On March 10, in a warm room full of listeners, I got to hear Sarah Pinsker, award-winning speculative fiction writer, read from her Nebula-nominated novel A Song for a New Day.
The novel, published by Penguin Random House in fall 2019, takes place in a near-future where culture and individuals have been warped by a global pandemic and mass terror. The story follows Luce Cannon, a musician on the brink of major success when catastrophe hits and suddenly large gatherings, including concerts, are banned. In this changed world, Luce is not allowed to play – and blocked from pursuing her art and purpose, and from experiencing deep connection with other people.
At the reading, Sarah shared a section where Luce and her housemates compile a list of all the elements of life and culture that are suddenly inaccessible. “The Don’t Forget Normal list included: street festivals, Renaissance fairs, amusement parks, supermarket runs, movie theaters, malls in December, talking to strangers in a waiting room,” she writes. “We debated whether some of those were things we actually missed, but decided they all went on the list. Just because something had needed improvement didn’t mean the solution was to cancel it entirely.” The list keeps growing, running from a whiteboard onto the walls in permanent marker and paint, expanding to include memories and stories.
Fittingly, that reading turned out to be the last public gathering I attended before buckling down into quarantine. It took a couple weeks before I could properly dive into the book because it felt too real. But once I did, the novel’s echoes of the unfolding pandemic became – if not comforting, then resonant in important ways. It reminded me to examine the individual and cultural changes at hand, and instead of When will things get back to normal? asking What do we want to keep and what do we need to change as we move forward? If play is joy, connection, and purpose, how do we continue to play, and play more?
Sarah and I discussed her all-too-prescient A Song for a New Day, how What-If questions create speculative fiction, how to write dystopia at the human level. We also discuss the already-precarious economic position of musicians and artists, and how we build communities even in virtual spaces. You can order the novel and Sarah’s collection Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea from Magic City Books or at bookshop.org.
Sarah Pinsker is an award-winning author based in Baltimore. Her short fiction has won Nebula and Sturgeon awards and appeared in Asimov’s and Fantasy & Science Fiction, as well as numerous other magazines and anthologies. She is a singer-songwriter who has toured behind three albums on various independent labels. Her first story collection, Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea, and her first novel, A Song for a New Day, were both published in 2019. She is the current Writer in Residence at Goucher College. Her next novel, We Are Satellites, due out in February 2021.
Katie Moulton is a writer, editor and music critic. She is a 2019-2020 Tulsa Artist Fellow, and a Public Fellow with the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities’ Interdisciplinary Research Seminar on Play.