Book Review: A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinkster

The novel A Song for a New Day, which recently won the 2019 Nebula Award for best novel, has received significant attention for its uncannily accurate prediction of radical social distancing following a series of plagues and terrorist attacks. What’s surprising is that the novel was written and published before any glimpse of the current pandemic. In Pinkster’s near-future dystopia, legally mandated distancing and isolation has continued long after the epidemics and social disturbances that brought it about have ceased due to ongoing paranoia and the efforts of massive companies that have sprung up in disaster’s wake to continue to reap profits from customers trapped in their homes.

Pinkster’s prophetic insight is interesting, but it is not the novel’s most important theme. The main character, Luce, is a rock guitarist and singer. Enforced isolation has caused all legitimate music venues to close. To find audiences, she is forced to go underground, first by setting up her own venue with illegal live music, and later, when that gets busted, by going on the road and finding places to play wherever she can.

A parallel story concerns a woman named Rosemary who is a talent recruiter for the top online virtual music site. For much of the book, Rosemary comes across as a blend of blundering/naive and deceitful/manipulative, until at the end she somewhat redeems herself by making a few wise decisions.

The main story, however, belongs to Luce and her motivation to write her songs and play her music no matter what, even if it means defying massive music conglomerates and unjust laws. Her determination to persevere as a musician, even if her audiences consist of only a few appreciative people, brings to mind the contemporary state of artistic endeavors, pandemic or no pandemic.

I can’t really speak about the musical field; I haven’t picked up a guitar or written a song in decades. However, I am familiar with the current state of publishing, and I know that there are also parallels in the musical business.

In short, the mainstream publishing world is run by massive conglomerates whose primary purpose is, of course, to increase profits. The artistic value of what is published holds far less importance. I’m not saying that good work doesn’t get published by the big outfits, but rather that a lot of excellent writing is ignored in favor of whatever faddish books will become popular and turn a profit.

In the past, writers (and musicians) had no recourse other than to keep pounding on the doors of the publishing houses until they were let in – or not. Now, though, there are alternatives. Numerous platforms are available for self-publishing, and many self-published authors find audiences and make good livings. Other writers find fulfillment in blogging. Like Luce throughout most of the book, the main point is to share the music, or in the case of writers, to share the words. Making money is a secondary consideration. Traditional publishers have sometimes picked up the work of self-published writers and distributed it through mainstream channels, but that’s not the point either. The point is to play music or to write stories or do whatever else you do as a means of artistic expression, and then to put it out there so that people can find it.

My favorite part of A Song for a New Day is part three, when Luce buys a secondhand van and takes off on the road. I can empathize with that; I’m a road person myself. I often daydream about getting back on the road, and my series about The Senescent Nomad is a sort of wish fulfillment because I can’t under the present circumstances do it for real. I could be wrong, but often while I was reading I felt that Pinkster was drawing on personal experiences concerning circumstances and especially emotions. If not verity, the book at least has verisimilitude. Not often has the publishing of a novel been so timely.

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