one aspect of this book that wasn’t quite my cup of tea, but it’s solely down to me – I enjoy live music, but I’ve never found it as transporting as it is depicted to be here, and I have to be honest that from about halfway through the book, I found myself lightly skimming some of the concert passages. There are quite a lot and I didn’t connect with them emotionally the way I was clearly supposed to – this is definitely something about me, rather than about the book, because I’ve run into it before with stories where music is this living feeling. That being said, I can totally understand the emotions, and those passages really made me think about all the recordings that have become available to watch at home during lockdown, or livestreamed theatre performances, and so on – it’s brilliant to have them be more accessible, and to be able to experience them even though you can’t get to them physically, but I’m not sure they compare to the thrill of seeing it happen right in front of you, and feeling the energy. Rosemary’s emotional experiences of StageHolo’s concerts versus the ‘real thing’ are fascinating, and cleverly done – I just skimmed a few of the descriptions of guitar solos and individual songs.
Look, this book is just stunning. I could talk about it all day – I have a lot of thoughts – but really I just want to tell you to read it and experience it for yourself! I would usually scoff at a book blurbed as ‘prescient’, because there are only so many ideas under the sun, but I am genuinely struggling to believe this was published in 2019, as it’s just such an incisive look at how things could spiral from 2020. This might be too tough a read emotionally for those who are very stressed about the future right now, so it’s perhaps one to come back to once we’ve regained a bit of normality, but if you can handle a bit of fear of post-pandemic life, this is so worth it. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I turned the last page. Five out of five cats.